T is for Traffic

Curtis Tappenden considers motoring lows and retail highs… Mar 29, 2015

Traffic. When it’s all chugging freely around the arterial highways of our green and pleasant land – to plan and order- no problem. The encounter however, of a sudden accident, tight time schedules, or pressures of getting to destinations within unreachable deadlines can change our love affair with motoring and leave us lamenting the drag; and I’m not referring to Formula One streamlining!

I was recently caught jumping a red light at 12 mph. It was unfortunate. I am not by nature a devilish petrol-head, determined to rip tarmac and unleash a reckless, Silverstone spirit on the local byways. It hadn’t been my intention to offend. I was chugging along a very busy Sussex city junction at a peak time, and was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, an ‘innocent’ victim to congestion and confusion. In this I am not alone. I join an increasing pool of minor offenders on the UK highways.

Recalling the incident- it all happened at the speed of an engine spark- I confess to having made a wrong decision. I crossed the line at a busy junction, got stuck in stationary traffic and the one-eyed spy snapped me. I escaped its peripheral glare on a left turn but the machine can neither rationalise nor redeem. It’s a fair cop, guv! I take the rap and with twenty or so other miscreants get invited to escape points on my licence by coughing up eighty-five pounds for psychological retraining on one of five possible courses.

Such blips cost us money and time; minutes we might have tried to save at the moment of offending, but I found it beneficial to reflect on how motoring has changed since passing my test thirty years ago. I was taught by a close, family friend. Derek was like a wonderfully generous uncle to us, and a brilliant HGV Post Office instructor with an underlying philosophy for being progressive, that is, driving to the white centre line and just within the speed limit. Nowadays you’d only dream of that, as you lag along in the wheelipede’s slow crawl, choking on solid, urban congestion.

The trajectory of recent changes is huge. Controversial roll outs of twenty zones in major cities are here to stay, tree-lined lanes in rural communities are punctuated with new, mandatory ‘thirty’ signs which intermittently flash their LEDs, and speed cameras hang out of verges- sprouting like new, perennial daffs.

There is no argument to suppress my potential, inner cynic, who deep down accuses the road safety lobby of courting easy taxation by stealth. Fact: speed kills and slowing down will save lives on the roads.

Our course’s excellent driving instructors displayed a keen sense of humour and respect for the imperfections of humanity in the driving seat. With wit and articulation they challenged a quirky group of Sussex drivers who engaged willingly and responded with equal humour. The motivation was psychology- the premise that behaviour can be modified if we are willing to allow retraining. Three-and-a-half hours later, and after much enjoyment and learning I asked my last, low-key question of one of the instructors. If these courses can change our attitudes and behaviour, why not make them regular and statutory for ALL motorists? ‘Surely,’ I added, ‘we could absorb costs into road taxes?’

He smiled. ‘Great idea, but not a vote winner.’

Very apt too, as political parties vie for the number one spot. It just seems that we continue to spend billions from the public purse, attending to traffic incidents, some ending tragically. Like ongoing issues of alcohol abuse, the problem could be managed and reduced, prevented, even. Meanwhile, politicians like to put their foot down and drive on the other side of a hairpin argument!


Terry. The friendly face of DIY retail, with tattoos, piercings and boots, to boot! Some might judge him by the colour of his grey and orange overalls or that he has more ironmongery embedded in his face than aisles five and six drilled together, but I am awed by an immediate impression : Terry is just what this major chain needs to shed its tardy image of employing the ignorant and the long-retired.

My needs were specific. A telescopic device for clearing inaccessible leaves and moss from a peculiar shape and size of guttering, located at an acute angle between second floor window and the ground. Before I had even finished explaining, D I- wired Terry had me jumping enthusiastically across aisles to introduce the solution as a product in three sizes and qualities. Impressed! Bet he wouldn’t get the next item…obscure, flexible, exterior wood filler, as recommended by a precision-obsessed carpenter. My feet barely touched the ground as he whisked me along with supreme acceleration- zero to five in twenty aisles! Terry handed me the tin in two possible sizes with free spatula spreader. ‘One size fits all!’ he delighted.

‘Is there anything else I can do for you, Sir?’

‘Four candles? Only joking…’

I noticed he was spinning on the curve of his heel. But my needs were met. Give me a million Terrys any day. He is the complete incorporation of retail efficiency. Terry is all gold!