There is nothing wrong with my life. Then why, today, driving to work did I become so sad at the sight of a concrete mixer?
I looked at it. There were so many things I could have thought. For example, ‘Blimey I am so glad that bugger did not rear end me a few minutes ago when it was behind me and I had to brake suddenly for a car that gave no warning it was going to stop in the middle of a main road to let a pedestrian, who was quite happy to wait, cross.’
That happens a lot over here. There is a road rule that you have to give way to pedestrians at traffic light intersections, which is fine, because on some crossroads, the lights will go green for pedestrians, even if there is a small chance that a car in the traffic running parallel to their path will want to turn and cross it. Some drivers, though, like to take this rule and extrapolate, to build and develop it and will stop on a main road and will wave a pedestrian across, like it is 1803 and they are on horseback and they are raising their metaphorical hat at the pedestrian while they cross. This problem has become so common that as a pedestrian myself, I have had to physically turn away from the kerb and present my back to the motorist who tried to stop, because I do not want to encourage the trend. In one area, where they have annoying traffic-calming furniture in the form of low but wide speed bumps, they have actually had to put signs up reminding motorists that pedestrians do not have right of way to keep the traffic moving.
These same drivers (I suspect) are the ones who stop on roundabouts. When I first got here, there was one roundabout in Perth – actually it is still here. It is called the Causeway – or feeds into a bridge called the Causeway, I never bothered to find out. They were so terrified of it – this apparently free-flowing method of traffic management that they put traffic lights around it. Then someone over here had the brilliant idea of introducing the mini-roundabout and it has spread like a virus around our suburban streets – much like rabbits and camels in the outback. Don’t get me wrong, roundabouts are OK, but coupled with the proliferation of traffic lights (about one set every kilometre) and the fact that some people freak out because they can not understand that the system is to give way to anything on your right – and it is that simple – and we have yet another recipe for congestive disaster.
Just near to where I work, the main roads people have introduced another innovation to terrify WA drivers. It is a yellow grid, with the grid lines painted on the diagonal at the intersection of a traffic light controlled crossroads.
‘Oh this is gonna really freak them out,’ said my colleague from the UK, where these areas are basically painted to indicate that there is no stopping. ‘I might just get myself a deckchair and sandwiches and sit out to watch,’ she added (TV is also deeply bad here).
To be fair to the locals, they just painted it. As far as I was aware, there was no public awareness campaign to explain what a huge yellow grid in the area surrounded by eight traffic lights was supposed to mean. In all likelihood, they could have continued to sneak over the line into backed up traffic which was already spilling into the intersection, BECAUSE THE TRAFFIC LIGHT WAS GREEN AND THAT MEANS I CAN GO, OK? EVEN IF THERE IS NO ROOM FOR ME TO GO INTO.
They did the same thing a couple of years ago with bus lanes. They just painted one half of the road maroon, and wrote BUS LANE on it, every 500 metres, without any attempt to tell people why they did this. What did this mean? Were we not allowed in the lane if we were not a bus? Did we have to get out of the way if there were buses that appeared? Did we have to stay out of the lane completely at certain times of the day, in case a bus needed to use the lane? No idea then, and I still have no idea now. Maybe I should look it up.
No, it was for none of these reasons that I felt sad. The reason was this: that I looked at the concrete mixer and thought of picture books by US author Richard Scarry called, Busy Busy World and What do people do all day? And I felt homesick for a time when I lived in the UK, in a place that was not congested with cars ramming themselves into queues. Not nostalgic for being a child, because I did not like being a child. I felt nostalgic for the wonder I enjoyed of looking at characters who seemed busy and happy and who had jobs to do that they wanted to do, that gave them a sense of purpose and who had the space to enjoy their communities and for the promise that offered.