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Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Road rage

A silver, stiletto-heeled shoe, looking forlorn on the low wall protecting the entrance to Stewart Street Police Station, hints at a night out that started in smiles, but went south. I briefly wonder if its owner is still banged up in the cells or has hirpled home, oblivious of her loss, on just one shoe.

Once inside I rapidly lose interest in Cinderella's fate, as two young police officers take a firm grip on my arms, while making soothing sounds that fail to reassure me. "It's just procedure for the closed circuit TV, sir. No need to be alarmed." 

Leading me to a narrow, windowless interview room, they gesture to a hard chair behind a wooden table and sit down opposite me, blocking the only exit. The thought that I might not be going home today flits across my frontal lobes and I shove it away. 

My churchgoing grandmother, when I was a boy, always assured me that "the truth shall make you free", and for many years I believed her. Doubts crept in when I took the sole rap several times for teenage group misdemeanours. But on the occasion about which I'm being questioned today I had acted alone and, having just signed away my right to a lawyer, possess only the truth on my side. I'm thinking maybe I should have gone with the lawyer. 

At the end of the interview, which takes about half an hour, giving me plenty of time to tell my story, the young constable who's been asking the questions, while his colleague writes my answers laboriously in his notebook, studies me for a moment and reaches a decision. "Having considered your answers to my questions, sir, and your explanation of what happened, I'm afraid I have to charge you with the offence of acting in such a way as to cause fear and alarm to another road user."

So much for the truth shall make you free, Gran. But as the constable explains what happens next, I realise with relief that I won't be joining last night's revelers in the cells, because it will be months before my case comes up before the Sheriff. 

Back home, I ponder this fear and alarm I'm accused of causing. A quick internet search suggests it's a catch-all used by the police to cover a wide variety of offences, including spraying tomato sauce around a kitchen, behaving aggressively with a black pudding, and distracting drivers by rambling naked in Midlothian.

My own offence seems trivial in comparison. All I'd done was get out of my car at the lights, approach the twatmobile behind me and say to the driver, "You shouldn't accelerate when someone's overtaking you, unless you're trying to kill them," before returning to my car and driving away. Admittedly I had tried to open his door so that he could hear me better, and he'd slammed it shut and locked it. Granted, he did look somewhat alarmed. 

But why? If I was a fit-looking man in my thirties, driving a big, black Range Rover, would a grey-haired pensioner coming to talk to me cause me fear and alarm? I don't think so. There were no threats. I was fully clothed at the time. My hands were at my sides. They did not contain a black pudding. 

I can think of plenty of things that would cause fear and alarm to me. A triangular fin approaching fast in the sea. An email from my ex-wife. Two police officers at my front door. The opening line "Sometimes it's hard to be a woman" from a pub-singer with lank, black hair and a guitarI have never yet heard the end of that most horrific of all country songs, because my ears fill with blood at the first few notes of its maudlin mimicry of real music. Fearful and alarming, for sure.

But a retired teacher coming to talk to me? Nah. Not a chance.

So what is the moral of this story? Mind your own business? Don't get out of your car? Never object to dangerous behaviour by other people? I don't think so. Let me tell you about Immanual Kant. 

Stop. Come back. It'll be quick and painless, I promise.

Kant's categorical imperative is the ethical principle I live by and it goes like this: "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."

So if you're wondering if  something is the right thing to do, imagine a world where everyone did it. If you don't like that world then the action is unethical. If you do like it, then you should take the action. It's your duty. Even if it's difficult. Laws are made by politicians, who can be venal and self-serving. The categorical imperative tells you what's right and wrong beyond human laws.

So if a similar situation happens again, will I point out the error of his ways to a dickless driver whose ego is so fragile that when overtaken by a scruffy old banger he accelerates, putting the lives of the occupants of three cars, including his own, in serious peril?

The categorical imperative says I must, because if everyone did then some of these numbnuts would feel the social pressure and change their behaviour, and lives would be saved.

On the other hand I now possess a little pink slip called a Recorded Police Warning, the nice constable, on considering my story and consulting his superior, having chosen this paper rap on the knuckles, rather than sending me to the big bad sheriff. 

And here's the problem. My pink slip says no further action will be taken, but the incident will be kept on file for two years during which, should I re-offend in a similar fashion, it can be dragged up and counted against me.

So what if I encounter another boneheaded driver, out there on the highways? Will I do what the nice policeman insists and stay in my car? Or will I point out the error of his ways, knowing that his fear and alarm in the present could save somebody's life in the future? I think I know the answer but I am not 100% certain. And that worries me. I am way too old to start disappointing myself now.

Sometimes it's hard to be a man.


  1. Are you seriously telling me that you do not carry a black pudding in your car at all times for such eventualities?
    Bill (err I mean Bob).

    1. You can't behave aggressively with a vegetarian black pudding, Bill. People just laugh at you.

    2. The latest BMWs come with black pudding and tomato ketchup as standard.