Mind the gap


My office is in what used to be the dining room of our house, a throwback to the days when families ate in dining rooms instead of the kitchen. Or, if the Mem isn’t at home, on trays in front of the television.

I have a window that looks out over our mostly quiet residential street. As I type, I can hear the soft whoosh as cars and vans drive by. It is mostly a soothing gentle sound. If you are feeling really generous and imaginative, you can make believe that you are writing in Ian Fleming’s house in Jamaica, Goldeneye, and the sound you can hear is the Caribbean washing against the shoreline.

There is only one problem. The road is just wide enough for two cars to pass each other. But any parked car makes a gap where only one car can pass at a time. And that means that this residential road becomes a slalom course. Without the snow. Or the inexplicable wearing of bobble hats and the clanging of cow bells.

It just so happens that on most days there are two parked cars outside my house. That provides me with a welcome piece of entertainment, an occasional piece of street theatre.

I have become something of a connoisseur of the different gap techniques that drivers use to navigate this obstacle.

At the vegan end of the scale, we have the “no, after you” drivers. They most certainly will not proceed if another car is coming. Pacifist to a fault, they will wave any and all drivers through. No, after you. I insist.

Around the middle of the scale, we have the “give and takers”. They might let someone through, or they might insist on going through themselves. It all depends on who flashes his lights first. It’s a very fair approach. Let’s take it in turns. Sometimes I’ll go first, sometimes I’ll let the other fella. A very British way of queuing.

And the right at the other end of the scale we have the Geronimoes. They have only one speed – maximum attack mode. Everyone else had better get out of my way because I am not stopping.

It gets more interesting when these different drivers encounter each other. The “give and takers” seem to cope with any other kind of driver. They look the other driver in the eye and mentally calculate whether they are lettuce or raw steak eaters. They give way to Geronimoes and accept the vegans’ gracious “after you” offer.

The first problem comes when a vegan driver meets another vegan. Then we can get an impasse where neither can move. After you. No, after you. I insist. No, no, I insist too.

The bigger conflict is when a Geronimo meets another Geronimo. Then there is a screech of brakes and tyre smoke as they jam up bumper to bumper, nose to angry red nose. Of course, neither one wants to give way. That would hark back to primal feelings about being an alpha male. Or admitting that you were somehow lacking in the underpants department.

That gets my attention. I usually look up from my keyboard to watch the animated fist pumping – hand signals certainly not approved by the Highway Code.

Yesterday there was a particular fine example. Two Geronimoes were locked in combat. They somehow managed to pull alongside each other in the narrow gap. I don’t know how they managed this – they were quite possibly trading paint and wing mirrors. As they pulled level, they wound down their windows and carried on a full-scale shouting match.

Each absolutely convinced that the other was in the wrong.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.



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