Council Highways staff were kept on their toes the day before yesterday and yesterday, as what an Enterprise House source described as "Pothole Armageddon" hit the Isle of Wight's roads.
It all began at 10:45, when Urma Hulke answered the phone on the Island Wasp Buzz-Line. "I thought it was a bit early for a wasp emergency", said a still-shaken Urma. "We don't usually get any phone calls until September. I knew something was up when the phone rang for 5 minutes. They usually give up after 2 or 3."
The caller had been given the wrong number by the Council's One-Stop Information Helpline. "They wanted to report a pothole on the B3399 between Freshwater and Shalcombe", said Urma Hulke. "I spent 25 minutes taking all the details and then gave the caller the number of the Highways Defect Hotline. The language when I said they'd have to repeat the details to the Highways Defect Hotline! I mean, it was nothing to do with wasps."
We spoke to the caller, Colonel Brittle-Whetstone, of Hang Monkey Lodge, Shipperton Chine. "The woman from Wasps put me through, and I spent a further half an hour giving my personal details to another lady - I even had to list my hobbies and my favourite hat (when I said I never wore a hat, she said 'try to choose a favourite hat of a friend or relative or famous person' and when I refused to come up with anything, she said 'OK, I'll put "Admiral Nelson"' and I was past caring by then, though Nelson's is not my favourite hat at all). Then I had to describe the pothole, its location and estimate its size in centimetres.
"Can you believe that, after all that, she then had the gall to tell me that she would have to put me through to the Highways Defect Hotline! Apparently, Wasps had put me through to bloody Japanese Knotweed!"
By 13:30, however, Colonel Brittle-Whetstone had finally succeeded in reporting the pothole to the Highways Defect Hotline. And Enterprise House exploded into action. A full description of the pothole was entered onto the Highways Archive Defect IT system HADIT. There it will lie unmolested by human hand for the mandatory 6-month 'resting interval', during which the Highways & Transport Department will mobilise crack Road Defect Analysts who will determine the levels of human and other resources required to deal with the pothole. Within 2 years, the pothole will be filled in. "It will be as if the pothole never existed. As seamless as that", confirmed Chief Defect Engineer Clive India.
But there was no room for complacency at Enterprise House. There was to be no resting on laurels. By 14:40, another caller was trying to make herself understood to the One-Stop Information Helpline. By now, however, the Council was fully mobilised, and Mrs Amber Dextrose of Idlecombe Farm did not have to suffer the frustrations endured by Colonel Brittle-Whetstone: she was fast-tracked to the Highways Defect Hotline within 2 hours 5 minutes. Soon the dimensions of the pothole that had caused her to swerve near Bohemia Corner, Rookley, were loaded onto HADIT and she could rest assured that crack Road Defect Operatives would fill in the offending hole within 2 years. "I'm so relieved", she told us. "I often use that road when visiting my secret lover, who is a prominent Hampshire Episcopalian and bridge player, but don't tell either of my husbands."
This had been quite a day for the Isle of Wight Highways & Transport Department, but it wasn't over yet. At 16:55, the beleaguered One-Stop Information Helpline was forced to field its third call that day. This was an enquiry about reptile licences, which they put through to War Memorials, and was quickly followed by a fourth call with yet another pothole report. The exhausted operator, Anna Conder, was so shell-shocked that she inadvertently connected the fourth caller - Bill Ingsgate of Yarbridge, Brading - with the Highways Defect Hotline straight away.
Unfortunately, Mr Ingsgate was unable to speak to a Hotline Helpline Customer Empathiser, as it was now after 5 o clock, and the after-hours recorded message supplied him with the number to ring to leave the details of his defect.
Thus it was that Urma Hulke turned up for work at the Island Wasp Buzz-Line yesterday morning and was shocked to discover the message from Mr Ingsgate - describing the pothole he had encountered on the A3021 near Whippingham - on the Wasp Buzz-Line Answerphone. Despite the stress of remembering the traumas of the day before, Urma was able to pass the message to Overseas Burials within the hour. By 12:15, the A3021 defect was safely logged onto HADIT and the crack Road Defect operation was dealing with the latest emergency.
Highways & Transport Chief Theo Dolight summed up the scale of the crisis last night. "To get three pothole reports in one day placed unprecedented demands on Council resources. Not since 1967, when the exploding car from Carbunkle's Circus got wedged sideways between the entrance gates of Stickworth Hall, and the Stickworth grounds were infested with three bewildered clowns and a drunken pantomime cow, have we been so stretched. I can only pay tribute to the diligence and responsiveness of our staff.
"I am proud to be able to assure Island residents that these three potholes are securely logged on our HADIT database."
We are sure that all Island residents will sleep the more secure in their beds for this knowledge.