The potholes were the first sign of the return of the 1980s; severe frost and a lack of funds made their mark, followed by the construction trucks that built a motorway for profit and mangled up the side roads in the process: two tier Ireland maybe never went away. Then there is the resurfacing work, an N Road, a so-called national road, surfaced with tar and chippings; the warning signs show a car in silhouette spraying gravel sideways.
Driving through heavy rain, on roads where the potholes were filled with water, there was a moment when it could have been a drive twenty-five years ago.
Flicking through last weekend’s FT magazine, two quotes appear in the “That was then . . . this is now column” commenting on the road to Kabul. From 1958 and Eric Newby’s “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush”
It seemed impossible for the road to get worse, but it did: vast pot-holes large enough to contain nests of machine-gunners; places where it was washed away as far as the centre, leaving a six foot drop to ground level; things Hugh called ‘Irish Bridges’, where a torrent had swept right through the road . . . Whereas the previous night we had met only two lorries in the hours of darkness, there were now many monster American vehicles loaded with merchandise to the height of a two-storied house, each with its complement of piratical-looking men hanging on the scramble nettings.
Forty-five years later in 2003, John Simpson in ‘News from No Man’s Land’ wrote,
The road from Torkham to Kabul was terrible; and yet, thanks to the years of neglect and violence, it was one of the best in the entire country . . . Sometimes the road would vanish altogether, and the trucks, buses and taxis would have to lurch down into the adjoining desert and make their way through dust as thick and deep as water . . . The temperature must have been well above one hundred Fahrenheit, but a young man who had lost his leg in a landmine explosion stood for hours beside the detour hoping someone would stop and give him money or water.
Regressed, we may have, but we remain infinitely better than most of the world.