Out Of Love With The United Kingdom

Once again apologies for the lack of posting of late. I’ve been back to Britain visiting my 104-year-old father after his bad fall a few weeks back. The good news is he’s doing well, is back in his home, and learning the intricacies of manoeuvering a wheelchair through narrow spaces. He’s not quite ready yet for the grid at Silverstone, but given time…I’d not put anything past him!

My French Peugeot 407 performed very well in covering the one thousand or so miles of the round trip, but if I’m to spend more time in the UK I’m considering the purchase of a German motor car. I’ve noted that the plethora of BMWs, Mercedes, and Audis continually zooming past me at around 100mph in the outside lane of the British motorways, now have a special dispensation from the traffic police to travel at whatever speed they like without fear of speeding fines.

I consider this a nice gesture by the UK police force. After all, if you can afford one of these powerful, luxury, motors it’s only right you should be able to raise a finger to the rest of us poorer mortals legally bound to seventy miles an hour.

While on the subject of UK traffic, it’s an absolute delight to return to the roads of France where, certainly in Brittany, the motorways are relatively free of traffic, roadworks almost non-existent, and driving once more becomes the pleasure I remember it used to be in Britain back in the fifties and sixties.

The British road system has reached virtual gridlock. Long stretches of motorway are restricted by seemingly never-ending roadworks. Motorists are told these highways are being converted to SMART motorways, no doubt to convince drivers that in years to come, when it’s all finally completed, there’ll be ample space for all and Britain will again become a motorist’s utopia.

Frankly it all smacks of another of Boris Johnson’s tall tales, given that all they’re doing is converting the hard shoulder into a fourth carriageway. Presumably, some glib civil servant has decided that as vehicles are more reliable than fifty years ago, and given four lanes, there’ll no longer be any accidents so the hard shoulder won’t now be required for its originally designated purpose. Anyway, the police and emergency services can always abseil down from a helicopter, if required.

It’s time for a new law in the UK forcing supermarkets to provide ear plugs to all their customers. Having frequented both Morrisons and Tescos during my time in the country I was appalled by the noise levels in these emporiums. Given the sheer volume being produced by children screaming and running wildly around the aisles…

…coupled with an even louder cacophony emanating from parental throats, as they try vainly to control their offspring’s outbursts, and all homogenised with some off-key pop singer plus band blaring out of the speakers above their heads, it must have the guy running the hearing aid centre down the other end of the mall rubbing his hands with glee.

In one branch of Tescos I asked the young man at the cash desk how he put up with the incessant racket.  He leaned closer towards me and shouted, “Pardon!” I made a gesture indicating, “Don’t bother,” and trundled my cart rapidly out the store.

Back in France I needed groceries and headed for the local Leclerc superstore. It’s on par with a Tesco or Asda. There, I found peace. The children walked quietly alongside their parents, the smaller ones sat silently in their cart seats observing the activities around them. There was no music blaring; no kids loudly demanding the latest toy or sweet and screaming blue murder when denied. Shopping in France is a pleasant experience, after which one does not require two hours in bed with an ice-pack.

I lived in Britain for over fifty years. I left it seventeen years ago to live in America. While I’m no fan of the United States, the UK is now bottom of the list when it comes to traffic gridlock, spoiled, badly behaved children, and over-testosterone-fuelled, self-centred individuals with way too much money, tear-arsing around in expensive German automobiles.

France has much to teach the British. What a pity they voted Brexit and decided to go it alone. Still, on second thoughts, Europe may well be better off without them.

Too Quick To Condemn

There’s been much written both in the press and social media of late concerning an accident involving a young motorcyclist, Harry Dunn, who was killed by a car driven on the wrong side of the road in Northamptonshire (UK) on August 27th.

Much of the vitriol has been fired at the car driver, Anne Sacoolas, an American who had only been in the UK a few weeks. While initially cooperating with police she then fled back to America. I for one can’t blame her.

When did we stop being human? Why have we allowed ourselves to become as cold and digitized as the computers we use every day? In binary language everything is reduced to one(1) or zero(0). We are allowing our brains to do likewise. ‘For’, or, ‘Against’; ‘One’, or, ‘Zero’: the formula is simple, as soon as an issue arises we choose a side, one or zero, and pursue our cause with blind conviction, never pausing for a moment to consider the implications, or human aspect. We regard people as though they are computers. We don’t expect our digitized machines to ever be in error, so when human fallibility creeps into our lives we ignore it utterly in our arrogant condemnations .

The human brain is an amazing organ but it’s fallible, and never more so than when it has been trained for years to follow one certain pattern of behavior and is then suddenly expected to do the opposite.

