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Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Posts tagged with ‘driving’

Ambulance

It feels like there’s an awful lot of year ahead; January moves very slowly.

On the drive to work: there had been some sort of accident, at one of the places where teenagers gather for the 8am school bus. On a zebra crossing: a blue-lights-on ambulance parked up on the pavement, cars stopped on either side of the road. A flash of memory as I drove past.

Talking of time travellers…

In which we analyse a police suggestion

Ah, snow. You can’t beat it for sending people a bit mad and panicked. Yesterday the roads were gridlocked for half an hour at lunch time, because of the number of people who rushed home at the fall of the first flake. Last night, the news was full of dire warnings. Don’t travel if you don’t have to. Stock up your car. Make sure you take a shovel, blankets, a flask of tea, a flask of soup, sandwiches, cakes, a propane stove, three woolly jumpers and the complete works of Proust, because you never know when you might get stuck. Make sure you have a propane stove and not a butane one because, as all hardy campers know, the boiling point of butane at standard pressure is only around freezing, so in cold weather butane stoves get sluggish, give up and go to sleep.

I was particularly impressed, though, by the words of one of the local police spokesmen interviewed on last night’s news. “If you wake up in the morning and your car’s all frosted up,” I’m fairly sure he said, “you should get up 30 or 45 minutes early and make sure it’s completely defrosted before you set off.” It took me a minute to spot the flaw in the statement – assuming I’m not misremembering what he actually said. I think it’s a pretty good plan, though.

Too Much Information

In which something in the neighbourhood has changed

Not long after we moved here, we started to notice one particular car that was often parked in the neighbourhood. We noticed it because it had distinctive stickers in the back window. On the nearside, “Born-again Pagan!”. On the offside: “Bondage. It’s knot for everyone!” We’ve seen it again many many times since then, and speculated as to who would own a car with stickers like that; but we’ve never seen it moving. An aging hippyish type? A purple-haired couple? All sorts of stereotypes floated up into our heads.

The other day, though, we saw something that shocked us to the core. The car was there, again. The “Born-again Pagan!” sticker is still there, blue on white. The bondage sticker, though, has gone. Gone, with just a mark left behind. Never mind the driver or the owner: the missing sticker has really set our minds racing. What has happened to it? Is the owner worried what the neighbours might think? Have they decided to keep their sex lives to themselves? Have they lost their sense of humour? Did a couple split up, one take the car, the other take the sticker? Did it dissolve in the rain? There are myriad possibilities. I’m tempted to leave a note under the windscreen wipers asking the owner to get in touch.

Overheard

In which we spot something to tempt a thief

Or, rather, overseen.

Walking along the street, in a fairly quiet neighbourhood, but not so dead that there’s nobody in sight. A man pulls up in a fairly battered 20-year-old car. He stops it, gets out, and pops into a shop – leaving the car unlocked with the keys inside and the engine ticking over.

Either this man is some sort of well-known local underworld bigwig, or he’s so blasé he doesn’t care. Or, possibly, he was hoping it would disappear when he returned. Maybe its starter was so dodgy, he didn’t dare risk turning the thing off. I had turned the street before he returned, but nobody looked likely to try jumping inside and driving it away.

Return Of The Guided Bus

In which I discuss the likely and hoped-for death of the Bristol guided busway plans

Regular readers – local regular readers, if there are any – might have noticed that it’s a while now since I’ve mentioned “Bus Rapid Transit”, the West Of England Partnership’s unloved and highly expensive scheme for a South Bristol guided busway to replace the current park-and-ride route. Because, you know, the way to improve bus services in Bristol is to replace the bus routes that are, erm, already the best bus routes in the city, with slightly different buses* on their own private roads. If you’ve not heard about this: you might want to read this, this, and this, in which – with a few misconceptions which got sorted out along the way – I demonstrate that it will be rather tricky to build the thing.**

I’ve been quiet, because, well, there’s only so many times you can ridicule these plans, and I hardly have enough space here to point out all their shortcomings. Their consultation phase is over; and presumably the Partnership is now collating the results. Catching up on the blogs I read, though, I’ve noticed that the other day Chris Hutt of the Green Bristol Blog has spotted that the project is probably doomed. Not because of anything going on here in Bristol, but because of events up in the North, where Mancunians have overwhelmingly rejected the proposed Manchester Congestion Charge scheme.

