neowiccan (neowiccan) wrote,

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england: on drivers and driving

when i left england i resolved to drive like an englishwoman. (okay not like wendy pulling into her driveway- more on that to follow- but like our american conception of an englishwoman.) i resolved to put aside even minor bouts of road rage, to allow those merging onto highways to do so, to use the fast lane for passing, to yield where appropriate. i already stick like velcro to my side of the road, don't tailgate and only speed where it makes sense, ie on open highways with no cops around and help requests to Hermes sent out.
but it's hard to do when you're the only one playing. especially in a country where you look around for police help when someone is viciously tailgating you at 70mph in the dark on an icy road, and you realize that it's a cop doing it.
driving on the wrong side of the road isn't that big a deal. if you just remember that you (the driver) should be in the center of the road, you don't have to keep checking your hands to see if you're on the correct side.
what? you don't check your hands to make sure you haven't got left and right mixed up?
i blame my bermudian/british school upbringing. i have to mentally face mrs. redford's blackboard and picture RIGHT and LEFT in the upper corners. you'll notice if i ever give you a riding lesson i only use 'inside' and 'outside' because left and right boggle me so.
i say how easy it is, and yet when i left my beloved martha yesterday (after our last run until she returns in two years...sob) i drove smartly out of the battlefield, turned right onto harper's ferry road and promptly drove into town in the left lane. until i met a startled oncoming driver, that is. and had to call my husband at work to let him know about it, because i don't process any crisis big or small until i've told him about it. as you can imagine, this is not easy for the poor man.
in england, those merging onto the highway have the right of way. motorists already on the highway slow down or move to the fast lane to let drivers on. astonishing! and even more incredible, the passing lane is used only for....
wait for it.....
no pacing each other. no dogging the fast lane (and no zipping past in the slow lane. i know!!!) if someone in the slow lane is piddling along, you pass them and move back over. even if you are a tractor-trailer (wait, a lorry. i don't think i saw any tractor-trailers there, did i?) even if you have a fast car. even if you are in a hurry. even if you're a Mean Person. i didn't see ANY instances of one big truck going 47 passing another one going 45 and then staying in the fast lane because it was easier than moving back. not even on the M-1.
it wasn't perfect. there were occasional tailgaters, and i'm pretty sure i did get flipped off once. all those circles are bewildering, and i'm not a fast driver at the best of times. but nothing- NOTHING!!!- like it is here.
when most people practice courtesy, everything flows. here, in a country where individualism is taken to such ridiculous degrees that we can in all seriousness have a recruiting slogan for our armed forces that reads 'an army of one' (can you hear the spartans laughing??) it doesn't work, but in countries where people live in closer quarters, courtesy has so much more value. no wonder the japanese are so incredibly polite.
so, i spent most of the day in the car earlier this week, going to PA to get my raw milk (must...not.....start....that rant.......) and then to take foo to get his elizabethan collar off and staples out. lots of highway and a fair amount of secondary roads. plenty of time to practice my new philosophy.
but it's so hard unless everyone else is in on it.
i did have some successes. i did let others merge even if it inconvenienced me for a micro-second (and was rather taken aback to realize how odd this was), i yanked myself back from the brink of mentally cussing out other drivers. but that's about it. i found myself constantly going to the pissy place, not really road rage (i rarely go there) but just fuming and negative and unpleasant, and had to keep consciously putting a pleasant expression on my face which tends to cause one's thoughts to lighten up. it was very hard to stay in the slow lane if there was any traffic at all, because it's so clogged. of course, the fast lane is clogged too, because no one moves over after they've passed. i wanted to shriek each time i encountered someone in the fast lane keeping perfect pace with their neighbor in the slow lane. but that violated the courtesy rule so back onto my face went the smile.
england's back roads and villages are another matter. tiny, tiny, tiny. bermuda-road sized. and most with no discernible speed limits, other than my enigmatic GPS which said '60' way more than i believe is feasible. and insane brits whipping around those blind hills and corners all casual-like, sometimes texting as they go. cars parked randomly up and down 'main streets' barely wide enough to fit a racing bicycle. i had to laugh at myself for thinking the back roads would be more picturesque and less stressful than the main drags. picturesque? you betcha. downright phenomenal. but so much steering wheel gripping and eyes popping trying to stare through flowering hedgerows and over stiles and around sheep (have i mentioned the sheep per capita numbers in great britain??) that the stress level was something along the lines of piloting a space shuttle. at least on the big roads you could SEE. see the roundabouts that occur every quarter mile, anyway.
and finally there's my darling wendy, an excellent driver who whips her golf around like one of the top gear guys, and inexplicably speeds up when she's 10 yards from her short driveway and FLIES into it, standing on the brakes to halt 1/4 inch from her garage. i flashbacked to 'the world according to garp', each and every time.
it made a great excuse to collapse in her kitchen with a cup of tea half-filled with british double cream.
:) khairete
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