THE SIGN said that the toilets were checked every two hours but I could hardly see it through the haze of ammonia-tinged steam. Yes, I was in a motorway service area during a peak period. I would not have missed my sister-in-law's wedding for anything - not even a free 24-hour test drive in a new Skoda Octavia - but, as she lives at the wrong end of the M6, there was a price to pay.
This is not a tale of horrible food. Most service area restaurants do a passable reheat of Heinz tomato soup and their Burger King Giant Flamer with fries is the same as a Giant Flamer with fries anywhere else. One reason I dislike these places is for the way they exploit a largely captive cohort. Over a pound for the smallest lemonade drink you can buy - how does that grab you? But this has all been said before.
What really bugs me about service areas, what really makes me want to get out the black marker pen and write some seriously offensive graffiti, is the corporate gloss that is tacked all around. Happy cook logos, rustic pantry logos, welcome signs with logos, "Goodbye, drive carefully" signs with logos, customer satisfaction cards with logos. Everywhere looks the same. Even if service stations did offer anything approaching good value, the lack of any local identity would still make them seriously flawed.
Is it not then a pity that some of our employers feel obliged to head down the highway of corporate image? In Scotland, state schools effectively have a captive market. Despite this, there are few moans about poor value for money. Indeed, the very notion of value for money, customers and consumers was until recently alien in our field.
Complaints that money is ill-spent tend to focus on incidences where cash has been used to create a front. We really ought to have a national competition to see which council has the naffest logo. My money's on the one with the green and brown viaduct. Ironically, many schools seem to be making strenuous efforts to establish individual identities. I have few problems with this as it tends to be done in consultation with almost everybody in the local universe and doesn't cost much.
As for the idea that a place of education is an arm of the business conglomerate that is a local council, no thanks. If I had a pound for every time I heard the notion that education should be more like business I'd pay off my mortgage. Or put the money towards a coronation chicken baguette in some cloned eatery off the M6.
Gregor Steele is glad that every town in his area is "thriving on safe driving".