I’ve said it before, but it doesn’t hurt to restate a simple fact: I am a pedestrian. I may take public transport as a matter of necessity but, at heart, I prefer to walk. Never will I be found on either four or two wheels under my own navigation.
As a pedestrian, my most immediate adversary is the cyclist, but that is not to say that there aren’t other annoyances to interrupt the carefree pleasure of a modern constitutional.
By proximity, most of my walks are urban ones. This pitches me into almost constant conflict with the dual hazards of cars and roads, but there are well-established codes of behaviour for these kinds of encounters. Stick to the codes, and all is well.
The code is fairly basic: a car is fast and hard and heavy and will kill you, so let it go first. I know the code; I abide to the code. All’s well. However, there is one breed of road-user who bucks the rules: the courteous car driver.
I feel that an illustration is required.
I find myself at the corner of Endsleigh Street and Endsleigh Gardens, waiting to cross. A relatively commonplace event. Eight cars stream past me, leaving me hopelessly stranded on the pavement. Not a problem. I am mindful of the code. They are fast and they are hard and they are heavy and they will kill me if I step out in front of them. I bide my time. A ninth car approaches but, behind the ninth car there is not a tenth car. In fact, there is a huge, gaping, inviting, empty space, welcoming me to cross. I wait for the ninth car to pass so that I can cross behind it but, no, what does it do? It stops and waves me forward in front of it. The courteous car driver.
Should I be grateful to the courteous car driver? No. All it is doing is further delaying me. If it had sped past like its previous eight inconsiderate brethren, I would be across the road by now. But, no. Instead, I am left in a hinterland of indecision. Am I meant to cross? Are you really stopping for me? Are you? Are you really?
Finally, I cross, but there is a sense of passive-aggressive animosity on all sides. It is not a kind gesture by the courteous car driver; it is simply opening up a can of worms of suppressed urban tension. And you recognise the dynamics, which have been in operation such that the courteous car driver is always the last in line in a parade of vehicles; never the first. It is because they have been courteously stopping and letting people cross in front of them at every stage of their journey.
Wolves in sheep’s clothing. Courteous car drivers, you don’t fool me.
© Simon Turner-Tree
Simon Turner-Tree recognises no acts of chivalry on London’s roads.