Road rant

November 2007

Dear Dave,

You're right - those Children's Traffic Club books are great, aren't they? My kids all loved them and became much more aware of road safety after working through them. Marie now complains whenever she ends up next to the road as we walk along the pavement holding hands.

Of course, they only help up to a certain point. Fraser's reached a stage where he's forgotten lots of the information but he thinks he knows everything. It's almost like I'm having to start again as he becomes responsible for himself and has to stop relying on me the whole time. Teaching him to cross roads is harder work than I imagined it would be:

We live in a maze of side streets, so, most of the time, we have to cross near a junction - we can't avoid it. Fortunately, there aren't that many cars about and they're usually not going that fast. Less fortunately, there are plenty of inconsiderate drivers who don't indicate. Sometimes this is laziness brought on by the lack of other vehicles; sometimes it's because they've got their hands full as they smoke while holding a mobile phone. It happens so often, I pretty much have to assume that any nearby car is about to make a sudden turn and head straight for us, whether they're signalling this intent or not. (To be fair, some drivers do start indicating when they notice me standing at the kerb with three small children but, since they've already begun turning by this point, it's not actually that helpful. If they're still smoking and holding a mobile phone, I'd really rather they concentrated on steering.)

The only thing more dangerous than the really inconsiderate drivers is the really considerate ones. These people seem to delight in taking politeness to a potentially lethal level. They see us waiting at the edge of the pavement looking from side to side, and take pity on the poor parent with small children. They stop their cars and wave us across.

I really wish they wouldn't.

This kind of behaviour is highly unpredictable and it often means that crossing the road takes longer as we wait to make sure they've really stopped and aren't just checking out a parking space or lining us up for a triple-point hit-and-run combo. It confuses me, so it's not handy when teaching young children the Green Cross Code. It's also hugely dangerous - just because they've waved, it doesn't mean it's safe to cross. There are the other directions to consider. I've been lulled into a false sense of security a couple of times myself and only remembered to look the other way at the last minute. When my kids are older, I firmly believe that the biggest risk to their health will be courteous drivers.

Some of them are just crazy.

Frequently, a car pulls out of a side street (turning right) and the driver notices us waiting for them to go past before we cross the main road. He or she stops and waves us across. The car is still partly in the side street, partly where it wants to be and mostly sitting at right-angles across the wrong lane. This doesn't seem smart.

Some drivers see us ready to cross in the distance and slow down to give us an opportunity to hurry over before they arrive. This is infuriating. A car traveling along a straight road at a constant speed is easy to predict - even a child can do it. It's very hard, however, spotting that a car going twenty-five miles an hour is gently slowing down if it's coming directly towards you. By the time I'm certain that the driver isn't just fiddling with the radio, there's never time to cross safely. They either have to go past or stop. What they usually do instead is increase pressure on the brake a little more - just enough to give us time to cross but ensuring they don't actually have to come to a halt. Needless to say, it's almost impossible for us to tell that this is what's going on. For a start, the brake lights are on the back of the car. More than that, it takes a few seconds of observation to mentally calculate the rate of deceleration of a slow moving object. Factor in the time it takes to look for cars coming in the other direction (who may have decided to join in the insanity) and there's still no chance of us making it across.

The driver wonders what we're playing at but is now committed to the whole thing. He or she slows down a fraction more. The cycle repeats. Everything proceeds at the rate it takes Xeno to shoot a tortoise. Several days later, the car stops and the driver waves us across, just as the cars coming the other way give up. We wait some more. Everyone involved dies of dehydration.

Quite often, the cars that do this tortuous rolling to a stop are the only ones in sight at the point when the whole rigmarole begins. If they simply kept going, we'd be across the road the moment they'd gone by.

Somehow, I have to teach my children to deal with this nonsense and yet still arrive at their destination on time and in one piece. I've started putting Fraser in charge of working out when it's safe for us all to cross and it's been quite nerve-wracking. I imagine this must be what teaching someone to drive is like. Half the time, I want to slam on his brakes, the other half, I keep wanting to shout, "Go! Come on! Now!" as he spends thirty seconds checking in each direction, moving his head around and hopping up and down in case a car is lurking behind a lamp post ready to pounce or a motorbike is about to leap out of a wheelie bin.

After much consideration, he points into the distance. "There's a van over there."

I shield my eyes and squint. "Yes, but it's on Mars." Meanwhile, in the other direction, cars have had a chance to arrive all the way from Glasgow in order to not indicate and then turn corners apparently using only the power of the drivers' nicotine addled minds. We're back to square one.

Ho well. The kids will figure it out eventually and the whole process will be worth it in the end. Let's face it, if they're ever going to move out, they're going to need to know how to get off our block.

Hmmm... I think I'll go start Marie on the next book...

Yours in a woman's world,


PS At the moment, the kids aren't that fussed about learning to cross roads by themselves. They'd be quite happy for me to chaperone them everywhere for the rest of their lives and then have me hang around to perform menial tasks.

Yesterday, for instance, Lewis wanted to climb on the bike racks at school and he needed his hands free. "Can you hold onto my lunchbox?" he said, waving it at me.

Marie was already climbing and I was, very obviously, preoccupied with preventing her falling on her head. "Hang it off the buggy or something," I said in exasperation. "I'm not your slave."

Marie chuckled at the absurdity of this idea. "No," she giggled at me, "you're my slave."

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