Contrary to popular belief, the Magic Roundabout is not just a rather bizarre children's TV programme featuring a talking dog and a guy on a spring. The real Magic Roundabout is a complex road system built in 1972 on the Eastern outskirts of Swindon in the county of Wiltshire, UK.
Some say it's actually a revolutionary1 traffic-control device that, if one was installed in every town and city, would mean an end to traffic jams nationwide. Many claim that it was an experiment on the local populace, where the town planners tested how radical they could be before there was a revolt. An unfair opinion perhaps, until you set eyes on the roundabout itself.
The more cynical think that it's a sort of gene-pool cleanser. 'Survival of the Fittest', they say - if you can make it across The Magic Roundabout with all of your body parts intact, then you should go on to lead a happy and productive life. If you don't survive it, then you were obviously never meant to be and you should be glad that you have been surgically removed from the gene pool before you get a chance to contaminate it further. Or perhaps it is simply a warning to those who approach Swindon from the East, forcing you to reconsider your reasons for going to Swindon, and conveniently offering a method of returning from whence you came.
Whatever your view on The Magic Roundabout, it is, undoubtedly, an adventurous piece of engineering that seems to solve the problem it set out to address: taking several streams of heavy traffic and intermingling them in such a way that everyone ends up heading towards their desired destination without raised voices, fisticuffs or prangs. The accident rate for such a busy junction is way below that which would have been expected on a conventional roundabout. What's more, it's one of the few road junctions to have had a song written in its honour2.
What Does it Do?
The Magic Roundabout (henceforth referred to as TMR) takes traffic from five lengths of road3 in all directions, tumbles them around like smalls in a washing machine and spits each vehicle back out in the direction they intend to go. This sometimes isn't the case, especially with newcomers; the first hint they get that things might not be as usual is the roadsign, a cabalistic pentagon of arrows and blue circles and titled, appropriately enough, 'The Magic Roundabout'4. TMR consists of an outer ring of five mini-roundabouts, plus a single, larger roundabout in the centre. This is viewed as somewhat excessive, even in a town renowned for its numerous roundabouts.
However, as an added twist, traffic circling the central roundabout travels around it in an anti-clockwise direction. If you are a newcomer approaching Swindon in a vehicle operated by a person who knows the area (such as the National Express bus from London), this will most certainly wake you up and perhaps scare the life out of you.
The upshot of all this is that there are an almost infinite number of routes that can be taken to get from A to B, using TMR. The chicken's way out is to bounce around the outside from one mini-roundabout to another. This will get you where you want to go, but won't earn you respect in the eyes of the locals.
To become respected in Swindon, you must have crossed TMR using the central roundabout, no matter where you came from or where you're going. To do so, your route will use a minimum of two mini-roundabouts and points are given for any more that are incorporated.
Foreign drivers who find the British obsession with roundabouts mystifying might think that road-planners have gone too far in this case. However, roundabouts are intended to keep congested traffic moving and accidents down, and TMR succeeds valiantly by simply administering a sixfold dose of the original remedy. Even the Romans, who knew a thing or two about roads, could learn something from their old colonial subjects.
A Final Word of Caution...
Before you go exploring the delights of the TMR for yourself, a word of warning: do not attempt to traverse TMR between the hours of 1am and 3am at weekends. These are the hours that the local Ned5 population appear to use for their mating rituals, usually involving their Nedmobiles (XR3i's, Civics with body kits, that sort of thing) at speeds far higher than local regulations allow.
However, if you do unfortunately find yourself on the roads during these hours, you will have sufficient warning of the approach of a Nedmobile. Part of the mating ritual between Neds demands that their vehicles make the loudest, fartiest noises that modern exhaust technology will allow. This behaviour is apparently to make other Neds think that their vehicle has an engine that is bigger than the stock power plant, and thus is to be feared. With this in mind, leave your car windows down - you should get an audible warning that a Ned is in the vicinity in plenty of time to take evasive action.