The Columnist

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The Lady
Ms London
 

    I am not surprised that Mr Blair finds it so difficult to say sorry. I find it almost impossible myself. Only yesterday I pulled out of a side road into the main road without noticing that a car was coming rather fast up the main road. As I drew out and he overtook me, he hooted, meaning, "You bloody fool, keep your eyes open !" and I - well, I tried to say sorry. I looked through my small armoury of gestures for the one which looked the most apologetic, and eventually held my hand up, as if to say, "I admit it - my fault - sorry about that !", but by that time he had long gone.
         But putting your hand up is not really an unambiguous gesture of apology. It is also a way of saying hello. Or of returning a greeting. Or of telling someone to stop. Or of telling the teacher that you know the answer. Or of imitating Hitler.  Or - well, the point is that there is no universally accepted gesture of apology in Britain. If I am being ticked off outside a car, and I feel that the person has a point, I tend to raise both hands, with fingers spread wide, in a kind of surrender, which makes the point, but which might be fatal in a car.
         I think that what is missing from the Highway Code is a series of codified gestures which would be instantly recognised.
         In the old days, before traffic indicators became reliable, we did have a set of hand signals for turning left and right, and slowing down ( I sometimes still use them, which doesn't half confuse people  ) and it shows that drivers CAN be taught to use gestures if necessary.
         And I think it IS necessary. For instance, the country lanes near where I live do not let ordinary approaching vehicles pass each other easily, let alone these monster 4 x 4 vehicles in which country people now transport their little dogs, so quite often we have to back up to a passing place and let the other vehicle pass, at which there is a spontaneous exchange of thank-you signs.
         The driver doing the thanking normally makes a large hand gesture. The one being thanked then makes a smaller hand gesture, sometimes merely raising a little finger, but they do have to make some sort of gesture, because giving gratitude and not receiving acknowledgement is impolite. Some people, it is true, do drive past without thanking you at all for getting out of the way, and I have taken their numbers, and as soon as I meet them again I will crush them under my heel. . . .
         Anyway, what eventualities should the Highway Code cover with its new set of gestures ?
         Well, I think there should be a gesture to convey each of at least the following messages to a fellow motorist.
         INFORMATION
         "I think the passing place behind you is nearer than the one behind me, so it is up to you to reverse."
         "Yes, it is."
         "No, I won't reverse."
         "Yes, it most certainly is."
         "No, I most certainly won't."
         "I am prepared to stay here all day if necessary, till you back up."
         "So am I."
         COMMENTS ON OTHER PERSON'S DRIVING
         "I have been stuck behind you ever since Devizes, and you have been driving at 10 mph all the way, so please will you either speed up or pull off the road and commit suicide in a layby."
         ( That is perhaps rather a specialised message, but I am sure the person I am referring to will know who she is. )
         APOLOGIES
         "Sorry."
         "Very sorry."
         "I am not really sorry at all, but if you think I was at fault, I am prepared to say I was, just to avoid trouble."
         "I am really really sorry, so there is no need to get out of your car and come over to my car waving your fists like that."
         "Please stop battering my window, because I am not going to wind it down in any foreseeable circumstances."
         "I am very sorry you have cut yourself so badly, but perhaps you should not have broken my window in the first place."
         Any other suggestions ?

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© Caroline Kington