Roads! Cars! Bikes! Peepul! Aaargh!

I have never liked driving and I am not interested in cars. I passed my test at my fifth attempt aged thirty. I had failed at 17, 18 and 19 then gave up for a bit. This was probably due, at least in part, to my being taught by my father who was the worst driver in the world, and who launched himself at roundabouts and speed bumps, using only the accelerator, often while discoursing on the need for Scotland to achieve independence. Eventually I hired a driving instructor who was a bit of a Nazi – no small talk, frequent rows and rarely a smile. He was fabulous and I passed. This was in the days before parallel parking was part of the test and on one occasion, after I had passed my test, my friend Kay had to take over the wheel in order to get me parked; on another I had to ask a passing person in the Cineworld car park how to unpark myself. 

I have had six cars. First a blue Ford Escort, the property of a deceased gentleman. It was a lovely shade of blue but eventually it leaked a lot and my feet would get wet, which was inconvenient. My pupils at Daniel Stewart’s and Melville College openly laughed at it. I bought it for £850 and sold it for £500 five years later as a trade-in for Butch, my next car, who was a Fiat Panda (Sergio Tacchini special edition, lots of dark green). I liked Butch a lot, though he was slow going up hills, and eventually he was rammed on Leith Walk by a car driven by a cute guy who was obviously stoned and who was VERY helpful, resulting in the payout for poor Butch being rather more than the purchase price. Then I had a Punto about which I remember little. Then I bought my favourite car, a Rover 75, in the most beautiful colour called, perhaps oxymoronically, Silver Gold. It was very quiet, looked like a Jag and was like being in a big boat. I was so proud of that car, even if my pupils, who were rather more impressed, kept saying their grandad had one. The only problem with the Rover, as many of you will know, was that it didn’t actually work as a car, leading to my first-name acquaintanceship with a number of AA men. It once broke down on the way back from a debating competition. I had two witty and clever young people with me, a boy and a girl, and it was freezing and wet. The AA man took us to the car park of an Asda store in I think Cumbernauld where I despatched Georgie and Alfie to get me coffee, with a ten pound note. They returned some considerable time later – there was no coffee available, but they had bought me a CD – The Best of The Farm. They thought this was very funny.  Cheers, chaps. From that point on I have owned a BMW. Bless the Germans.

Anyway, this is a roundabout way of trying to prove that I have no vested interest in cars; I bought the newest one [my first automatic; my goodness, why do people ever drive stick shift cars?] nearly two years ago and I have driven about 3000 miles in it. I like the car fine, but driving gives me no pleasure, unlike drinking, talking, pastry, movies etc etc. If I was really rich I would have a chauffeur. My next car, if I live, will be electric; I accept the climate emergency is my fault.

The City of Edinburgh Council hates car drivers of course, having been in a big sulk since the citizens of this beautiful city rejected the imposition of a congestion charge in 2005 by a massive majority, after the most confusing possible campaign in favour was run by the coonsul. So driving in Edinburgh is quite often impossible. During the first tramworks I found myself lost, late at night, in a one way system which I swear had no exit, like some nasty video game. Today, in the middle of the revived Festival, there are roadworks everywhere, for reasons usually not disclosed, and which often appear to have no works actually happening. So driving is simply horrible, frustrating, slow.

And then there are the cyclists. Now, I live in Joppa, right beside the Promenade, and that busy thoroughfare is like a teeny model of the problem on our roads. As you wander along the Prom, on your way, say, for a slice of Civerino’s excellent pizza, or some luxurious sandwich from the Little Chartroom, there are dog walkers, pushchair pushers, little children running about, joggers – many elderly and barely moving at all. Then there are simple pedestrians like myself (dogless, childless, shortsless, just trying to get somewhere) and to top it all, there are lots of people on bikes, some ambling along and some racing, lycra’d, helmeted and serious, and believing that a faint ‘ping’ from behind is enough to alert some deaf old soul with a cockapoodle and a grandchild that they are about to be overtaken – if they’re lucky.

Now, honestly, honestly, I have no problem with people cycling. In much the same way I have no problem with evangelical religion or golf. If that’s your thing, that’s your thing. But I do have a sympathy with those who think that cyclists should obey the rules of the road, and not, say cycle through red lights. To be honest, I think we should spend a great deal of money on cycleways, and should, indeed restrict some roads currently used by cars just to cyclists. I would like it if cyclists then used these roads: some new cycle lanes have been installed on London Road, marked by steel posts of astonishing ugliness, but most cyclists choose not to use them.

Really, my preference would be for people to increase their use of public transport and also walking as far as that is practicable. I would make the buses free for everyone and increase their number and their routes. I would discourage cars and bikes from making meaningless journeys – using a road just for exercise or for a chat somehow seems a bit selfish to me, when others are trying to get to the surgery. And I would reinforce the fact that cyclists, bless them, can be a bit ‘ableist’. Huge numbers of people simply can’t cycle. Said old dad, for example, couldn’t cycle ever in his life because he had a bad ear. Old people, disabled people, unfit people and people who can’t afford the time to don the lycra and shower at work, all of them can’t cycle, and, unfortunately, they often need cars. 

And then there are ‘spaces for peepul’. No, the will to live has left me. On its bike.


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