Yesterday at a traffic light in Glasgow I pulled up behind a car whose rear windscreen bore what at first glance I thought was a “Baby on Board” sign, but which turned out to read:
Sorry! Black box on board. How do you think I feel?
I think this tragic and pitiful message needs to be dismembered. The driver of the car was a young woman and I take it the black box was a necessary prerequisite of her insurance policy. Thus she was obliged to adhere to the speed limit, and this was why she felt the need to apologise to the other road users. She was holding them all back, because they all wanted to speed. Moreover, the message indicated that the young driver was as frustrated by this as everybody else.
Black box technology has been borrowed from the world of aviation. Imagine you have just fastened your seat belt in an Airbus A380, with your seat back upright and your tray table stored, and the captain makes an apologetic announcement that he is going to have to adhere to the strictures of Air Law. And he adds, “How do you think I feel?” All of a sudden you might want to deplane. The aviation industry learned a long time ago that with regard to safety there is no place for a cavalier attitude, that checking the nose wheel pressure by giving the tyre a kick, then flying on a wing and a prayer, is not good enough, and that at the end of the day “the right stuff” is definitely not the right stuff. In other words, the aviation industry has developed a safety culture. You adhere to the rules of the air, conscious that you are making a positive contribution to the creation of a safe environment. Bending the rules, or breaking the rules, is just poor airmanship. Or airwomanship. Imagine your A380 captain is directed by air traffic control to proceed from the apron to the holding point, number two to a 747. He gets frustrated, guns the engines, pulls out, and overtakes the 747 to get to the holding point first. Air Traffic Control would think the A380 pilot was certifiable.
By contrast, drivers on the road who adhere to the speed limit appear to be the ones manifesting aberrant behaviour, because they are in the minority. I know this from personal experience because – call me eccentric – I try to observe the speed limit. Consequently I get overtaken a lot. I noticed this again yesterday on my way into Glasgow. As the M80 approaches Glasgow’s east end there is a 50 mph speed limit. Very few people adhere to it. There’s lots of tailgating, jinking and weaving. It pays to listen to the Radio Scotland travel reports en route. “There is a fifteen minute delay westbound on the M80 at Stepps due to an ‘accident’ (sic).” Funny, that.
I took the last exit before the river and pulled up at traffic lights to hang a right on to the Clydeside Expressway. The lights turned green and I saw the car in front of me give a lurch and remain stationary. The driver had stalled the engine. She had difficulty restarting. I was quite content to allow another traffic light cycle to elapse, and listen to Michael Barclay’s Private Passions on Radio 3. Not so the queue behind me. People started blasting their horns in an irate fashion. Naturally the lady ahead of me got flustered. (This is another thing the aviation world, air traffic control in particular, has understood for a very long time. Never lose your temper on the radio. It’s very counterproductive.) She had a little difficulty identifying which lane she wanted to utilise. Well! The demented mob behind went completely berserk. Is there anybody more self-righteous, more Pharisaical, than an angry driver who blasts his horn and makes arm gestures of despair (usually by taking both hands off the wheel)?
Occasionally you find the person being blasted gives as good as they get and blasts back. It becomes unseemly, like two men conducting a brawl in the street. People who blast away on their car horn remind me of toddlers who sit down in a supermarket aisle and have a screaming tantrum. I think road rage is definitely getting commoner. I used to think some metamorphosis occurred to people when they got behind the wheel of a car. They would be aggressive towards somebody slow to move off at the lights, when they wouldn’t dream of being aggressive towards an elderly person struggling to count change at a Post Office counter. Now I’m not so sure.
We all need to calm down. I have a suggestion to make. When you embark on a car journey, first estimate the time needed for the journey. Now add half as much time again. I call this the Cahoots Doctrine. (Campbell Adds Hours On Over The Schedule). Then drive below the speed limit. Then, when you get delayed for a while behind a tractor, your blood pressure will not go through the roof. Will you join me in this?
As an example, I drove up to Aberdeen for lunch on Saturday. It’s a two hour journey. I allowed three. I listened to Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras, complete (1 – 5 up, 6 – 9 back), and stopped at Finavon for coffee. It was a sun-kissed day of rare quality. John Buchan might have said, “The air was tonic.”
There are average speed cameras on the A90. I’m a fan. They actually work. People actually adhere to the limit, and there is evidence that road carnage is reduced. This should not surprise us, as there is a clear relationship between kinetic energy and trauma. Now kinetic energy is not merely proportional to mass and velocity, but to the square of its product. It is a grave misfortune to apprehend this law of physics only when you come to a sudden and abrupt halt.
I will now get off my high horse-power Lamborghini. It is better to arrive than to travel hopefully.
In Aberdeen we dined al fresco. My friend the Viking is a virtuoso cook. She prepared a South African dish, bobotie. Truly scrumptious. She is a great fan of cooking programmes. She asked me if I can cook. I said, well I can boil a potato and fry a steak. How hard can it be? Food-wise, I’m a complete philistine. Yet even I can appreciate classy bobotie when I taste it. Oddly enough, I get mistaken for a foodie. I’m told I have a passing resemblance to Michel Roux Jr. Can’t see it myself. One day in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall the gentleman sitting on my left actually informed me that I was Michel Roux Jr. He confronted me after the fashion of Stanley meeting Livingstone in the jungle. I denied it but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He laid a comforting hand on my sleeve as if to say, “Don’t worry Michel, I will protect your anonymity.”
There is an off-shore wind farm rising up outside Aberdeen Harbour. I think it would upset Mr Trump. When I heard that Mr Trump was being touted for a Nobel Peace Prize I was reminded that Caligula made his horse a senator. Wouldn’t it be great if wonderful things happened on Mr Trump’s watch? Things look hopeful on the Korean Peninsula. Maybe after that, he will go on to secure peace in the middle-east. On the other hand, if he gets the gong from Sweden, maybe all the other laureates, Mr Obama, Mr Kissinger et al, will send theirs back, just as the retired colonels from Tunbridge Wells did when the Beatles got the OBE. Now Ringo has his knighthood and Sir Paul has just been made a Companion of Honour. That’s very high. To go much further, you really need to acquire lands after the fashion of the aristocracy. Last week in Dunblane Cathedral the minister prayed for the Earl and Countess of Strathearn (aka Duke and Duchess of Cambridge). Strathearn is very beautiful. I wonder what great tract of Scotland Ms Markle might acquire?
Yet she could avoid all of that. There’s still time. She and Harry could do what my grannie and grandpa did – elope.