Mike Byrne: Breaking the monotony
AS a daily commuter on the Exeter to Sowton road it is amazing how often I arrive at work having absolutely no recollection of how I got there.
Along Fore Street, down East Wonford Hill, along the Honiton Road, turn right at the Sowton roundabout and on to Heron Road. I could do it in my sleep – and some times I worry that I have.
Yet every so often I get quite engaged at the number of traffic lights along this relatively short stretch of road and the prospect of still more near the railway bridge.
There is extra interest just now as there seems to be some mad person gaily going about bending the traffic light poles out of shape or knocking them over.
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I assume the culprit is some poor motorist who has been to forced to take drastic action after being caught in the dreaded Perpetual Red Sequence. This means that every light changes to red as you approach as if picking on you.
Another consequence is Exeter's very own traffic light etiquette which often catches visiting drivers unaware.
In Exeter a green light means go. A red light is taken as a sign to go if you are close enough or can't see too much coming the other way. The amber light means go faster or you won't be close enough to go through on the red.
This can made the daily commute more interesting but is now so common as to have become slightly mundane – unless of course one of the go-faster boys doesn't quite make it.
Rather less humdrum is the bonkers person who appears to wait at the pedestrian controlled lights near Tesco and pushes the button every five minutes or so, before rushing off down a side street, giggling the giggle of the radically unhinged.
You only have to see the smiles on the faces of the scores of drivers caught up in the jolly jape to fully appreciate how much they enjoy this sort of humour.
However, every so often something happens that can break the daily monotony.
It happened one morning when I was waiting at the lights at Sweetbrier Lane. The lights were on but my brain was off, my head slightly tilted in sympathy with a dreadfully bent traffic light post – newly installed if I recall.
This led me to think that maybe the county council had bought a job lot of traffic lights and were just desperate to find places to stick them up – when suddenly, BANG.
This was followed a micro-second later by another BANG.
As you might expect given my years of training, my first reaction was to leap out of my skin, my head striking the roof of the car. I then issued a oddly-girlish scream and, as I descended from the roof, threw myself away from the noise and into the arms of my strangely composed wife who was sitting in the passenger seat.
I looked, no doubt terrified, in the direction of the noise and saw a perfectly respectable woman tapping on the driver's side window, indicating she wanted to speak to me.
For some reason, shock no doubt, I regressed to my childhood and tried to wind the windows down, searching desperately for the window winding handle on the door.
Of course the car's windows are electrically operated but several seconds passed before this sank in. I then reached for the dashboard button that would lower the windows, my pudgy fingers only succeeding is setting off the emergency flashers and engaging the rear window heater. Finally my wife let the window down. I stared, goggle-eyed and open mouthed, at the woman standing by the car. She seemed composed and spoke reasonably: "You may not know but every time you brake and put your right indicator on the brake light goes off and the indicator light speeds up."
I had to admit I didn't know that. Before I could find the voice that could thank her for this useful information which could well save me a large fine and penalty points if spotted by an officer of the law, she nipped back to her car behind me, the lights being in the process of changing to green.
In any event, still shaken, I quickly stalled and spent the remainder of the journey driving around in the wrong gear.
Yet when I did arrive at the Echo sanctuary I found that I could actually remember this journey to work, which has to be a good thing.