No-one knows this better than I do. After driving buses, lorries, and cars for fifty years on the left in the UK I moved to the United States. I knew I had to drive on the right and found it quite easy to adjust. Too easy! While my conscious brain was in control I was fine, but after a while complacency sets in and, as happens with those who drive a lot, the subconscious begins to take over. At first it’s still guided to some extent by the conscious, but as our thoughts begin to drift to other matters we rely more and more on the subconscious, learned, patterns in the brain to control our driving.

On more than one occasion I suddenly found myself where I didn’t want to be – on the wrong side of the road. Once, while driving a school bus, I pulled out of a car park, turned right onto the road, and without realising drove happily for a few hundred yards on the left-hand side until an approaching car instantly made me realise my error. I swerved quickly back to the right and no harm was done.

It can work both ways. After fifteen years in America and four years in France, where they also drive on the right, I took a trip back to the UK. My brain had had time to learn that now I always drove on the right. One morning, while leaving the hotel where I’d stayed, I needed to turn left onto a quite busy road. The hotel was situated on a bend and my attention was focused on ensuring no traffic was approaching. The road was clear, so I drove out and across – onto the right-hand side. As I did so a car came around the bend directly towards me. I narrowly avoided an accident only by swerving back to the left side just in time to avoid a collision, while the other driver braked violently.

I was fortunate. The drivers of those oncoming vehicles were also fortunate. They could have ended up like poor Harry Dunn, and all because the human brain doesn’t work like a computer. Sometimes it will tell you to do what you’ve done all your life, without it being aware you need to do the opposite.

Their were two victims in that tragic accident on August 27th in Northamptonshire. Anne Sacoolas was the victim of her own brain, just like Harry Dunn. She wasn’t deliberately driving on the wrong side of the road. Her brain was telling her it was the correct side. It was only when Harry Dunn’s motorcycle appeared in front of her that realization dawned, but by then it was too late.

Fleeing back to her home country was a wrong decision, but perfectly understandable given her trauma. The fact she was in an alien country not given to welcoming foreigners probably tipped her decision.

None of this is intended to take away from the suffering of Harry Dunn’s parents. I lost a dearly loved sister to a fatal accident in London some years ago, and a son in similar circumstances just two years after that. I feel the suffering of the Dunn’s and that of Anne Sacoolas.

You should, too. Anne Sacoolas never meant to kill anyone. Those moments when her subconscious brain told her she was on the correct side of the road will haunt her for the rest of her life.

The Oxford dictionary defines an ‘accident as’: “An unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.”

“Unexpectedly and unintentionally,” is the relevant phrase.

Human beings are not computers. They make mistakes. Their brains send the wrong messages. Sometimes people die as a result. Harry Dunn was one of the unfortunates.

As they say, there but for the grace of God go – you?

 

 

Personal Hygiene Education – Is It Right For You?

I’m a regular reader of the Guardian online as it’s the only British-based ‘newspaper’ that I have any faith will provide me with relatively unbiased news. But I was appalled this morning to discover a headline which read, “How often should you wash your gym kit?”

Now, admittedly, it was in the ‘Lifestyle’ section and not up there with the major headlines – those eternal headbangers featuring Donald Trump and Boris Johnson – though Johnson might well benefit from a lecture in personal hygiene given the state of him here…

…but really, is it necessary for Guardian readers to be informed on the state of their underwear, for basically that’s all gym kit is? Surely, the rule is international, passed down from generation to generation since time immemorial:

IF YOU WEAR IT, WASH IT! IF YOU DON’T, YOU’RE DISGUSTING!

When I returned home from school, sweaty sports shirt and shorts crammed into my schoolbag along with dirty plimsolls (they weren’t called ‘trainers’ in those days) and the night’s homework, my mother would wrinkle her nose, drag the offending items out between finger and thumb, and have the dolly tub ready steaming, disinfected, and washing powered to receive them. After a good soak, followed by ten minutes heavy pummeling, they’d be out, rinsed, mangled, and hung out to dry within the hour. (If you don’t know what a dolly tub is, Google it!)

Today’s parents have it easy. Just chuck ’em in the washer, transfer to the dryer, and they’re done while mother watches Coronation Street on the telly.

So why is it necessary for the Guardian to print instructions on personal hygiene for today’s generation?

Try walking around Asda, or Sainsburys, or any other busy supermarket on a Saturday afternoon, and you’ll discover the answer.

Perhaps their next ‘Lifestyle’ article should be a treatise on underarm care and the use of deodorants.