Friday, 28 September 2012

The Worst People On The Roads

I'm a sucker for radio call-in shows, especially Jeremy Vine on Radio Two. I like the varied opinions, whether I agree or not. From time to time someone puts a view across on a topic I have my own opinions on, and I think "You're right. I never thought of it that way", which is a good thing. On the other hand, from time to time I hear people's opinions and end up once again in despair for humanity. It's invariably the "If you don't like it, go back where you came from/to another country, etc etc." people.

In fact, a couple of years ago, I got into the habit of deliberately emailing the show with exactly that type of response, simply to see if it got read out. It would be for some less socially relevant topic, such as "Should window cleaners use those long poles to do windows, or should the traditional ladder+bucket be the standard?" and I would send something like "The long poles are safer and more efficient, and if you don't like them, then just move to a country where they do still use ladders and buckets."

I don't care about window cleaning. It just seemed funny to use the "send 'em 'ome" philosophy for something irrelevant to immigration or national pride. Sadly, after a couple of weeks none got read out, I realised it wasn't that funny, and stopped.

The other morning though, the topic was whether or not in the light of MP Andrew Mitchell calling the police in Downing Street "plebs" for not letting him use the main gate to get out on his pushbike, he had damaged the reputation of cyclists nationwide. Quite a lot of people surprised me by suggesting that cyclists are a menace on the road: untaxed, uninsured, untrained, unapologetic nuisances with no care or regard for all other road users. There may even have been a suggestion that they should all be deported to China, where that sort of thing is common. Seriously.

What made me decide to blog about it is this: who really are the worst road users? Is there, in fact, an actual category of road user who is any more culpable for accidents, anger, annoyance or apprehension? I don't think so. I think it's down to stereotyping and nothing more.

Take your truck driver: he sits in the slow lane of the motorway, 2 inches from your bumper, at a steady 56mph, mobile phone in one hand, a fag in the other. The only time he isn't doing this is when he swings out without indicating, to overtake another truck at 56.5mph. Oh, and the foreign ones are the worst, because they don't have to abide by our rules, and they all drink too much coffee, take drugs to stay awake, don't have road legal vehicles, and I've even heard they piss in the cab because it saves stopping at motorway services. They don't eat our food or pay our taxes, and they kill women.

How about van drivers? Chugging along at way over the speed limit, drinking coffee out of a flask as they go, weaving in and out of traffic. They don't stop at red lights. They push in. They never ever let you out at busy junctions even though they know you've been there for hours. They all have "I wish my wife was this dirty" written in the dirt on the back, and they always blast on their horn if you don't move off at a light within 0.1 seconds of it changing to green. They're rude, they stare down at women stuck in traffic and leer at them. Oh, and most of the vans aren't road legal anyway. I've even heard that 76% of all vans on British roads would fail their MOT test if the driver ever bothered to take them for one. Even the brand new ones with "LUFC4EVA" written on dirt on the back.

Bikers? Bloody motorbikes?! There's you, sat in traffic, moving about 2 inches every four hours, and those buggers just go pottering along the outside of you, making their way as though they own the road! When they're not doing 200mph outside a school at 9 in the morning, that is. Because they don't get caught by speed cameras, you see? They don't have to have a number plate at the front, which is basically the same as being exempt from British driving laws. That's probably because they've got something to hide. I've heard anyone wearing bike leathers is basically a gangland mobster selling drugs to pensioners.

Don't get me started on car drivers. Have you seen some of them, these days? There are people driving around in tiny cars with small engines not because it saves money, but because they think it's better for the environment! Don't these people realise that if they got hit by a truck doing 90mph they'd be dead in an instant? That's just irresponsible. Think about the children! Then there's your big 4x4 gas-guzzlers. They only buy them so they can use mobile phones while they're driving, because the police think big cars are safer, so it's okay. But none of them go off-roading. In fact, they can't. Because there aren't as many fields any more because of all the new roads. And why aren't there any fields? Because people are still using cars! Especially old people. And youngsters. Have they never heard of buses?