The Manchester proposals were horridly complex, with two rings of toll lines, motorists paying to cross each line in either direction, and the outer ring following the M60 motorway.*** But the scale of the no-vote is bound to put off any other councils from putting forward further congestion-charge proposals in the near future. Even though, as London’s shown, they definitely work in terms of reducing traffic, no city population as a whole is going to vote for them. Even in an apparently-green city like this one.

The reason this is important is: the Bristol guided bus scheme was, essentially, nothing more than a pill to sweeten a congestion charging scheme which would be coming along with it. None of this was mentioned in the consultation documents, of course; but then, you had to study the consultation documents pretty damn carefully to even spot that it was about a bus route. The key is that the guided bus route will be funded from a bid to the Transport Innovation Fund – a body which only accepts bids for “demand management” schemes. You can’t just have the carrot of a new bus route; you have to be proposing a stick to go with it. The exact nature of Bristol’s stick is, as yet, unknown; but it would almost certainly involve some sort of road pricing.

You never know; the council – sorry, the Partnership – still might push forward with the scheme. Presumably they’re planning to produce positive results from the consultation,**** and then say: well, you wanted this scheme, and we can only have that if we have the congestion charging too. But I doubt anyone in Bristol really wants a guided bus – itself a grand waste of public money which would be much better spent improving the ordinary bus routes – enough to agree to congestion charging in return.

* using vague and unspecified “sustainable fuel”, of course. Not that the planners have said what said fuel is going to be, or even shown any sign that they have any idea what it would be.

** and – for train geeks – that it will effectively destroy the Bristol Harbour Railway in its current form, as the route requires almost the entire railway trackbed right up to Prince St Bridge.

*** The only circular motorway in Britain, road trivia fans.

**** Would I be cynical to suggest that they had planned the overall tone of the consultation result beforehand? Would I?

Speed

In which we drive sensibly

People round here often say: ooh, I don’t like going down to London. I’d hate to drive down there. It’s terrible. It’s so bad to drive around London. All the drivers round there are such bad drivers.

And I say: “hah”. Because I’ve driven round London,* and not had any problems with other people’s driving. I’ve driven round here – a lot more, obviously – and I can hardly go on a car trip without something making me go: “what the hell are they doing?”

In the past 24 hours I’ve driven about 25 miles in total. In that time I’ve had four people overtake me because they’ve thought I’ve been driving too slowly. That is: I’ve been driving at 60mph, on a narrow twisty country road. I drive at 60mph down it, because I know it well; I know where the bends are, where my lines of sight are, and how fast I can go and still be able to stop on sight. And I get overtaken by people zooming past me at 90-ish. On the road past the office, which is an urban road, I drive down it at 30mph and get overtaken by people doing about 50.

Now, no doubt these people would claim they’re very good drivers, and therefore it’s entirely safe for them to drive like that. This is, frankly, bollocks. It’s never safe to drive at 90mph down a twisty country road with a couple of farms along it. These people are living proof of the Dunning-Kruger effect: the more incompetent a person is, the more likely they are to overestimate their skill.

That’s fine when it involves things that don’t concern me. But when I’m driving to work every day, and meeting these idiots every few miles, it bothers me. I don’t want to end up in a ditch, because of your rudeness, idiocy, or misjudgement. If you pass me at 90mph, keep on going – because when you impale yourself on a 20mph ploughshare in half a mile, I want to have plenty of distance between us.

* although no further in than Zone 2; Mile End or Clapham Junction

Road safety

In which the area is notorious for something

You often see stuff about road safety on the telly. Less often, things about specific roads. And it’s very rare for this area – the Forest, if you like to think of the Symbolic Forest as a physical place – to get on the telly at all. So when I heard that there was an hour of Channel Four last night solely devoted to road safety in this area, I had to watch it. Even more specific than that: it was purely about one road, the one from here down to Somerset.

We didn’t manage to watch the whole thing; the catalogue of deaths was just too depressing. It wasn’t helped by my habit of saying “That’s the bend coming out of Fir Park” or “That’s just by Cottagers’ Plot” when random stretches of road were shown on-screen; I spend so much time trying to get out of this area, I know all the main roads out of here in great detail. As we didn’t see it through to the end, I don’t know if the documentary tried to offer up any reason why that particular road is so dangerous. All we got was: people round here are crap at driving.

