Friday, 26 February 2016

Why I Changed My Mind About Cars Parked on Pavements

This post was inspired by a piece about badly parked cars by Dave the Dadventurer (excellent blog!) on episode 2 of the (again, excellent) Meet the Parents podcast. It's a little bit of a change from the regular, photo-packed E&W updates - I hope you like it nonetheless. 

Cars parked on pavements used to really annoy me.

We live in a pretty, quiet Oxford suburb. The roads aren’t particularly narrow. Most houses have drives or off-road parking spaces. Yet we still come across cars partially - sometimes fully - on the pavement. Most of the time we can squeeze our way through, even with a side-by-side double buggy, but every now and again we have to nip into the road to get around. Thankfully we've never been in any real danger from doing this, but it always made my teeth grind.

And it would make me angry! How dare they park on the pavement!? I’m a pedestrian! I have a right to walk along here without having to breathe in and carefully pick my way past! Park on your driveway! I’d do that terribly English thing of huffing and puffing, chuntering and grumbling under my breath as I strode off down the road.

More than that, I found it caused an odd physical affliction: my elbows would start to stick out further than usual. I’d quite often clatter a wing mirror - not to the point of ever breaking one, I feel I should add, but enough to sharply fold it back in out of the way and give me a flashback to my days lead-blocking for running backs. I’d often say “BOOM!” to myself. I kid you not.

And then I'd get home from a walk and regale K with tales of the righteous vengeance I’d wreaked on these badly parked cars, like I was a Z-List superhero - Pavement Chap, the Pushchair Pushing Paladin, Protector of Pedestrian Privileges.

I even once sliced “NICE PARKING” with a fierce finger into the virgin snow on a car windscreen. Given my handwriting is appalling when I’m at a desk with a nice pen and a sheet of clean paper, I can’t imagine what the owner of the car thought I’d actually written by the time they saw it. Assuming the snow hadn’t melted by then.

Then I got to thinking about what I was really doing. I was getting angry about something that - in the grand scheme of things - is pretty small beer. A badly parked car never actually spoiled a walk, but my reaction to one would often spoil five minutes of that walk. This wasn't so much of an issue when E&W were smaller, when they were quite happy to just watch the world go by, wrapped up in their coats and blankets, not really aware of what was going on with the pusher behind them. But now they're far more aware, can pick up on moods, see when others are upset. I don't like them to see me in a mood, if I can avoid it. And I don't want them thinking it's clever to (frankly) be a bit of a petty thug. Nor having to see me pick up my teeth from the pavement when I clatter the 'wrong' car (I may be 6'5" and very good at a Paddington Bear Hard Stare - also very good for stopping people sitting next to you on a train or bus - but I'm actually a complete wimp).

Then my good (soft?) nature kicked in, the bit of me that likes to think that most people are - at heart - decent. Let’s assume for a moment that no-one goes out of their way to park on a pavement just to make life difficult for pedestrians. (Unless they’re a sociopath. Hmmm. Yikes. No, let’s go with my initial assumption.) So that means they’re being inconsiderate, yes, but not malicious. On the couple of minor run-ins I’ve had with people - me picking my way carefully past whilst giving the driver that Paddington Bare Hard Stare - I’ve been met with apparently sincere apologies - “Sorry, I didn’t think!” And I really think that’s the root cause of most of the bad parking - not maliciousness, not even particularly selfishness, but rather thoughtlessness. "I need to park here, so I'll park." So being intentionally nasty in return seems unnecessary.

And then I imagined being a driver who comes out to find his wing mirror whacked out of kilter. Would I think “Ah, I’ve blocked the pavement and as a result of my thoughtlessness my wing mirror has been clattered. That will teach me! I'll be sure not to do so again!”? No, I’d probably think “Some little [expletive deleted] has hit my [expletive deleted] car. [Expletive deleted].” Everyone gets angry, and that's no good to anyone.

So from now on if I come across a car that’s blocking the pavement, I’m going to very calmly tuck the wing mirror in to reduce the amount of pavement being blocked, and go on my merry way. That way the next person to come along will hopefully find it a little bit easier to get past. That makes me feel strangely good.

I have considered leaving notes under windscreen wipers explaining what I’ve done. I’ve even thought about getting some business cards printed up through one of those “100 cards for peanuts” offers I’m always seeing on the internet (again, I kid you not). And I’ve mulled over the wording - it would read something like:
Dear Driver,
I’ve tucked in your wing-mirror to make it easier for pedestrians to get past your car without damaging either (a) your car or (b) themselves. There is no need to thank me, but if this simple act of kindness has touched you, please pass on the goodwill by sparing a thought for pedestrians the next time you think about parking on the pavement.
Thank you!
But leaving notes seems a step too far, a little too close to Victor Meldrew and his Post-It Note War with his neighbour. Perhaps I’ll just stick to tucking in the mirror with that message in mind, and surfing the wave of virtuous bliss that follows it.

Right, now go and check out the Dadventurer and the Meet the Parents podcast

And, as usual, please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, give feedback, or make suggestions for what you'd like to see me write about (I'll happily do requests!) below - and please share this blog with anyone you think might be interested in it. Thank you!

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