Behind a door, someone is playing “somewhere over the rainbow” on a Hammond organ, somehow haunting and cheesy at the same time.
Going round delivering early voting packs for erstwhile Labour supporters for the Mayoral election – partly because the leadership of the Party is keener on neutralising the Left than actually winning and doing such a fabulous job of driving our poll support ever downwards, and it will make a material difference to people’s lives whether the next London Mayor is Sadiq Khan or the Tory – I notice that a disturbing number of them have big SUVs parked out front.
An extreme expression of this is parked up on the pavement and half way across a cul de sac; designed and built long before mass car ownership and completely inappropriate for it. A sparkling white Humvee, slightly smaller than our flat and probably just as heavy, squats like a reinforced steel toad and screams “look at me!” This is not an economic choice. With a fuel consumption of just 4 miles per gallon in the city, this on road off road light tank is a rather needy statement on the part of its owner. The message, “go big or go home” painted front and back removes any ambiguity about that.
I wonder about how the clash between the imperative to clean up our air, sharply cut our carbon emissions and travel in healthier ways, will play out against the presumption so many car owners have that its ok to pave over green space to park on, to turn streets that could be playgrounds or parks into rat runs, to drive around spewing out pollution for other people to breathe in – that costs the health service in London £8,000 per vehicle in treating the consequences – trumps all other considerations. As one angry woman said to me on the doorstep a couple of years ago, “But where am I going to park MY CAR?”
Since “freedom day” I have noticed the same angry driving phenomena that happened after the first lockdown was eased. Cars on the edge, driving too fast, frustrated drivers honking horns in outrage. The sense that MY CAR is king of the road. YOUR CAR is in the way. Vey little of the courtesy that is now common in bus queues. After you…
We had a conversation with a cab driver a couple of years ago – on one of the rare occasions we had to use one. He was furious about the Low Emissions Zone because his vehicle would be caught by it – restricting his range to the outer suburbs unless he could scrap his vehicle and invest in one new enough to meet the standards. He was angry enough to keep turning round to jab his finger at us when we argued with him, swerving around lanes and narrowly missing other cars; at somewhat above the speed limit. His solution was to emigrate to Australia. Australia – of course – is considered second on the list of countries most imminently threatened with ecological collapse. Not on his radar I fear.
There is no shortage of candidates in London who think we can simultaneously develop a greener city while ripping out bike lanes and low traffic neighbourhoods; some who think it a great wheeze to offer free parking and roll back congestion charges and low emissions zones; so we can all sit in traffic jams and breathe in each others exhausts as the population of the city grows and the road network chokes on over use. Still, as they said on Monty Python once “You could easily widen the road there, knock down that hospital”…
Meanwhile, in the park, as I walk cautiously but irreversibly towards the shops, a Brent Council clean up truck swerves past me and stops smartly by the overflowing bin by the playground. The two doors are flung open at once and two blokes jump down with litter pickers and blue bags. The theme from the “A team” starts playing in my head.