AS regular readers will remember, or, at least, have just been made aware that they had forgotten, I recently bought a car after years of exclusively using public transport.
It turned out that, while I remain more or less capable of driving a car, many things have changed on our country’s roads.
Speed bumps are far more prevalent, for instance. It is unclear why they are now called “speed bumps”. They were previously and poetically called “sleeping policemen”, which lent them a certain Z Cars-style glamour.
But “speed bumps”? That is the opposite of what they are. They should be called anti-speed bumps. Speed bumps are what you give somebody on their birthday if you’re in a hurry and they’re getting on a bit.
Cyclists have also become more cocky in recent years, like pigeons, or racists. They weave in and out of traffic with less care than I remember, treating traffic lights as guidelines and pavements as extra lanes of the road. It is as if the enhanced danger from increased numbers of cars has given them the sort of fatalism that we could admire in battle but not when they are inches from our bumpers.
Only last week, I was driving down the road and on the other side of the road a cyclist with the livery of a takeaway delivery app was moving in the same direction, causing cars coming in the opposite direction to us to swerve wildly.
He was of Asian appearance, and I charitably decided that he must have been a recent arrival and had forgotten that we drive on the left in the UK, as I would inevitably have done in the same situation.
I shouted, “Hey, mate” – I call people “mate” even if I don’t know them, as a way of showing that I am not to be feared – “you’re on the wrong side of the road.”
“No, f****** way, mate?” he replied. “Do you think I don’t know?” as if being on the wrong side of what was a single carriageway were a cross he reluctantly had to bear and he were disappointed that I had highlighted this sore point to him.
However, the biggest change on our roads since I were last a regular motorist appears to have been in parking. I was lucky in that the written theory section was introduced about five minutes after I passed my driving test, and I haven’t really kept up with developments.
But it seems that there has been a shift in parking practice and I can only assume that the test has changed so that drivers have been told, when confronted by a 90 degree parking space, to park at a 45 to 60 degree angle, so that at least one wheel, and preferably two, will touch a painted line separating parking spaces.
I drove to an appointment today, entering the car park. Time was pressing, but I found a space. My driving instructor, a highly-strung man, would have been proud of my skills for probably the first time, as I executed a centimetre-perfect old-school parking manoeuvre, ending up at precisely an equal distance from the two painted lines.
However, the person who parked next to me was one of the new-style 45-degree drivers, and as I opened my door and poked a shoe out it became clear that I would not be able to continue opening my door to a width which would enable me to leave my vehicle, unless I gouged out a significant portion of the other car’s door.
Fine, I thought. I am just going to have to re-park a little bit further over. But as I attempted to pull my foot back inside, it became obvious that it was stuck, and I had three immediate choices: become double-jointed, tear my trousers down the seam separating my posterior’s twins, or amputate my foot. And time was pressing.
Maybe, I thought, if I turn slightly, I can straighten my leg and pull it in by lying back and shifting into the passenger seat. I did so, edging over.
But as my foot re-entered the car, my back hit the gear stick or handbrake – I don’t know which. I jerked in pain, slipped off the leather seat, and my head ended up in the passenger footwell, with my feet dangerously close to going through the sun roof.
I gathered my thoughts, unlocked the passenger door, and continued my ungainly cartwheel out of the car.
I don’t want to tell you how I got back in after my appointment.