I get around, round, round, round, I get around, as Brian Wilson once said. And in a whole load of different ways, I like to walk a lot, I have a bicycle that I am not averse to taking out on a nice day, and I have a car. We’ve got 2 cars in fact, and if you take us as a household, we have four of the bloody things. I am not an anti-car protesting freak, and I do watch top gear, as it makes me laugh, just so we understand each other. I live in the middle of nowhere, so without a car I would be totally buggered.
I have discovered though, after much soul searching, and a very strange week, that I am very much at my worst, most self-entitled, smug and angry (not to mention impatient and stupid) when behind the wheel of my car. And I suspect it is not just me. I am beginning to think that there might be something in the engines. Of course, it could all be the fault of the voice of the people, Jeremy Clarkson. I am still very much all in favour of free speech, and letting him say what he wants, for if people are not allowed to say awful things, we will never know that they are awful people, or be able to challenge them over it.
I will just chuck my hat in the ring briefly and say that what is often referred to as ‘political correctness’ I tend to call ‘manners’, and what the Clarkson petition signers call ‘banter’ I will probably denounce as ‘offensive bullshit’. I will also admit that this blog is not really about the Clarkson thing, I am just using him as click bait, thanks for clicking. There have been more than enough column inches wasted on repeating that if anybody else hospitalised a workmate and called their bosses ‘fucking bastards’ in public, they would have gone a lot sooner, and with much less support from the masses.
It does all seem to me to a bit like advertising for whatever he is going to do next. I quite like Top Gear actually, but then I quite liked Jim’ll fix it and Rolf’s cartoon club but I am not clamouring to ensure Saville and Harris remain on TV via petitions. I do realise that this is intentionally sarcastic exaggeration to make a point as well. The caricature that Clarkson plays on TV is the acceptable face of the motorist as over-entitled, smug, pompous arse, and allows people to think that their aggressive driving is ok. It is not (and that’s without even going into the legitimisation of casual racism as a bit of harmless fun) but as long as you take the on-screen twattery with the pinch of salt that I hope they intend, it is all a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun, and some people will always find something to be offended by. I have no problem with offending people by the way, I like all dialogues open, all the time, as I have said before, if the racists are silenced, they are no less racist, just not challenged over it, or noticed.
Back to the point then, as I walk up and down the road from my house to the town where I live (no pavements, no white line, but a relatively short stretch of road, and national speed limit all the way, just wide enough for two cars, but no more) I find myself feeling guilty for slowing down the cars that are driving past me. Same if I am cycling up it (quite a bit slower than I can walk it). Where on earth did I get the idea from that a small country road, and THE ONLY WAY you can get from the town to my house (and not just mine, there are others further up. Some of which have small kids living in them, won’t somebody think of the children? They cannot drive) is the property and preserve of those who choose to drive along it and nobody else. It is not my fault it has no pavements or walkways, we should all be able to share it with a cheery good humour surely? I should not be feeling as if I have to drive into town when I much prefer walking or cycling? Particularly since it is part of national cycle route 27 and is a constant stream of sweaty Lycra between May and September.
Well, no, because if I am driving up that same stretch of road I too get angry and impatient when stuck behind a cyclist, or if two cars are trying to pass each other while some small child has the temerity to walk along a road with his mum. Is there something about driving that turns us all into Clarksons? Maybe if the flying cars of Back to the Future 2 had actually come into being then the world would be a calmer nicer place to get around in? Maybe we need to build pavements along all the country roads in the UK just to stop drivers getting angry? Maybe something like the Green Lanes in Jersey would help us all get along a little better in what should really be a shared space, not a bit of concrete reserved for cars and cars alone. By the way, it is also often flooded with sheep as they are herded from one field to the next. The drivers really hate that, the cats seem to enjoy it though. Might be worth remembering that the speed limit is just that, an upper limit, not a suggested cruising speed, particularly relevant on little narrow country lanes, in case you’re ever visiting down my way and don’t want to die.
Maybe it is as a consequence of being warmly cocooned inside a big suit of armour/little tank that we feel invincible and entitled in our cars. I don’t feel as vulnerable when I am driving up the narrow country lane past a big truck as I do when I am walking past it. Which is odd, since were it to career out of control and hit my car, I would be just as mangled as if I were walking (with the added benefit of bits of twisted metal to get stuck through me, and plenty of glass) although I would have a better chance of jumping over the hedge to escape without the car. However, it must be said that we do all exude much more of a sense of bravado when we are in our shells. Now it might be just because I have skipped jauntily away from every car accident I have ever been in that makes me feel safest of all (see Gary Numan for reference please) and in a couple of cases just turned the key, restarted the engine and driven away. Despite the fact I have lost plenty of good friends in car accidents, and am fully aware of how deadly they are. Mind you, it took me a long time to give up smoking while being fully aware of the consequences, must be human nature.
The Car has freed us all from having to work within a sensible distance of where we live, with the unintended effect that almost none of us do anymore, and we all spend a ridiculous amount of time travelling between work and home. Except me, I can still walk to work, and it is much nicer. This also means that every single second counts, so we all have to drive as fast as is humanly possible all the time. I had a little experiment the other night, driving back from a band rehearsal in Exeter, I tend not to bother going terribly fast unless I am in a dreadful hurry, and obviously I don’t usually have the sat nav on as I know where I am going. So I set it going (for its estimated arrival time, to see what effect it would have) and drove home like an utter tit, stupidly fast and taking more risks than I usually would. I gained 90 seconds of time on the sat nav’s prediction, over an hour or so’s journey.
Now if you’re driving a few hundred miles, then yes, going faster will get you there rather quicker (maybe a whole 15 minutes, how useful, you can watch half an episode of EastEnders when you get there, or more than likely make up for the time you had to spend putting extra fuel in the car because of how fast you were driving) but for most of the silly fast driving I see every day on a regular basis, you are gaining seconds, not even minutes, is it worth killing (or indeed dying) for? No, calm down, it seems my gran was right, you won’t get there any faster, and unless you have blue flashing lights on your vehicle, it is unlikely to be a matter of life and death if you are a bit late.
I’m not entirely sure which came first, the car or the self-entitled prick taking up the whole road, I know Clarkson wasn’t the first, but he has given legitimacy to the outdated views of a vast swathe of society that it is ok for them to keep driving the biggest fastest cars they can whatever damage it does to the environment. I don’t doubt that there used to be some mediaeval cock on a big horse making the peasants push their handcarts into the ditch by the road so that they could get past a bit quicker, and not get dirt on their horses new shoes, twats are sadly eternal, and always with us, but at least the shit that spewed out of the horse helped the flowers grow by the roadside.
I realise that I sound bitter, but then one of my cats got run over outside my house this week, probably as a result of the bridge being closed on the main road through town, and our little road becoming host to quite a lengthy diversion encouraging all drivers (especially those in lorries and trucks on tight delivery schedules, hey look, I can blame free market capitalism again, excellent) to fly up and down it more often, and much faster than usual. The irony of our home made slow down sign (a mannequin wearing a bear mask holding a sign) being hit by a car going too fast this morning and shattering all over the road was not lost on me. Slow down, life is too short and infinitely breakable to be in such a rush, next time it might be me, or one of my kids, not a mannequin in a bear mask.
It was, sadly, my cat Heisenberg, named after an uncertainty principle, and shockingly stubborn, the less fluffy of the two nine month old cats who star in this stupid video I made a week ago, in happier times that was the victim this time. Sorry for the sentimental ending here, but the fluffy one (Kahlo) is sat on my lap looking around sadly for her brother and trying to get one of the old cats to play with her, it is not going well.