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September 2009 - Never Mind the Quality

If you cast your minds back a little, dear viewers, we did speed last month, didn't we?  No, no, madam, I'm not talking about partaking of illegal and illicit substances.  Nick Harvey would never be caught encouraging such terrible things in public.

No, we did speed, last month, as in the velocity at which the rapid racer is able to progress around our glorious country on the Queen's highways.  Well, this month, I wish to continue the theme in similar vein.

The rapid racer is still being held up, you see, but now for slightly different reasons and in slightly different places, so I thought it best to get it all off my chest again, whilst enthralling you all at the same time.

So welcome along everyone, yes, even the most spatially challenged of ignorant motorists, to the September edition of Nick Harvey's Comment, part three-hundred of "Road Rage for Beginners", or "How Not to Get to Wiltshire from Anywhere in Less Than An Hour".

You see, I've been endeavouring to rush home quite a lot, of late, in order to position myself in front of the television and keep up to date with England's spectacular thrashing of Australia in the Ashes cricket.

Whilst a certain Mr U of Wiltshire might have been lucky enough to get tickets to sit in the sun and watch two, yes two madam, days of the Ashes live, in person and for real, my viewing of the spectacular, this year, has been restricted to just an armchair in front of Sky Sports' most excellent coverage.

Mr U, it has to be said, didn't actually get in on the death.  His tickets were for the first match of the series, over there in welsh Wales.  I mention this minor fact, for no other reason than to mention welsh Wales and upset Mr R of that country yet again by not mentioning him.

So, anyway, having discussed the result of the cricket and proved conclusively that this heap of old garbage is being written right up close to the deadline once again, should I, perhaps, end this somewhat lengthy preamble and get on with the story, proper?

My faithful devotees, out there, will already be well aware of two basic facts, required in order to understand the background to this month's exciting edition of Comment.  Firstly, the rural nature of the county in which I choose to reside; and secondly, my absolute requirement, whenever out in the rapid racer, to be travelling at a speed no slower than one mile per hour below the limit in force, at all times.

As mentioned above, we spoke specifically of the matter of velocity last month.  This month, however, I wish to to place the subject of width under the Nick Harvey, Acme microscope for in-depth analysis.

We're nearly all drivers in here, aren't we?  So madam, may I enquire if you have any idea exactly how wide your motor car is?  That's from memory, without popping outside with the tape measure you bring to check the length of your knitting, if you please.  Answers, preferably in imperial, but metric will do, if you really, really insist.

Now, many, many moons ago, Nick Harvey was a member of the Boy Scouts, so I went through all the business of estimating the height of a tree by looking up, then walking towards it, then applying the Law of Pythagoras.  You know, madam, that's the one they use for measuring Red Indians.  The squaw on the hippopotamus is equal to the sum of the squaws on the other two hides.

Once you've been through all this Pythagoras lark as a boy, everything in later life becomes simple.  As you drive your rapid racer around, you look at any oncoming vehicle and immediately make a mental note of whether it's around five, six, seven or more feet wide.

At the same time as doing this, you're doing exactly the same mental calculation for the gap between the hedges at the sides of the particular country lane along which you are progressing.

You then need to carry out a quick bit of subtraction along the lines of the following formula.  Width of road, minus width of my car, minus width of oncoming car equals either enough room to pass or not enough room to pass.

If the calculation results in the first option being true, then it is safe to continue in a forward direction, moving carefully over to the left, and remaining at exactly one mile per hour below the current speed limit.  Only if the calculation results in the second option being true is it necessary to decide on some alternative course of action.

Why is it, then, that I now seem to be the only driver left in the world able to carry out both these calculations and the manoeuvers resulting from them without having to stop for ten minutes to think about it?

My current problem, and that for discussion in this month's edition, is that all motorists except myself seem to have developed two rather unpleasant and inconvenient habits over the last few years.

The first of these involves a total inability, any more, for Mr Average Motorist to be able to estimate the width of anything, from a road, through any well-known brand of motor car, right down to something like a bicycle.

The second habit is that of driving straight down the middle of country lanes instead of keeping to the left as the law requires.  Okay, nothing particularly wrong with that, when nobody else is about, I suppose, but not when something's coming the other way.

