Wednesday, 9 April 2008

The Commute (also know as the march of idiots)

by Rabbie Macintosh

Now, unlike most of my esteemed content contributors, I live outside a city, and have to use a car. Most of the city dwellers will of course have forgotten about cars due to the most excellently executed public transport solutions that the British councils have embarked upon in recent years to better deal with congestion and overcrowding on the roads..... Ahem, I'll get my coat then.

Aaaaanyway, I have a nice little job providing information to individuals who are far better educated, but also far more ignorant of technology than I am. This is a fulfilling task, and I get some ever so slightly jaded sense of satisfaction from having people whose prefix of choice is "Dr." asking for my assistance. I'm sure that I'll get over it. In time.

However, this job requires a modest commute of about 60 miles per day. This time is well spent on many wondrous and varied things. For example, I am able to arrive at work alert and ready to commence solving complex and interesting (TM) computer problems thanks to the wonder of idiocy that is the M4 - Every day that I make it in, I give a small prayer to whatever Deity governs my good fortune, knowing full well that one day, they will still be asleep.

One of the things that makes this little journey more bearable is the fact that I get to throw my modestly powered vehicle (diesel. 300 miles a week requires it.) round some interesting B roads. Which, are actually in a very good state of repair. Much better than the M4 anyway (although there are quarry's which have smoother road surfaces than the M4), and they allow me to break from the excitement of dodging the suicidal, the insane, and the ever so slightly unhinged as they speed their way towards London. Oh, and trucks. I love trucks, me. They're so competitive. Always moving out into the 2nd lane to overtake their friends, who they are travelling 1 mph faster than. I can advise them that they are only going to have to wait a few minutes for them to catch up when they have to park up at the truck stop for the day.

Of course, B roads provide their own set of innovative and unusual features. Wildlife for example. It's very real, and quite solid, and also very, very dumb. I have a broken bumper, and a bonnet dent to testify to both the solid and irrepressible nature of such things. My car has been christened Bambi in honour of the fatality.

But, all of the above aside, I seem to make it in without a scratch most days. However, I'm never really sure of how this comes about. I sincerely believe that I have been a gnat's bollock away from a very large and unpleasant multi car pile up on any number of days. People are by and large exceptionally impatient when it comes to driving. I'm happy enough to let them push their respective vehicles beyond the limits of their driving talent, as it is their own grave that they are digging. But, I did wonder how much actual progress could actually be made if one attempts to drive like a loon. So, a test was in order.

Now, I'm no driving angel. I'm currently toting 6 points on my licence due to indiscretions on the road in the past 3 years, but, in the interests of conclusive results, I decided to forgo my now-usual "letter of the law" driving style and see what could be done.

If I approached my commute like a veritable Lewis Hamilton, I can make it to my desk an entire 6 minutes earlier than if I drive sensibly. Yes, for all the 'skin of the teeth' overtaking, tailgating, aggressive driving and unpleasantness, I got a whole 6 minutes ahead of myself.

I was less than impressed. For a start, I damn near killed myself to do that. All I got as a reward was an additional phone call from someone who was having difficult finding the 'any' key on his laptop. I don't understand why people would want to subject themselves to that on a daily basis. There's not a good reason. You spend more money (higher fuel consumption, tyre consumption, higher stress levels on the engine and various components of the vehicle, etc. All adds up!), and more time at work. Surely the lower that both of those figures are, the better off one is as a person?

Then I sat down and started to think about how many other people's day I had potentially ruined. Driving like an idiot is a very selfish act. I started to think about the other road users that I would have encountered, and how I feel when acts such as those I had made, are made against me. I potentially upset a lot of people. I don't know if it bothered them for more than a minute, but sometimes, you just don't need stuff like that when you're trying to get to work.

And then finally, I thought about people some more. I have a particularly good group of friends, that I would consider to be a bit old fashioned. As in they are respectful individuals, who have a sober sense of responsibility, dignity, politeness and good manners. They would, I believe summarise what it is to be British, although they themselves (and you too as well, possibly) would disagree. However, why is it that all of these traits seem to be left outside of the car when the individual behind the wheel steps in? It's not hard to be nice. We've been doing it for a long time.

I also have a German fiancee, who has all of the above, except the politeness bit. Although she is about as diplomatic as crapping at the gates of a foreign embassy, she is a gem nonetheless. Also, this means that I holiday in Germany from time to time. Which, in turn means that I have to deal with their road system. You'd think that with only 2 lanes on the German motorways, and no speed limits on large stretches of road, it'd be terrible.

Far from it. They have more discipline in their approach to driving than anyone here could ever hope to muster. It was one of the smoothest, most enjoyable (if slightly dull) journeys I have ever embarked upon.

I lament that this is something we will never know in the UK.

Also, I promise that I will never, ever, ever talk about driving again. Ever. This is far more than I wished to write on such a subject.

3 comments:

Edwin Hesselthwite said...

I was thinking about the wonders of overtaking last week, but not in the context of driving...

At 6 pm, on friday evening, in a central London swimming pool the politics of varying speed make a sedate water-pit into Le Mans... With only one over-taking lane for both directions of swimmer, and everyone from the geriatric to the bodybuilding cramped into the fast lane if they want to do crawl, you get all the machinations of road rage...

I've personally ended up sopping wet and being raged at by a Portugese weightlifter as I desperately try to explain the fact that no, I wasn't accelerating to prevent him overtaking, I was simply in the zone ...

Pool rage is a very real phenomenon, and demonstrates conclusively that its not just the protective shield of steel that turns us all into arseholes...

Anonymous said...

Cars are evil and must be punished. Tax the feckers off the road, I say.

Rabbie Macintosh said...

@ Anonymous:

That, I'm afraid is just uninformed and plain crazy talk. We owe an awful lot more to the automobile than you think.