Quiet good humour in rural crisis

If you were wondering where all the police in North Norfolk were last Sunday afternoon, I can tell you. They were guarding me.

If you were wondering where all the police in North Norfolk were last Sunday afternoon, I can tell you.

They were guarding me.

That may be slightly misleading. But I was with a group of North Walsham people, about 100-strong, gathered in a field, and there was a hefty police presence - including a dozen vehicles, which surprised me. I didn't know they had that many.

I should hasten to add that I was completely innocent on this occasion.

My wife and I had been visiting friends who have lived in North Walsham for about 100 years, relatively speaking, when we were asked by a fireman to evacuate the house. Fortunately we had just had a cup of tea.

After checking that he was really a fireman and his engine was not a cunningly constructed fake, we retired to the nearby football club and its hastily opened pavilion. Fortunately the weekend weather was unaccountably warm and sunny.

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Meanwhile, the police and fire service attempted to remove a man from a gas-filled house a couple of streets away.

The spectre of North Walsham losing dozens of houses to an explosion never seemed real, but then I suppose it never does, right up to when the explosion happens. In this case the police operation was successful, sanity was restored and after a couple of hours we were allowed back into the house - from where we made a quick exit to the safety of Norwich.

Two things struck me about the whole incident: the quiet good humour of the community and the relaxed attitude of the police, several of whom were known to the locals.

There were a couple of riot shields disappearing in the direction of the gas-filled house, but in our field all was calm - no barriers, no rough handling of people who got too close, no officiousness. You could actually talk to officers as if they were human beings, as indeed they seemed to be.

All in all, a very rural Norfolk way of handling of something that could have turned nasty in so many different ways.

t Pointing out the supposed shortcomings of other drivers is a hazardous undertaking, since no-one is perfect - not even me. Well, not all the time.

So instead of continuing the ongoing dispute about lorries, white vans, dual carriageways, lily, rosemary and the jack of hearts, I shall pass on the wise counsel of a reader, who tells me: “When I learnt to drive, I was always being told to be courteous towards other drivers.

“In fact there used to be something in the Highway Code about driving with courtesy. It really doesn't take up much of your time - just a bit of thought.”

She asks us to imagine what the roads would be like if everyone drove with courtesy:

·There would be no tailgating

·Parents wouldn't park close to school entrances

·Everyone would indicate

·No-one (not even disabled drivers) would park on double yellow lines

·No-one would park in disabled spaces when not entitled to

·No-one would hog the middle lane

·Slow drivers (tractors, HGVs, cars towing caravans or horse boxes) would pull over on country roads to allow the “tail” to get past

·“Thou shalt not pass” would be a thing of the past

·Everyone would acknowledge every act of consideration

·Everyone would keep to their own side of the road, particularly on bends.

She concludes: “We'd all get there just as quickly, and probably in a better temper!”

I'm still trying, but I'm not quite sure I can imagine it yet.

There was no tremendous response to my suggestion last time that it might be possible for people to go for a walk without dogs, but one gentleman from the east of the county came up with something quite unexpected.

His name is Bob, and he tells me that he once worked for a coal delivery firm whose boss was a dog lover.

“He raced greyhounds,” said Bob. “I don't think he ever beat one, as I am sure we would have heard. But being an entrepreneurial type of a person, he got his chief engineer to construct a dog-exercising machine.

“This was done very secretively and in scientifically cleaned laboratory conditions. When the day came to try out this machine, a large crowd was assembled, slightly in awe and ever so bemused by the sight of what was being brought out into the open.

“The dog was led out and placed on the machine with all due pomp and circumcision. The machine was switched on, there was a shower of sparks from the motor - the belt going backwards with said dog attached.

“The dog flew off in a northerly direction and headed towards Hickling.”

This sounds to me an admirable device. It is a pity no-one had the foresight to put it into full-scale production.

It has recently become clear why anti-car campaign group Transport 2000 was always in favour of slow driving. It is in fact a very slow-moving organisation.

Noticing that its name was going to become pretty embarrassing in the new millennium, it decided eight years ago to change it. But no-one could agree on what the new name should be. So nothing happened, and things went quiet.

Eventually, however, they did agree to set up a sub-group, which also turned out to be slow-moving. It took 18 months to agree that the group should now be called Campaign for Better Transport.

Not surprising, I suppose, when you have to cope with all those speed cameras and road humps. One point in their favour, though: they didn't call in a consultant. Unless of course they did, but he hasn't arrived yet.

The justification for speed cameras has been called into question after the Government at last admitted that its casualty calculations had been flawed, resulting in wrong conclusions being drawn about cameras' effectiveness - or lack of it.

The Met's former head of traffic confessed: “We have put our entire road safety programme into a box marked speed cameras.” And one road safety expert said it meant the so-called speeding problem did not exist.

Maybe now we can tackle what really causes road accidents - and get a few speed limits back up to realistic and safer levels.

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