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The havoc that being stuck in gridlock can wreak on your mind ... and body

Focus on traffic jams


Traffic jam

Traffic jam

Traffic jam

I was stuck for hours in horrendous gridlock in England's north-west recently. It was like a brick wall - there was no escaping up ramps or to grass verges because there were roads going hither and thither.

Initially, I tried to make light of it by saying Jose Mourinho must have been staging a special park the bus' exhibition like he has done in most Manchester United games this season.

Then two things seriously impinged.

Firstly, there was the frightening sense of being trapped. Cars, lorries, buses, all blocked in all directions. We found it disturbing. Don't get me wrong, of course I've been in jams before - London, Paris, New York, Munich - but there was something sinister about this. Not because it was in Greater Manchester, more that it highlighted how ill-prepared most of us are for major delays.

It took more than two hours to travel two miles. Add another 90 minutes of stop-start at a slightly higher speed.

I reckon three-and-a-half hours in total; abandoned, no escape.

And that brings me to the non-psychological part.

Naturally we'd had a nice cup of tea before setting off. Some of us, luckily, had availed of the bathroom facilities.

One hadn't. We knew she was in trouble within an hour, but there was no escape. Gridlock had locked in. We were part of a giant, joined up, barely-moving brick wall, imprisoned beyond our capability to escape. I'm trying to be delicate here, but it's as well to state the obvious. Things got terribly bad. The poor occupant was in agony, but what could she do?

There were no fields, hedges, no place of privacy in this central highway of three, with nothing separating them only guard rails.

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There could be no dash to safety. It was a shocking sight inside and outside the car. All we could do was keep telling ourselves it wouldn't be long. It was an eternity. She has my eternal admiration for somehow enduring the trauma.

It wouldn't have been as bad if the incumbent had been a man - there were water bottles on board. But for a lady, impossible.

The thing is, we could have been arrested for indecent exposure or endangering emergency services had we, in our desperation, made it to a hard shoulder and risked life and limb crossing two sets of motorway.

It was absolutely out of the question.

What does one do in the gridlock era?

I'm sure we weren't the only car with at least one occupant in trouble.

Does one plan to bring a receptacle of some sort discreetly stowed in the boot?

Yes, the obvious answer is, go before you go. But the best part of three-and-a-half hours is still a long time, especially if you've had tea or water beforehand.

Or am I 'bladdering' on about something most people already deal with in their own way?

I'd love to hear of your experiences because I haven't felt as helpless for a long time.

Let me know at ecunningham@independent.ie

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