Friday, 1 August 2014

You just can't win.

I was seventeen years old when I started driving motor cars. The insurance premium for drivers under 25 years of age was astronomical. I looked forward to that magic birthday but when I reached it nothing got any cheaper. Then it transpired that it was drivers aged over fifty who were cheaper to insure. When I reached fifty, the insurance premiums did not go down because now we had to pay for the under 25 year olds who were driving without insurance. Ironically, I was a good insurance risk up until my fiftieth birthday. After that, I had one car stolen and another written off. 

And having driven for forty five years I was for the first time in my life pulled over by a police patrol car in north London two years ago because, unlike everybody else in the street, I was driving below the speed limit and so the officer suspected that I was drunk. I have been a teetoaller since 1976.

But before I passed my driving test I succeeded at another examination: the only exam that I have taken in my life whose lessons I still apply today -- the National Cycling Proficiency Test which I passed in 1961. When I turn right I still look behind me before I signal, I move to the centre of the road and on turning, I aim at the kerb on the left hand side of the road, avoiding the temptation to 'cut the corner'. 

As I turned right from Old Dover Road, through the traffic lights into Nackington Road today, I could not help but feel a little pride at the clear signal that I had given to the other traffic and the safe path that I followed across the junction. Perhaps it was arcane, but it was how I was taught and it was safe. So I was surprised when, a hundred yards further along, a police car pulled up alongside me and ordered me to stop.

"Red lights apply to cycles as well," he said.
"Yes, I know, but it changed to orange as I went through."
"You went through on the red."
"I did not. I went through on the amber but that junction is so long that by the time I had crossed it, the light had changed to red."
"Well just bear that in mind," he said obscurely.

The problem is that the 'stop' line has to be drawn far from the actual junction to give space for large lorries to turn without colliding with the waiting traffic. Of course, if I had cut the corner, I would have been across the junction in a jiffy and there would have been no problem.

You just can't win, can you?

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