room with a view

I live on a fairly busy road in Clapton. A car drives past my house once every few minutes. Or maybe every few seconds. Now that I’m paying real attention, I’d say it’s one every second.

Often, especially at the end of the school day, there will be numerous cars attempting to drive down my road at the same time; in opposite directions. There’s parking on both sides, and only a single lane for cars, so one of the drivers needs to compromise: reverse, pull into a parking space, dip its nose into the church yard.

But the drivers round here are not willing to compromise. When I say there’s road rage on my road – I mean big burly men (it’s always men) bouncing out of their cars, approaching the driver of the other car, fists in the air, swear words being shouted repeatedly (despite the fact that their children are in the back of the car, and others are on the pavement walking home from school) and probably the threat of murder. It’s always at the last moment that one of them looks up and realises I’m peering down from behind my floral curtains so I have to dive onto the floor and miss the resolution.

Whilst the head-on drivers are battling it out – both being ludicrously stubborn and wasting their own, and my, time – the cars piling up behind them are honking non-stop. As if that’s going to get them moving.

From my birds-eye-view perspective, I can always see who’s in the better position to move. And it’s always the more vicious of the two.

Perhaps the problem is that Londoners can’t reverse. This is an on-going joke between me and Rich. He says that my family and I, when we’re parallel parking, always slightly bump the car behind to check how much space we have. I tell him that’s what bumpers are for. And that he wouldn’t have needed to do that where he grew up in Somerset, because when you’re parking in fields, you don’t need to reverse into tight spots.

In fact, maybe it’s the constant stress of parallel parking that makes Londoners so angry. Drivers in Somerset are a delight to share the roads with. They will reverse 100 metres back down a narrow, winding country lane to let you go. When you meet another driver head on you both smile, wave as if you know each other, possibly wind the window down and make an awkward joke about the situation, or a comment on the weather – and then have a friendly argument about who’s going to reverse: both determined to be the reverser.

People in Somerset like to help each other out. Road rage doesn’t exist in the countryside. Perhaps the next time I hear drivers slamming doors and calling each other wankers, I’ll nip downstairs, tap them on the shoulders and suggest that instead of being angry and rude, they should be amicable, treat each other nicely – start behaving the way of countryside dwellers.

And it will then be me who gets called rude names and receives the punch that was originally going to land on the nose of the other driver.

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