The Pensioner’s Revenge

Image: Road sign, frail persons.I drive a delivery van sometimes for a local company. I suppose that conjures up an image of White Van Man, that universally reviled tribe of aggressive, impatient, intolerant drivers generally stuck to your rear bumper or cutting in front at the traffic lights. It’s a simple enough job at heart that pays the bills and leaves me brain space for other, more interesting projects. At the end of a working day I can forget the whole thing. I never need take work home or worry about what troubles tomorrow might bring like a managing director viewing his overdraft with baleful eye whilst the bank breathes down his neck and gleefully refuses a loan for further expansion.

In fact, when the sun shines – admittedly a rare enough event in the UK nowadays **– and trade is just a little slack I can sometimes enjoy a gentle cruise around the delivery route with views over hedges and walls that lower-seated motorists never get to spy. Then, I catch entrancing glimpses out over the sunlit sea where golden sandbanks populated by flocks of wading birds dry at low tide, or of distant blue-grey mountain tops with picturesque electricity pylons striding from ridge to ridge.

Delivering to one customer I savour the scents of sedge and salt borne in over the marshes by a gentle sea breeze, and to another the scent of new mown grass in the lush green countryside of England (that will be the farmers mowing for silage) as well as other remarkable odours (that will be the farmers spreading muck). In spring as I write this the fields are turning yellow with flowering oil seed rape and the nettle’s sting is extra sharp, but summer beckons and life is good. At such times I am glad I was born an Englishman (Oh lummox! I can imagine sacks of mail piling up at the post office from people protesting that their country is just as beautiful. And so it may be, but as I don’t live there I’m not qualified to comment).

But it’s not always like that. Mostly, we white van men are under the cosh, twenty drops to make in a ludicrous time schedule dreamed up by some junior brass-hat who has no idea of geography, no care for how slow the traffic moves at rush hour and school turn-out time, never thinks to allow for the slow-moving farm tractor or funeral procession, the speed limit, the pop-up road closure, the VOSA check point or PC Plod hiding behind the oak tree making like Clint Eastwood in mirrored sunglasses. “Go ahead, punk. Make my day,” he murmurs, stepping deftly from cover with two-handed grip on his carefully calibrated speed trap ray gun.

Neither has our brass-hat the slightest knowledge or care of where schools are located with their half-past-three road blocks of four wheel drive mums picking up little Jayne or Johny at the school gate. Sometimes, when sitting stationery with idling engine while some yummy mummy in front battles with steering wheel and vision-blocking headrests to reverse her lumbering 4WD tank into a space conveniently close to the school gate but sadly inadequate for the vehicle’s turning circle, I have leisure to observe that the lady in question seems often to lose both patience and sense of judgement in direct proportion to the proximity of expensive shiny alloy wheel with abrasive concrete kerbstone. I am tempted then to bellow (but silently), “For God’s sake, madam, get a smaller car!”. (Oh lor! There’ll be even more sacks of mail now).

How times have changed! When I was a lad we wouldn’t be seen dead having mum drop us off at school in her car. Our mates would have showered us with playful but nonetheless cruel derision. In my day boys walked to school like Men, over broken glass in a snowstorm with no shoes etc etc. (Actually, I cycled over broken glass in a snowstorm etc etc, but that’s beside the point.)

Even school holidays bring no relief. Then, the grannies come out for a tootle in the car, keeping the kids amused while mum is at work. One of my colleagues wished fervently for a set of rockets on the front of his van with which to blow slow moving obstructions out of his way. His particular beef was people who didn’t quite keep up to the speed limit on an otherwise clear and safe road. The pensioners’ revenge, he called it. I suggested one of those angled snow ploughs might be a kinder implement for the purpose, but he poo-pooh’d the idea contemptuously. (Oh grief! The mail man will surely be snowed under).

For my part I try to drive courteously and if I sometimes fall short of the ideal when under pressure then I make no excuses for myself, or for White Van Man as a breed, except to ask forgiveness and understanding if ever I carved you up unintentionally. I understand that slow moving grannies and four wheel drive mums are just as entitled to their road space as am I. In fact I savour a sanguine vision of myself when old and grey (whaddayamean, when?). Then, with time on my hands, nowhere particular to go and all day to get there, I intend to join the ranks of the contented retired and tootle about everywhere at twenty five miles per hour taking in the views, thinking of all the people who once got in my way and loftily sticking my finger up at the fretting white van men. “Ha!” I will say. “Now it’s my turn, matey.”*

Meanwhile, I wonder if readers of Sunset over Salhouse Broad will recognise someone they know (or –perish the thought – even themselves…) in the aggressive BMW driver, Andrew Crowley, a character who had me clenching my fists when I was writing his parts. Answers in the comments below please, (but please, no names lest you bring down the wrath of the legal profession with dollar signs in their eyes, gleefully flourishing libel suits).

* Postscript: Maybe I should think of taking self-defence lessons too, in case the white van men turn out to be six foot five and even slightly susceptible to road rage…

** Another postscript: This was written in the spring of 2013 right after the longest, wettest winter in living memory and right before the best summer we’ve had for donkey’s years. British weather would make a liar of anyone…

And another PS: Since writing this article Sunset over Salhouse Broad has been re-titled JUST ONE MISTAKE but the links should still take you to the right place. As I write this PS in spring 2016 we have just enjoyed an even wetter winter. Thinks… Good summer coming…? Ever the optimist!

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