Bloody buses! Always stopping in the same sodding places! How come they get away with pulling off the moment the indicator comes on? Everyone else has to wait. Except cyclists. And bikers. And van drivers. And trucks. They always come onto your side of the road when they go around corners, and that's hardly safe for their passengers, is it? And they're all plastered with adverts on the back, so while you're reading the adverts you don't see the brake-lights, and BAM! You've run into the back of it, so everyone on the bus is late for work, risking losing their jobs, their homes, and their pensions, and all of a sudden it's YOUR fault the economy's in the state it's in!

Pedestrians? Oh you'd better believe they're road users too. You see them walking on roads all the bloody time! Seriously, I was driving down a narrow country lane once, and there must have been ten of them. Why they can't walk in the fields like cows and sheep have to, I don't know. Even in towns and cities you can see them crossing the road where there isn't a pedestrian crossing. Some of them have headphones on, and you're not telling me that's safe. Who needs music to cross a road? They're probably on drugs, and road users on drugs are the scum of the earth because they bump everyone's insurance up. What's wrong with walking half a mile to the nearest pedestrian crossing, to do it in safety?

Then there's tanks. You don't see me hammering it across Salisbury Plain, firing 150mm high explosive armour piercing rounds at static targets in preparation for a tour of Afghanistan, so why should they be allowed to drive at normal speeds on British roads, even if they are on the back of a trailer. It's basically the same as saying it's alright to eat dogs. They do a wonderful job, though. I think there should be more tanks in traffic calmed areas, so they can flatten the speedbumps. And shoot hippies.

Oh, I nearly forgot! Horses: what's that all bout, in this day and age? What do you need a horse for? Are you ploughing the road? No. Are you charging a battalion of Napoleon's musketeers? No. Are you ordering a coach to "stand and deliver"? No! So you don't need a bloody horse, do you? They have these things called pubic bridleways, apparently, and horses are allowed on them. But not cars, trucks, or tanks. So how come horse drivers can use roads? I'll tell you why: because they're all Masons, so the police turn a blind eye, because they're all Masons too. Trust me: beep your horn at a horse driver and the hand gesture they use once they get the frightened animal back under control is, I'm pretty sure, a Masonic one.

I think I'm done. Is that everyone? I think so. For now, at least.

Hopefully you enjoyed reading that pointless rant based on stereotypes and utter nonsense. But my point is that there is no specific category of road user that best exemplifies what we could consider "worst". Almost every day I see someone do something unbelievably stupid, but at the same time I take the care to notice people doing something positive and sensible. It's just easier to notice the bad in people, and sadly that's true of almost everything in life.

Be nice to other road users. They might just be nice to you.

Apart from old people on electric scooters.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

My Morality Won't Save The World

Today, I found myself with a bit of a conundrum:

It was approaching lunchtime, and my bladder was full. So I decided to kill two birds with one stone and head to the Park Farm shopping centre in Allestree, as it was the nearest toilets and cheap food location to where I am working. Now I normally avoid this place unless it's essential, because the pensioners that seem to make up 90% of all in attendance are divided into two categories: the zombie-like dawdlers in worlds of their own so involved that they are more of a nuiscance than kids with headphones on skateboards texting their mates. Then there's the car park menaces, for whom driving at 25mph is the unwritten rule both on our roads and in our car parks, right up until they get out of their cars and stride, eyes never diverting from the precincts doorway, until they're inside (or in an ambulance sometimes, presumably).

The death ratio is probably around the same as a South American slum, I swear.

But today, it was a "needs must" situation. I aimed for a parking spot that, in the glare of the sun, seemed to be suited to my van, but as I pulled up it became clear that a parking stormtrooper was ticketing the vehicle next to it, and I had to stop before I unwittingly ran into him. Okay, the temptation's always there, but not really. This became especially noticeable when it became clear the vehicle in question was a Chelsea Tractor (a BMW X1) and that the owner had not only parked so she was occupying two bays, but she was so close to the car next to her that a hardcore anorexic would struggle to get in.

The parking stormtrooper shrugged, and then pointed quickly to a bay opposite. I gave him the thumbs-up, reversed into the space, and got out. I looked. It really was bloody terrible parking. I noted the child seat in the back, and knew straight away this was a money-bags mummy, probably a blonde, who would inevitably be wearing enough make-up to keep Max Factor share prices high, dressed like she was going out either clubbing or to dinner. Or in pyjamas. He shrugged again. I tutted.

