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.