Friday, 31 August 2012

Keep Death Off The Roads!

The recently reported rise in road deaths on Brtain's roads, particularly among young men, and the current government rumblings about turning all urban areas into 20mph zones to counter it

has sent me musing on the public information films of my childhood and wondering where they've gone if the government truly gives a fig.

I was further shocked to read today that a young driver whose reckless behaviour led to a family of four being killed when he clipped their car in his hurry to get to work on time, causing it to flip into a reservoir by the roadside was only sentenced to FOUR years in prison. That's one year per life. He also lost his driving licence for a mere four years (scarcely an inconvenience to a man in prison). Bulging though our prisons may be, what kind of a sick joke deterrent is this, let alone example to others? What about drivers who cause death through careless or dangerous driving losing their licences for life in addition to receiving the sentences they would receive for any non-car manslaughter? Wouldn't that threat be more incentive to better driving than any number of exorbitant speed humps, cameras, islands or limits, not to mention more cost-effective?

To nanny-state the entire population through changing the road system owing to the actions of an irresponsible few feels insulting to me as a responsible driver/cyclist/pedestrian, who does not drink, take drugs, suffer from road rage, take foolish risks, treat my indicators as optional extras, so why should my use of the roads be impeded and compromised on account of those who do?

As one who lives next to what has been termed 'Britain's most Dangerous Road' (the A4074 between Oxford and Reading) and who experienced an horrific car crash only yards from my home killing three people on the Jubilee bank holiday weekend (albeit not 16-24 year olds on this occasion), I feel increasingly strongly that public information campaigns and penalties would be the most effective two-pronged attack against irresponsible road use and thus the best use of my taxes.

Not only are we bereft of public information films shaping our formative years these days, we are distracted by a multitude of media to plug our senses into, tuning out of the real world and our responsibilities in it both to ourselves and to other people. Pedestrians crossing the road without looking because their mobile phone or ipod are far more fascinating than their life have become a daily hazard in the last 5-10 years.

However it is not the Transport Select Committee's job alone to stop the needless slaughter. It is also the responsibility of every last one of us - road users all - irrespective of which capacity. With this in mind, I e-mailed the Committee, proposing a National Road Safety Competition where people like myself could submit ideas for TV adverts and campaigns in order to feel we all had a stake in taking personal responsibility on the roads with prizes and the top ad suggestions being turned into real TV ads. Perhaps the DVLA could make a contribution from each driver's road tax towards this competition/any campaign.

If like me you grew up in the 1970s/80s I'm willing to bet Green Cross Code ads with David Prowse (otherwise known as Darth Vadar), not to mention many other ads such as 'Think Bike!', 'Clunk Click', how to use pedestrian crossings and general safety ads formed the daily basis of your TV diet. There was even the 'Tufty Club' which we could join to let a cartoon squirrel edutain us about road safety! Memorable, weren't they? It didn't matter that they were as cheesy as hell. So long as we got the message, job done.

In the mid-90s I worked for the Driving Standards Agency when the written part of the driving test exam was brought in. Making the driving test harder definitely drove up driving standards. For a while, but to temporary effect I fear.

Meanwhile I had a two line e-mail reply from the Transport Select Committee Chairperson Louise Ellman MP thanking me for my ideas but without commenting on any of them (I thought at least she might do me the honour of stealing them and passing them off as her own, not least as they would have saved the government a shed-load of money on nationwide traffic-obstructing measures.) Oh well. I'll save that killer TV ad for a mover and shaker who really does care about preventing death on the roads.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

My Mixed Olympics

It is great that so many British nationals won so many medals at the 2012 Olympics, but I for one am relieved all the noise and hysteria which meant I found it more tolerable catching glimpses from the living room doorway rather than watching it properly, is finally over, not to mention the ruinous over-expenditure at a time when our country can ill afford it, and which may never be recouped for all the talk of how it would bring far more money to Britain than it cost (nonsense if all the half-empty hotels, eateries and attractions are any indicator). In fact the 45% drop in tourist numbers to Britain during the games was allegedly worse than the tourist drop which immediately followed the 7/7 London bombings.