When I got back, I could see the parking stormtrooper chatting to a lady. As I got closer I could see the lady had what looked very much like a recently removed self-adhesive parking ticket in her hand, waving it around as though beseiged by wasps. She was blonde. She was well dressed. As I passed by, she was crusted so thickly with make-up it would stop a bullet. So I chuckled, and grinned at the stormtrooper, who looked like I know I look when an angry or upset customer is giving me shit.

I got back in the van, took a swig of coffee, checked my phone for missed calls (there are always missed calls when I leave it in the van) and set off. With it being warm I'd wound the window down, so as I drove past the now alone stormtrooper I just said "I'm guessing that was the terrible parker."

He grinned back at me, and then seemed struck by a flash of inspiration. "Ooh!" he called out, "She's denying it because I don't have a camera. Would you be a witness if she contests it?"

"Sure," I replied. "Grab my reg, and I'll witness it!"

Well, witness it I did.

There's the conundrum. I did witness it. But I am left in a situation where my own personal morality leaves me caught between what I consider to be two modern evils.

On the one hand, I have had some genuinely bizarre encounters with parking stormtroopers, or "parking inspectors" as I believe they are currently officially known. I have been ticketed for parking in an area where they aren't supposed to be ticketing, and that was eventually revoked. I have been ticketed for parking in my own street because of an old enforcement rule that only stood while there was a post office on the street, but was never officially withdrawn. I have been "moved on" while doing my job because the stormtrooper didn't know or understand the mobile street works rules that apply to anyone working in the highways. I find them to largely be so rigid in their application of rules and regulations that if someone exceeds a parking restriction by just a few minutes they'll face a £70 fine for less than £1 of expired parking fee. Fact.

On the other hand, I have a distinct prejudice against anyone who is utterly selfish in their car. This isn't just about the school run Chelsea tractors, it's about anyone who parks inconsiderately or seems to drive on the roads to their own bizarre set of rules. Sadly, the worst of them are, I am certain, people in big 4x4 or 4x4-lookalike road tanks that they own because "I don't want my children put at risk while I am driving."

Yeah? Well if you don't want them put at risk, then try not using your sodding phone while you're trundling along. Try not sitting 6 inches from someone's bumper in traffic. How about not stopping to chat to a friend coming the other way in the suburbs? In fact, and maybe I am going with extreme prejucide for some of the younger wealthier mums on this one: how about driving a car you know how to fucking drive? I know you probably learnt in a Nissan Micra or a Citroen C1. How many lessons did you have in your Porsche Cayenne, eh? How good were you at reversing that on your driving test? Because you sure as shit forgot how to do it, judging by how you all park now.

What do I do, should the parking stormtrooper find his integrity questioned by the Chelsea Tractor driver? I know this isn't a life changing event for anyone, and I really do like the idea that I could be in a position to get the both of them caught up in a web of bureaucracy that could tie up a bloated and often pathetic legal system to the tune of hundreds of pounds in administrative costs. Oh yes: my taxes paying for something that will personally appeal to me! What better evidence of paying tax being worthwhile is there?

What I got out of today was this:

  • Not all parking stormtroopers are total wankers. Today one pointed out a parking space for me. Okay I would have seen it eventually, but I've never experienced this before.
  • Someone pandered to a stereotype, and bolstered a prejudice that is empirical rather than unjustified.
  • I can potentially be a witness, and toss a coin to decide which side I come down on. I hate parking stormtroopers as much as I hate Chelsea Tractor drivers. Just being a witness doesn't mean I have to take a side.
I think I might just let time decide this one. It's just a ride. The next curve of the rollercoaster might just either make a person driving a car terribly really angry, or a person doing a terrible job angry. It might not make me any happier, but sometimes that really isn't the point.

The point is: how many parking stormtroopers drive Chelsea Tractors, and how many Chelsea Tractor drivers are parking stormtroopers?

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Never Less Thankful For Lacking a Blue Badge

The London 2012 Experience ended, as it had begun, with a spectacle that was typically British: something where colour, ability, politics and well-being can be feverishly debated and analysed while completely forgetting the beauty, variety, vitality and humour that this incredible island of immense and diverse character has to offer. We did ourselves proud, and we did it... well, because we could do it.

