A361 – the secret weapon of the Poms

I’M back!

That is, I’m back on Australian soil after three weeks, 28 days, five hours and 33 minutes, but who’s counting.

I believe our forefathers wept when they were forced to leave England some 200 years ago. They must have been tears of joy.

I even thought of committing a criminal offence so they’d deport me sooner than my scheduled return, but the magistrate said they’d stop doing that a long time ago. I got away with a fine instead.


Nowadays they’re so eager for visitors that, once they have one, they do their best to keep him. They find all sorts of sneaky ways of making it difficult to get out of the country.

For a start, you can’t get out by train. It costs too much. I bought two single train tickets for a journey of some 200 kilometres. They cost $250!

I told the man behind the bullet-proof glass of the ticket office that I could fly from Townsville to Brisbane for that! He asked me why I didn’t just eff off and do it. They have a way with words back home in Blighty.

Then there are the road signs. They’ve developed a diabolically clever way to prevent people finding their way to an airport, or a shipping dock – they take the road signs away!

Not all of them. That would be counter-productive because if there weren’t any you’d never actually rely on them in the first place. They simply wait until you’ve followed the signs halfway; until you’re threaded tightly into a complex series of intricate roundabouts, and then they take the signs away.

I estimate that only one in ten people looking for Heathrow Airport ever finds it. The rest are in Scotland, or the Outer Hebrides, or more probably — judging by the numbers of speed cameras — jail.

But the most diabolical of all their anti-tourist devices is the A361.

This is not a rifle, or a computer virus. This is a road. Basically it’s the road they throw in your path when they judge that you are finding your way too easily. In the British Isles the main road networks are the motorways (M1, M2 etc) and the ‘A’ roads. These start at A1 and work their way down to A400-and-something.

Mostly these roads just start in one town and end in another one across the other side of the country. But not the A361. The A361 gets up and throws itself in your path when it judges you’re navigating too well.

I drove from one side of England to the other and every signpost I saw cunningly tried to divert me to the A361. I went several hundred miles from north to south, and the A361 followed me and lay in waiting for me at every crossroads.

Eventually I lost my patience and I actually followed it for 50 miles – until it had lured me into the middle of a windswept, fog-filled, lonely moor, and there it abandoned me. The road signs vanished; every one. And I was left to die.

But I didn’t die. I clawed my way back to civilisation. Well…. civilisation of a kind. The kind where ticket collectors tell you to eff off and the supermarket check-out girl picks her teeth while she serves you. And instead of them saying “have a nice day”, it’s I who say it, and they just gape blankly and answer “Wot?”

I’m sure it wasn’t like this when I lived there. I’m sure I enjoyed it back then, 17 years ago, when I left.

But come to think of it, I did leave, and there must have been a reason.

Over here in sunny Australia they have a name for people who can’t settle in one place or the other and who keep going back, looking for greener grass. They call them yo-yos.

I call them bloody idiots.