Those who have lived or worked anywhere in Africa will recognise the problem. Slow hospitality service, inefficient transport, fickle timetables, the snail’s pace of bureaucracy, erratic hours of work, incompetent administration, corrupt government, funereal political change…. everybody seems to dawdle. Now, I never did discover whether people walked slowly from one job to another, from bus to workplace, or even around the supermarket because they were disinclined to hurry at the behest of their (former) colonial masters, or whether it was just too damned hot to get a move on. What’s the rush? The sun will rise again in the morning come what may, so let’s take it easy and smell the roses (or, rather the proteas, or the yellow bush lilies or the African violets) on the way. There’s no point getting impatient and irritable at the way things are. Nothing happens quickly…and never will.Best just to shrug, smile and utter the well-known acronym of the continent: DIA. Dis Is Africa.
Ah, DIM must be an acronym, I hear you putting two and two together. Indeed it is. It stands for Dis Is Malvern. Unlike DIA, it is not in common use; in fact, it has been coined and used by me alone, though there will be many who will nod knowingly and in agreement when I explain. First it must be stressed that DIM in no way passes comment on the general IQ of the inhabitants of this town. In fact, as Malvern was the home of the Radar Research Establishment, there have been, and no doubt remain, more clever scientists and boffins per square mile here than in most parts of England. No, I am not referring to dim-witted folk at all. It’s the driving that causes me to sigh, raise my eyes to heaven and mutter, “DIM.”
First let me identify the types of boneheaded road conduct in these parts before I attempt to rationalise it. On the open road away from the town, the speed limit is 60mph. I cannot claim a whiter-then-white history of sedulously keeping to the speed limit - though I have never been ‘done’ for speeding - but I generally accept the logic and validity of these restrictions. By and large, given the situation and the condition of the road ahead, they make sense. 60mph in the roads around Malvern is an acceptable limit. Some might even say that 60 feels a little slow as the roads are straight, with perfect visibility and few bends. But frequently, we find ourselves joining the back of a queue of cars meandering along at 35mph. What is the hold-up? Is it a horse? There are lots of horses around where we live and almost without exception, motorists slow to walking pace when encountering a rider and horse. Is it a cyclist? Even the fittest of cyclists rarely go above 20mph on the flat. As the road is straight without any bends round which you can spy the slowcoach at the front, you just have toassume it is one of those Malvern drivers who rarely get out of third gear. You can’t overtake – though many are clearly anxious to do so – but onward plods the unconcerned and oblivious dilly-dallier. All you can hope for is the imminent arrival of the 40mph sign, which might prompt an acceleration, as if the sign comes as a surprise. If you were to pull aside the dilatory motorist and suggest that his or her driving is dangerous, leading to impatient and possibly reckless responses, you would get an incredulous look and the reply, “Speed kills, don’t you know!”
Near our house there is a crossroads which has become an accident blackspot. God knows why. The roads in all four directions are dead straight with perfect visibility of over 400 yards. The right of way is clearly marked yet for some reason, every so often, a car pulls out into the path of an oncoming vehicle. These are not boy racers chancing their arm. It just seems that the offending driver has omitted to look. Or perhaps the driver can’t see very far.
In and around the town, the hazards created by DIM motorists alter. Largely, it’s a matter of parking. All right, adroit parking of an automobile is not everybody’s cup of tea. I can understand and accept if somebody needs to have two or three attempts at manoeuvring into a tight spot. We have all been there and got the T shirt. I am talking about the inept positioning of cars in Waitrose car park, some higgledy-piggledy, some sticking out of line, some straddling the white lines and even one positioned three-quarters on the walkway.What about those stubborn drivers who wait for a place to become vacant near to the store entrance oblivious of the queue lining up behind them? Why not go round again and hope for better luck next time? Oh no. I am here, and it is my right to wait for a spot.
I have lost count of the number of times when I have given an involuntary shudder as a car reverses out of a parking space heedless of somebody else doing the same directly behind. A collision seems inevitable but somehow realisation dawns and there is a slamming on of breaks. On three occasions when I have been present, a collision was not avoided and there was that familiar bang as metal meets metal. Fortunately, the speed was sufficiently slow to avoid injury but not red faces as the drivers clambered out of their cars, causing inevitably another long tailback in the car park.
Traffic lights seem to cause Malvern drivers no end of trouble. Not so much that they run a red light but more they miss a green light. Usually, they select the wrong gear and lurch forward alarmingly as the light again changes to red and once more, a savage braking manoeuvre ensues. On one occasion, an apparently driverless car stopped in the middle of thecrossroads. All four directions were blocked, and motorists waited with surprising patience wondering what was going to happen next. After a minute or two, an old lady in the driver’s seat slowly brought herself upright, clutching triumphantly in her hand her glasses. There was no irritable honking of horns. Perhaps all onlookers were as amused by the incident as I was.
I have witnessed two accidents, one outside our front door and one in Church Street in town (a steep road, I must add), when there has been no second vehicle involved. My wife and I were watching television at about nine o’clock in the evening. A horrifying thump of crumpled metal and splintered glass made us jump. We rushed outside and helped the dazed driver, an elderly man, out of his wrecked car. He was not some drunken idiot making his way home from the nearby pub; he was merely going to pick up his wife from the hospital. He had ploughed into a row of parked cars. “I didn’t see them,” was all he could say. Well, they looked very visible to me.
The same happened in the steep main street in town. A lady clearly lost control as she came down the hill, crashing into one parked car after another. Extraordinary. Just as extraordinary, but with distressingly fatal consequences, a similar incident occurred in the same street a week or two back. But this time the car mounted the pavement and killed a pedestrian. Perhaps the driver hit the accelerator and not the brake? Who knows.
Less tragically and much more amusingly – the stricken vehicle attracted a throng of disbelieving onlookers – a car had apparently attempted to enter the Post Office. When you see the number of bollards and railings preventing such a manoeuvre, you cannot imagine in your wildest dreams what the motorist was trying to do and how on earth she managed to get as far as she did before she was brought to an abrupt halt. “Doesn’t much look like someone who would attempt a ram raid,” was the comment of the man standing next to me as we looked at the shaken old lady, sitting on the kerb with a red blanket draped over her shoulders, being attended to by the paramedics.
The common denominator of DIM drivers – you have probably already guessed it – is age, old age. The demographic in Malvern is elderly and middle-class, evidenced by the number of retirement homes in the town (which is surprising really, given the steepness of the terrain and the amount of arduous steps and sloping walkways).Ergo, there is a disproportionate number of old timers behind the wheel of a car tootling around the town and its environs. Many a time have my eyebrows arched as I have observed an old man, barely able to walk, who painfully manoeuvres himself into the driving seat of his car and takes off into the middle of the road without so much as a precautionary glance behind him. Then I find myself reflecting a little guiltily that the car is probably his only and last means of independence. Take away his licence and he will be lost.
It is a moot point, one that we all in time will have to face - if we have not already done so with elderly parents. Should we crack down on incompetent, geriatric drivers or should we give a sigh, mutter DIM, and behave with the tolerance and forbearance that we show to horses and riders?