How typically British: "The greatest nation on Earth", yet the first to criticize the nation. God forbid anyone who gets in ahead of us...

It was an amazing thing though, wasn't it? I found myself gripped. Gripped by Bolt in the 100m final. Gripped by Weir in every event he was in. Gripped by Peacock as the New Kid On The Block. Gripped by the Pistorius hissyfit. Gripped by the 7-7 athlete. Gripped by the back-stories of so many of these - woah!

Wait a minute. Yep, I totalled it up in my head. I watched about 4 minutes of the Olympics. I watched probably in excess of 3 whole days of the Paralympics. It got to the point where even if I was doing something on the computer, I had the TV on in the background, just waiting for the next event to start. I got completely and utterly obsessed with the Paralympics, and I knew I would do, and I knew why.

It started with a conversation with me and my son, Luke, about posters and cardboard cut-outs of Olympians that dotted the country, mainly in supermarkets. I didn't know who the cheerful but fierce-eyed young blond man was in one ad, stood there as he was, minus a leg, looking so fit as to put me to shame even if I were the comparative age he is now. Google told us he was Jonnie Peacock, and from there we vowed to research him.

Bloody hell. You know that moment when you realize someone Darwinianly less able than you makes you realise just how down the food chain you are compared to them? Yeah, we had that. But it made for all the better natural support when it came to watch him taking his golden prize. Here is a man, we both agreed, who has less than we do, who can do more than we could ever think to do. And then the bombshell, from Luke:

"Imagine if he'd never lost a leg? He would beat Bolt every time by now, already." he said.

It was then that I introduced Luke to the concept of "Circumstance": If Jonnie Peacock had made it past the age of 5 with two fully functioning legs, would he ever have considered running competitively? Apparently not. I pointed out that the Spanish contingent had an ex terrorist in their ranks. "No way", I was told. But "way". Circumstance leads to many paths, from the least expected of paths.

It led me to realise that over the course of London 2012, I watched the very beginning of the opening ceremony, a little bit of sailing while me Jayney worked out what class of boat (or ship, or dinghy, or whatever they call things that float and have a sail) we were seeing, and the Mens 100m final. The rest I saw as highlights, largely on iPlayer. As for the Paralympics...

At what point in the proceedings could I have felt any sense of pity? At what point could I have looked at any athlete and said "You really let the fucking side down there"? Where could I suggest they improve their lot? How could I make them think that their disability made me better than them?

At no point. That's the truth.

The simple fact is that Britain took a firm grasp of Beijing's torch and made the Paralympics something to admire. If you don't believe me, I suggest you search the WWW and see what crops up since Beijing. There's a particular BBC R4 documentary made regarding China that might squeegy your third eye...

Where does this leave the disabled, though?

In the tabloid pigeon-holing of social physiognomy, it would now appear that competing Paralympians need at least an OBE, and those not competing want their benefits taking off them. If you can't do the 100m in the time it takes Dave Weir to do the Marathon... MMmmyyyyeah.... Other way 'round? How's The Sun's goalball team doing?

Me, I'm not disabled. But I do have friends who were born with physical defects, and I do have friends who have lost limbs and abilities since birth. They've done fine, but (and they will admit) not as fine as these amazing archetypes for the true nature of human existence: the fight to exceed expectation.

Whether you are able-bodied in the media sense, or of the Paralympic event persuasion, let me ask you this: Where could you see yourself pushing for a gold medal, in any event, at any level?

I've never known it to be that someone considered less socially "normal" than me could inspire me to realise I'm a fat, moaning, counter-productive piece of shit compared to what they endure, and that whatever I face in life, I should know not only can I improve myself, but I can improve on those that consider themselves better than me.

The Paralympics stole the show in London. No more an amazing people have I ever witnessed. Sadly, the next person who thinks they personally are as equally "disabled" but clearly does themselves no favours will incur my socialist wrath: we have moved on as a species. Darwin was right. What are you doing for your species?

Sorry, but I speak as someone with less physical worth than Dave Weir, I assure you. Never mind me. What are YOU doing?