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Friday, 30 March 2012

The Lanes

This week has been a little fraught.  What with a tongue-tie being diagnosed and snipped (Ben), new methods of mother-baiting being discovered (Thomas) and much wailing and gnashing of teeth (me), not to mention a run-in with an insufferable arse of a paediatrician (I am a MAN and a CONSULTANT.  See my shiny shoes and the letters after my name.  You are a silly woman who understands nothing.  Give him some formula and stop wasting my time), there was probably a small mushroom cloud visible over our house by teatime yesterday.

 So all things considered, I am currently not in a mood to suffer fools gladly.  So why, oh why, have a swarm of fools descended upon The Lanes?
The Lanes are the little network of roads that run between Bath and one of the main roads to the south, serving three tiny villages and a couple of farms.  Whenever anyone talks about these roads it is in ominous, doom-laden tones with audible capital letters.  This is because The Lanes, despite being some of the narrowest roads known to man, attract a daily horde of frenzied commuters and school-run mums, all desperate to avoid the crawling traffic on the main road into Bath.  Since the presence of these rat-runners renders The Lanes all but unusable for anyone foolish enough to attempt to drive in the opposite direction, the residents of the villages have pretty much given up any journeys between the hours of eight and ten on weekday mornings.

Unfortunately, I appear to be the only villager who has no choice but to brave The Lanes, since Thomas’s nursery is a couple of miles down the main road.  Twice a week I therefore cause panic and consternation by driving against the flow of the traffic, leading to multiple near-collisions as rat-runners screech to a last-second halt after hurtling round blind bends at about 60 mph, secure in the knowledge that there is no way that anyone will be coming from the opposite direction.

But it isn’t actually the near-misses that wind me up into a homicidal rage when driving in The Lanes.  It is the fact that the vast majority of rat-runners are apparently so incensed by my sheer gall in daring to impede their hugely important progress that they refuse point-blank to reverse, even when the nearest passing place is about two feet behind their back wheels.  This means that I spend considerable periods of time sitting in the hedge, watching half the driving population of Somerset sweeping past me without so much as a twitch of a finger by way of thanks.  Thomas recently asked me “Why you say ‘you’re welcome’, mummy?” leading to an intensely complicated conversation in which I tried to explain both sarcasm and the concept of motoring courtesy.  He now joins me in shouting “You’re welcome” at ungrateful drivers who fail to observe the niceties.  Although he generally misses off the “Pillock!” bit.
When I say I spend considerable periods of time sitting in the hedge, I actually mean I used to spend time sitting in the hedge.  A few months ago I began a concentrated campaign to retake The Lanes.  I used a very simple tactic – I refused point blank to reverse unless I was extremely close to a passing place.  I had suddenly realised that the very fact that the other drivers were trying to take a shortcut round the traffic probably meant that they had somewhere to be pretty urgently.  I didn’t.  Yes I needed to get Thomas to nursery at some point as I was working from home at the time, but I wasn’t on a clock as such.  I therefore adopted the technique of sitting smiling inanely at glowering, mouthing, gesticulating drivers until they gave in and reversed. 

Word got round.  People started reversing for me.  My morning journey became considerably smoother.  The balance of The Lanes was restored.
And then I met her.  The Queen of the Non-Reversers.  I don’t know whether she was a very bad driver or just unutterably arrogant.  Whatever the reason, she had me beaten.  She would see me coming and accelerate past passing places in order to meet me in the narrowest part of the road and then glare at me until I backed half a mile down the road to let her pass.  Then she would shoot me a venomous stare and shake her head in disbelief that I had dared to drive through my own village.  This went on for some time.  I met her pretty much every time I did the nursery run.  And every time I backed down.  There was something compelling about her absolute belief that she was in the right.

And then, one day after I had reversed down a hill and round a blind bend with this woman revving and muttering about 6 inches away from my front bumper, only for her to mouth something at me and back it up with the inevitable shake of her head, something changed.  I decided I had had enough.  The next time I met her I did not reverse.  We sat there, eyeballing one another, while the traffic piled up behind her and I wondered how many cars I could realistically expect to back up for me.  Suddenly I heard a rumbling noise from behind me and the local farmer came jolting over the hill in his tractor.  I looked at it and then turned back to the woman and smiled.  It was like that moment in Lord of the Rings when the riders of Rohan appear over the crest of the hill just as it looks like all is lost.  I felt like hanging out of the window shouting “Ride now for ruin and the world’s ending” or whatever it was that accompanied all the shaking of spears. But even as the row of sulky commuters backed down the road out of my way, there was a certain hollowness to the victory.  I realised that, in order to extract full satisfaction from watching her stroppy little face disappearing backwards down the road, I needed to win the encounter myself, without the unarguable back-up of the farmer.
So I armed myself.  I put a book on the front seat ready to turn my engine off and begin casually reading when I met her – I chose a copy of Tales from Disney on the basis that it would be so much more insulting to be roundly ignored by someone reading a large-print Disney book then by someone reading The Odyssey, for example.

I encountered her in the perfect place.  She was just clear of a passing place and I had a lengthy reverse behind me.  She screeched to a halt in front of me and glared at me as usual, while yakking into her mobile phone.  I looked at her.  She looked back.  I scratched my nose and looked out of the window.  She took the phone away from her ear and gestured at me to get out of her way.  I smiled and made a little shooing gesture at her.  She stared at me open-mouthed and made another get-out-of-the-way gesture.  I picked up a notebook and pen from the passenger footwell and made a big show of writing down her numberplate.  She looked as though she was about to explode and made a “What?  What?” gesture.  I pantomimed talking on a mobile phone and shook my finger at her chidingly.  She stared at me for another few seconds before hurling her phone onto the seat and reversing at speed into the passing place.  I drove past slowly, my window wound down, and as I came along side her car I smiled graciously. 
“So kind,” I said.

I don’t know whether she spontaneously combusted with rage or whether she decided to cede control of The Lanes to me, but I never saw her again.  The Lanes were mine.  To the victor the spoils and all that.
Until now.

This morning I once again found myself sitting in the hedge as car after car swept by, glaring and shaking their heads.  I can only assume that an entirely new generation of commuters have discovered this handy little shortcut, and that they have not heard that The Lanes are my patch.  This kind of insurrection needs to be stamped out and quickly.  I need a plan.  Or possibly everyone I know to come and drive around in a non-reversing convoy with me.
This is only a minor blip in my domination of The Lanes.  In the words of Beyonce, they must not know about me…..

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