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Tuesday 17th January 2012


PH BLOG: POLITENESS COSTS NOTHING...

...So Chris Harris is dismayed to discover that local authorities won't let you exercise it in a pay and display car park

The modern road is pushing more of us to this, reckons Monkey
The modern road is pushing more of us to this, reckons Monkey
Manners are free, as we were correctly told when we were young, but their use on the public highway appears to become less prevalent by the day.

Do you always make a point of thanking anyone who might deserve such a gesture? I do. Partly because I feel that motorists should afford each other more than basic courtesy, because it makes what has become a hostile environment a little more pleasant; partly because anyone who drives a white Porsche with a trestle table strapped to the boot needs every opportunity to smooth the territory and mitigate against regular slappings.

And these are making...
And these are making...
But the authorities don't exactly help matters, do they? Everyone who drives in the UK does so in constant fear of incurring some kind of penalty that might cost them dearly, thereby creating a loaded Petri dish for the cultivation of fear, anger and lack of compassion for other motorists. We all know what these situations are, how they arise and how unpleasant the consequences can be, but there is one recent addition - so peripheral it is almost invisible - that defines the hostile environment of UK driving. Pay & display parking.

Where I live, you now have to enter a number plate to be issued a ticket. They tried this in my native Bristol in the late 90s, but the machines were calibrated for the old-style number plates, quickly became obsolete and the council didn't bother to update them. Sadly, such a machine now exists where I live.

Denying a motorist the chance to single-out another human being and say "Would you like my ticket, it still has an hour left on it" is one of the most short-sighted decisions ever made by local government. In those few words, you create a positive, human exchange that will only breed good feeling. Heaven forbid, people might actually then smile at each other and proffer further pleasantries.

...this much less common
...this much less common
But it isn't to be. Sociologists will probably be able to prove that the few thousand pounds gained in parking revenues will be lost through some anger-related incident further down the line - but that misses the point. Here was one of the few motoring scenarios where people could be generous to each other, interact and make outward gestures of kindness - and now they cannot.

Not being able to flag down a mother wrestling three children in an MPV and then save her the hassle of going to the machine, finding she's forgotten her purse, going again - and returning to find the gearlever uprooted by young Tommy - makes me feel sad.

The further we are forced to retreat into the hermetic seal of the motor car, to become isolated from other road users as lone, uncommunicative beings, the more hostile the roads will become. We could all do without that.

Author: Chris Harris