Wound up in spring

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 March, 2006, 12:00am

Mid-March usually heralds the first signs of spring: the days getting discernibly lighter, for longer. Take a brisk walk in the park now and you can spot multicoloured blossoms forming on the branches and daffodils congregating around old trees.

Even indoors, things are looking up. The TV schedules promise new drama and comedy, plus a flood of travel shows touting warm summer getaways. All this puts a smile on the face and a spring in the step. Summer, after all, is just around the corner.

Well, that's what Londoners want to think. What really lies just around the corner in mid-March, however, is a dangerous brown muddy hole: usually one flanked (if you're lucky) with red and white barriers and flashing signs saying 'Danger of death', all surrounded by ruddy-cheeked labourers wearing luminous bibs.

March in London always seems to signal roadworks. Fewer staff are on holiday and the weather is getting noticeably warmer. So it's prime time for utility firms, councils and transport chiefs to embark on routine maintenance of roads, mains, sewers and all manner of underground pipes and cabling.

Few cities in Europe suffer an annual dig of such intensity, largely because many of their utilities are still overhead. In London, most utilities, like its trains, lie underground.

Every road, at present, seems to have developed an urgent need for some sort of mechanical surgery, making London even more of an obstacle course than normal; snarling up traffic and transforming pavements into valleys of death. None of this would matter were it not for a different utility firm arriving every two weeks to dig up the same chunk of road or pavement again. It all hit home last week when, not for the first time nor for the last, a road gang arrived to dig up the pavement outside my front door, which opens onto a crossroads.

Intersections, I have learned, are not great places to live: last year, this one was dug up six times. Crossroads above ground usually mean crossroads below ground: roads and pavements meet on top, while pipes, wires and cables for electricity, cable TV, phone, water, and traffic and street lights all meet underneath.

All have to be relaid from time to time. So, for the next three weeks, drilling and digging starts at 7am, prompting upset motorists to vent spleen over the delays in the only way they know how - with their car horns. Sadly, there is no dawn chorus of birds this spring in De Beauvoir Road: only an early-morning, death-metal version of the 1812 overture with car horns, pneumatic drills, and labourers and irate motorists screaming obscenities at each other.

Still, the cherry blossoms look nice.