This may be true. Certainly, in my experience, it is true. People in London, say, may have a reputation for bad, aggressive driving, but people in this area are good at sloppy, careless driving; or drunk, too-fast driving; and that’s what leads to so many people dying on a fairly short, fairly ordinary road. It’s because, paradoxically, this area is quiet and isolated, compared to the rest of the country. The question is: is there anything we can do about that?

Skill

In which we think we know how to drive

I seem to be becoming a worse driver.

This isn’t by my own judgement, but by the judgement of other people. Specifically, more and more people seem to have started beeping me for doing what they think is The Wrong Thing. I’m not sure what the problems are. I always signal, I travel at a reasonable speed,* I try to drive assertively and take up the appropriate space on the road. There’s nothing wrong with the car, so far as I can tell. So why have people decided to start beeping me all of a sudden?**

H, incidentally, has suggested I should teach her how to drive. And I realised, thinking about it, that I have no idea at all any more how to drive, or rather, how to explain how to drive. The manuals I assume say something like: “press gently with your right foot and at the same time lift your left foot up until you start to feel the clutch engage, then increase power whilst raising your left foot smoothly and releasing the handbrake”. If you drive, though, you don’t consciously do all that; you just wiggle your feet a bit and you’re away. I have no idea how I would go about explaining all the various simultaneous processes to someone, in a car without dual controls.

* usually at the speed limit. Honest, officer. Ahem.

** or wave their fist and shout “Wanker!” like the cyclist the other day. OK, I pulled out in front of him. It was thick fog, he was wearing dull clothing, and didn’t have any lights on his bike, so when I started moving I had no idea at all he was there. Tosser.

This title will make sense with tomorrow’s post

In which summer breaks through the fog

When I write posts on here, I normally write the title first, then ramble on about it.

Yesterday, I managed to write a title, then ramble on about something entirely unrelated to the post I was meaning to write when I started. Which was, you might be able to guess, going to have been about the weather.

We’ve only just changed the clocks, shifted an hour, and already the character of the day seems to have entirely changed. Already, whatever the temperature is outside, it seems like balmy summer days are here again. Already that lazy, depressing summer evening feeling is back. It doesn’t last very long, because it’s getting dark again by half-seven still, but it’s there already.

The morning hasn’t sorted itself out yet. Every morning so far this week I’ve driven to work through thick fog, as if the weather is still trying to work out what to do, and is trying to hide its ignorance. Thick fog all the way, except when crossing the Big Expensive Bridge. Each end of the Big Bridge is befogged, but the middle, as the deck peaks, breaks out through the fog into bright yellow morning daylight.

Friday again

In which my cynicism is exposed for the cynical, hollow sham it is

Well, good morning. It’s the end of the week, and I’m glad. One more day to get through, though.

Things I haven’t managed to write this week: more Books I Haven’t Read; a Book I’ve Finally Finished Reading; any Photos Of The Week. I was even tempted, at one point, to do the first Symbolic Forest Restaurant Review,* but, er, didn’t.

Also-ran news stories of the week: another stupid driver, whose excuse for speeding was that there was little risk of hitting a goat at the time. Unluckily, his bleatings** were ignored by the police. Not quite as stupid, though, as the man from Thorne who decided to destroy a speed camera with Thermite, but drove his van right past the camera as he did so. Oops.

A few days ago, I was chatting to Taloollah on the phone, and she said she’d read my review of the little local gig we went to last week. Apparently, it read as if I didn’t enjoy myself, feeling much older than the rest of the crowd, and not really liking the music. Which is a bit unfair of me to put across, because I did have a good night out. I’m probably much grumpier in style, writing here, than I am in real life; it’s just that I find writing cynically to be easier, and often more fun too. In real life I can be annoyingly enthusiastic and bouncy about some things – puppyish, even – but I rarely express that here, because I find that sort of mood a lot harder to describe effectively. I take the easy option, and write like a curmudgeon instead.

Oh, well, I’m going to try to be cheerful today anyway. Time to get myself to the office and get some work done, and then time to switch off, forget about the office, and relax. See you next week.

* of a rather nice Indian on Haxby Road. It needed a bigger indoor pond.

** The Plain People Of The Internet: Groan!