Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Prime indicators

The older I get, the more I realise just how many simple tasks I am unable to perform. I have never been able to blow bubbles with bubble-gum. I have never been able to whistle without pursing my lips into an O, I cannot do backward tumbles in the swimming pool and I cannot touch my toes without bending my legs. Nor can I change sparkplugs, do simple tiling, draw, sew on a button with any degree of rigidity or pretend to be angry without giggling.
There is however one small task which seemingly only I and a handful of others seem able to do with any regularity – indicating.
Now, to me, it doesn’t seem a difficult thing to do. I want to let everybody know I am turning left. My left hand moves two inches off the steering wheel and flicks upwards. At most, the operation takes a quarter of a second. I do not feel physically drained after doing this, nor do I feel the need to pull over and massage my aching wrist. The manoeuvre has not taken very much out of me and I have fulfilled my objective in letting everybody know that I intend turning left.
I am immensely surprised however that more drivers don’t seem to have the ability to do the same. Maybe, I tell myself charitably, that they have cars in which the indicators are located behind the passenger seat and it is a considerable hardship to operate them. Maybe, I suggest to myself (though I suspect I am not listening), they have fragile left wrists and are suffering from repetitive strain injury through over-indicating. Or maybe, and here I find myself nodding sadly in agreement, maybe they just can’t be bothered.
Sitting in my car at a busy roundabout, I find myself wishing disgusting toe infections on drivers who suddenly veer off to their left when I had been expecting them to go straight ahead. Sometimes, after it happens three or four times, I extend the curse to their kith and kin and to all their descendants in perpetuity. If, in 200 years time, half the country walks with an exaggerated limp, they need not pester the doctors for answers, as they will only have their ancestors to blame.
In these heated moments, I find myself marvelling at how ineffectual penalty points are. If we had cameras on every roundabout and fined everyone, say, €1,000 for every time they didn’t indicate, think how much joy would be brought to people’s lives. As well as the fine, drivers should be made to sit their test again or at least should be sent back to indicator school, where world-weary instructors can stress upon them the need for communication on today’s roads.
Alternatively, the Japanese could be encouraged to develop cars that indicate automatically whenever they are turning at a junction. An irritating, disembodied voice, preferable in a Jade Goody accent, could demand of a driver which way they are turning at the oncoming roundabout and indicate accordingly. If the driver fails to respond, the question could be repeated ad nauseum in progressively severe tones of voice.
Almost as annoying as the drivers who can’t be bothered indicating are the ones who indicate at the last moment, as a kind of afterthought. What good is that to anyone trying to anticipate a break in the traffic? Indicating once you have actually turned the corner serves no purpose whatsoever and you might as well not bother.
Dr. Wilhelm Grossenfahrter, from the European Institute of Road Etiquette in Leipzig, believes that a pathological failure to indicate is genetic rather than behavioural. “We have isolated the gene that is responsible for indicating and preliminary tests show that this gene is not present in almost 131% of non-indicators,” he claims. “It is also true to say that people who have this gene twice are more likely to operate their hazard lights by accident.”
The Crown Prince Franz Josef was a notorious non-indicator and it has been claimed that his blasé attitude to roundabouts was a major cause of Serb dissatisfaction with the of the Austrian Empire, particularly around the Sarajevo area. Field Marshall Goering, too, used to enrage Hitler by indicating wrongly when turning into Unter den Linden in Berlin. “Indicate right until the turn before the one you want and then indicate left!” Hitler would scream, sweeping the Corgi cars off the table in his bunker in a fit of pique. On these occasions, Martin Bormann would be prevailed upon to demonstrate and he would pretend to drive around the table making ticking noises until the Field Marshall said he understood, which often took several hours.
The great roundabout crisis of 1963 nearly led the world into nuclear war. Kruschev was adamant that there was no need to indicate when travelling straight ahead at a roundabout but Kennedy stood firm. “Ich bin ein Indicator,” he told a million cheering Volkswagen enthusiasts at a rally in Memphis, though not many of them spoke German. Kruschev responded by threatening to pull the indicators out of every Lada in Eastern Europe but backed down when he realised the amount of time it would take him.
Of course the most famous non-indicator of the modern era was Nelson Mandela, who was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island for the crime of “failing to indicate at a road junction,” which was a comparatively lenient sentence for black offenders under the Apartheid regime of the time. Mandela’s claim that he was “walking” at the time was laughed out of court, although his incarceration led to worldwide calls for reform of the rules of the road in South Africa.
“If everybody indicated correctly on roundabouts, the world would be a happier place,” sang Bob Dylan at Woodstock and his melancholy lyrics ring as true today as they did then. In Australia, they have experimented with road signs saying “Have you indicated yet, you lousy wombat?” on the approaches to major junctions and in Italy, a major advertising campaign called “Si, si, indicatore, signore” featured a Genoese model who stripped down to her bikini bottoms to get the message home. George Bush has recently said that he is in favour of bombing countries that don’t share the American ideals of free speech, democracy and indicating, while Condoleezza Rice nodded sagely in the background muttering “God bless America.”
I have a dream – yea verily I have a dream – that one day all the people of the world will unite in their approach to communication on the highways of this world and Bob Dylan’s seemingly utopian view of life on earth will in fact become a reality.
In the meantime, I will continue to spit curses at offenders.

A very kind gentleman tactfully pointed out in the following edition of the paper, that if I move my hand upwards, I would in fact be indicating right not left. Mea culpa!

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