If moving over to the left hand side would allow the two vehicles to pass each other quite safely, why does Mr Average Motorist now continue up the middle of the road directly in the face of oncoming me?

They only move over at the last possible moment, when they eventually realise that I'm not stopping, I'm not slowing below fifty-nine miles an hour and their only method of avoiding a collision is to do the sensible thing and move over to their own side of the road.

Then, as they carry out this last minute manoeuver, they even try to do it with only one hand on the wheel, as they use the other one to shake their fist at me as if I'm in the wrong.  I think they also shout a load of abuse at me, but I never hear it as I'm always out of hearing range before they finish the sentence, even if it is only three little words.

That, 'screeching towards the hedge at the last moment' scenario is the most common on country lanes nowadays when I'm coming the other way.  It's, effectively, the game of dare where I win, immediately.  There is a second scenario, where I also win, but less quickly, however.  Thankfully, this is far less common.

This second scenario is called 'I can wait longer than you' and is when the oncoming car stays right in the middle of the road, but just stops, because the driver is incapable of the aforementioned calculations and is certain there is no room to pass.

I need to be quite careful to work out the likelihood of this scenario happening in advance, so that I don't go ploughing straight into the offside wing of the culprit, as I try to continue on my way through the gap he's decided not to leave for me.  You can usually tell a 'stopper' as soon as you see the smug, 'I own a Range Rover, so I also own the road' look on their face.

In the case of the 'stopper', I simply pull right in tight to the left hand side of the road, also stop myself, then politely wave him through the gap I've left for him.  Convinced he won't get through, he waves his arms about trying to indicate that I ought to reverse up to the last point where the road was a bit wider.  After all, he owns the road, so he's not going to do reverse.

In these circumstances, I definitely don't do reverse either!  This is when I put the handbrake on, switch the engine off and the radio on, then prepare for what is likely to be a very long wait.

He soon realises that I'm totally ignoring his arm waving and a different method of communication will be necessary.  As I see him getting out of his car to pop over and converse, just in case of trouble, I shut all my windows and lock all my doors.

He shouts through the closed window that I ought to reverse up and get out of his way.  I remind him, one last time, that I've moved over to the side, there is plenty of room for him to get through the gap and that it's now his move.  I then turn the radio up to drown any abuse and look away.

The nice part of being stopped so close to the hedge is that you can look straight at it and totally ignore him.  There's no room for him to go round to that side of the car to try to discuss matters any further.

To cut the rest of a very long story as short as possible, after quite a few more minutes, one of two final outcomes will result.  On very rare occasions, he'll finally admit that I was correct in my width calculations all the time and gingerly drive through the gap that I've left for him.  More often, however, it will eventually be him who reverses back to a much wider part of the road and lets me sail through, waving cheerfully to him as I go.

Having dealt with the problems caused to me by the oncoming traffic, it's perhaps time to very quickly give a mention to Mr Timid, the guy driving, incredibly slowly in the car in front of me on the country lane.  Mr Timid also drives down the middle of the road and is firmly convinced that his car is twelve feet wide, even though the lane is only eleven.

In the distance, he perceives an oncoming car, so he has to pull deep into the next convenient wide space to allow that oncoming car to pass.  Excellent stuff!  I've already done all my calculations, so I overtake Mr Timid while he's pulled in, accelerate up to near the speed limit and go past the oncoming vehicle with ease.

The last I see of Mr Timid in the rear view mirror, he's still sitting there in his pull-in, not moving and appearing to quake with fear at what has just occurred around him.  Poor chap, he'll probably miss the end of the cricket.

Now, having brought you the Ashes result up above, I suppose I really ought to bring you the result of the first twenty-twenty international as well, didn't I?  Afraid not, madam, because, as I put fingers to keyboard, it's not till tomorrow, and heaven forbid that I would ever do a late edit, just before publication.

That's September done and dusted then.  Please be around to accept the next portion of perfect prose, promptly on October the first.  Now I've become the master of the country lanes, I shouldn't be late, so you'd better not be either.

Until next month then, be good, be careful and don't do anything on the roads that I wouldn't do.  Right, I'm off, where's me no claims bonus?

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