Nor was it a Peoples' Olympics when so many people were denied the chance to purchase last minute tickets (affordable or otherwise) despite the obvious acres of empty seats visible on screen and small businesses who tried to join in the Olympic spirit to boost trade were swiftly stamped on by corporate concerns, no matter that these corporate concerns had actually paid very little towards the Olympics in real terms compared to the taxpayer and were in turn trying to dodge paying tax.

It might have offered up more razzmatazz than any previous Olympics but for me, momentous events should actually contain moments of gravitas, dignity and silence rather than endless shrieking and whooping, hysterical commentators and blaring pop music at every opportunity, thereby undercutting the genuinely extraordinary achievements of the athletes.

Dictionary definition of the word 'ceremony': 'The formal or ritualistic activities conducted on a solemn, important or state occasion'
(*note the words 'formal' and 'solemn'). Which, granted, you might not expect the opening and closing 'ceremonies' of the Olympics to have in spades as they are naturally more in the nature of 'celebrations' than 'ceremonies' but certainly the presentation of the medals should have been formal and solemn with no silly posing or biting the medal afterwards. As for the athletes constantly brandishing and flashing cameras and handycams as they made their way to the central enclosure during the closing ceremony - what next - a bride doing the same as she sweeps down the aisle for the biggest day of her life? It is for other people to take this kind of footage, not the principal players.

The sporting costumes were also hideous and made our athletes look like they'd been to the pound shop rather than purchasing highly expensive aerodynamic kit made employing the latest high-tech space technology, which it probably was. The women were defeminised, the men turned into alien life forms, particularly the cyclists. Mr Federer was the smartest turned-out sportsman of the lot and I was almost sorry he lost to the sartorially-challenged Andy Murray (albeit ever so slightly glad that Andy finally got his own back after such a long run of bad luck against his Swiss nemesis).

There was no classiness about this Olympics beyond the VIP Zil traffic lanes (also stolen from the British taxpayer). It was loud, vulgar and unashamedly corporate, and what THAT says about Britain to the rest of the world, I shudder to think.

The untold side of the Olympics was that a number of East Enders who were promised that their homes wouldn't be swept away to facilitate the construction of the Olympic village and stadia (as the Chinese suffered for the Beijing Olympics) saw that promise dishonoured when 425 council tenants lost their homes to be re-dispersed across London losing their community and ending up worse off financially. But hey, they were only council tenants, so who cares, right? Other losses included the treasured Manor Gardens allotment which had previously survived two world wars and lay on ground gifted to the community in perpetuity at the turn of the 20th century, so who was the 'London Development Agency' to place a compulsory purchase order on it? A listed theatre was another casualty to make way for luxury flats as part of the gentrification of the Olympic area (presumably 'listing' now stands for nothing when it comes to protecting a valuable piece of our heritage). So the character and community of the Olympic area has been irretrievably changed forever, and who is to say for the better if it is now to begin pricing its natives out? This process certainly leaves any green credentials claimed by Locog open to question. Ironic then that a celebration of the working man and England's green and pleasant land, not forgetting history, played such a pivotal role in the opening ceremony, albeit in a very twisted version of British history conveniently omitting any controversial bits.

Which leads me to another aspect of the Olympics which made me uneasy. The dishonesty of portraying our nation as a nation of absolute abundance at a time when it is anything but. Nor is it anywhere near as free as it gave the impression of being, if still free-er than all those unfortunate nations whose athletes had western freedoms somewhat unfairly rubbed into their noses by a string of undiplomatically-chosen songs in the closing ceremony. Though it also crossed my mind this might be a sneaky ploy to encourage oppressed athletes to defect to UK in order that 'Team GB' wins even more medals next Olympics!

But for all this, the whole shebang admittedly turned out better than my cynical predictions of four years ago, and it's undoubtedly served to cheer a depressed nation up (providing we don't think about the cost), but for how long? What will the real legacy be? Apart from a rather funny sitcom entitled '2012'.