Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Am I becoming Richard Littlejohn?

In my limited experience of the blogosphere there are two types of blogs:

Those that promote a healthy life change (such as the ones about nutrition or fitness) or promote a passion (like running). Blogs that evangelise over a subject and give enjoyment to the writer as much as the reader. These are the positive blogs.

Then there are the negative blogs. The ones whose sole purpose is to peddle ludicrous but dangerous (generally right wing) lies about one minority group or another: 'Muslims are all terrorists', 'Working women cause the break-up of the family', 'Britain is broken', 'Asylum seekers get given houses, TVs, cars...', 'Immigrants take our jobs', 'Immigrants are lazy and only here for the benefits'. You know the sort of thing - the sort of insidious drivel designed to give Daily Mail readers a hard on.

I think my blog falls very much in the first category, as do all those I follow. However, what follows below may at first appear to show that I've lurched into the rabid territory though I hope it does at least tick the 'fitness related' box...

Most days of the week I take my youngest daughter to or from school. Its about a 10 minute walk away, probably quicker on the way as its downhill, and walking is how we get there unless its absolutely torrential rain. I do this for a few reasons:

  • It gives me a bit of activity and fresh air, as on some days, working from home, it could be the only time I leave the house.
  • Its a good habit to teach the kids - to walk and take exercise rather than rely on a car for short journeys.
  • It probably saves a few pence in petrol each day and makes a tiny contribution to reducing our carbon footprint.
  • It probably doesn't take much more time than driving when getting in/out, parking, waiting at junctions, walking from the car to school etc is taken into account.

However, it seems that not all parents share my feelings, but before I go into this let me describe the surroundings of the school.

Imagine a long straight road leading to a T-junction with a slightly more major road. Across the road at the head of the T-junction lies the school. On the left of the T on the main road (opposite the school) is a small '7-11' chain supermarket and a bus stop. Outside the school itself and to the right of the T is another bus stop. All along in front of the school the road is marked with zig zag 'keep clear' markings, except for the bus stop which is also 'keep clear'. The last 5m or so of the approach road is also marked as keep clear with the same around the corner to the right and on the left this blends in with the bus stop and continues for another 10m or so beyond that.

The school itself is a primary in a 'nice' middle class area and has about 400 children, with all but a tiny handful living less than 10 minutes walk away.

On that basis I'd expect parents to walk the kids to school and I'd say that over half do but many don't. I can live with that. Some people are a bit lazy. Trouble is there's a small minority that take their laziness to an extreme.

Every single morning there will be 3-5 cars parked all around the corner of the T-junction on the 'keep clear' markings. Generally, but not exclusively, these are husbands/partners who sit there with the engine running for ten minutes while their other halves take the kids onto the playground and wait with them until the bell goes.

Three or four times a week I'll see someone do something similar parking in the bus stop outside the shop/cash point. Generally that's not parents, its guys in vans/builders who also leave the engine running while someone else goes to the cashpoint or to get some fags, but last week a lady parked in the bus stop leaving her car there while she took her child into school.

Finally, there's about 20 ladies who, one after the other, pull their cars up in the zig zag markings or bus stop by the school while they let their kids out. With some the kids just get out but with many the lady has to get out of the car, let little Tarquin and Gemima out, give them a kiss and say goodbye and sometimes stop for a quick chat with someone before getting back in and driving off.

Initially I didn't notice this or feel very bothered. I probably assumed it was people running late. Over time though it dawned on me that it wasn't - it was deliberate choice. The guys who park on the corner in the keep clear area aren't late - they're early - but they choose to cause an obstruction rather than leave their partners having to walk an extra 20m . Then there's the ladies who roll up one after another to drop their little dahrlinks off - its the same people every single day (yes 'GIL5343' silver BMW tourer you're one of the worst) - they don't do it because they'll be late otherwise, they set off late with the intention of doing it.

In all cases the actions of the parents cause obstruction and disruption making it difficult for pedestrians to cross safely as they can't always see easily and will have to contend with overtaking cars on the wrong side of the road, blocking the road regularly (remember there's double decker buses come along there) causing congestion, making it tricky for cars to turn into or out of the side road safely etc.

For some reason this really annoys me some days. Its not so much the laziness of the parents themselves that bothers me. They're not so different to the people who drive round car parks (even at gyms) to find a space 5m closer to the front door than the sea of empty spaces slightly further away. They're mainly what might be termed the deserving fat. Not the comfort eaters, those with diet problems, disability or even just poor nutritional knowledge etc - they're just lazy.

No, its the messages the behaviour teaches their kids that bothers me:

  • When you're an adult you can break the rules - it doesn't matter
  • Avoid walking anywhere - ever
  • Find ways to be less active by taking short cuts - park right outside the door of places for example
  • Inconveniencing other people doesn't matter if it enables you to walk less
  • Causing a hazard and putting other people at risk doesn't matter if it enables you to walk less
  • Use the car for even the smallest of journeys

Jamie Oliver got into trouble in some quarters when he described parents feeding their kids a consistently unhealthy diet was tantamount to abuse. Personally I thought he was right and I don't see this as being very different.

Its a fundamental responsibility of a parent to teach their children to be active and to think of other people as well as themselves. These parents seem to be clearly failing in that responsibility.

Am I right or do I need to get some perspective?


Martin said...

It seems terribly sad that people care so little for each other .. the lack of respect whilst readily demanding their rights ... they don't see the irony of their attitude. So the smokers pay their taxes and get the healthcare they require and car buyers pay their VED and get their miles of tarmac to race along... that is what we want as a society to get what we want, when we want it and not be inconvenienced by others

Laura said...

I was very intrigued at the beginning of this post hehe!

It happens everywhere I think, in the small village I grew up in almost all the pupils lived in the village and lots of their parents drove them to school parking in silly places.. It is just pure laziness. I used to enjoy walking with my mum or my gran to school it's something these parents take away from their children, it's like not bothering to sit down and eat together it is a shame..

I love Jamie Oliver's shake up of school food too, have you been watching his series in America?

Running Rob said...

Martin - glad its not my knee that's jerking and its a common gripe! Its funny but as I get older the things that get my goat are the everyday issues like this.

Laura - I did see some of the series in America though not all. People knock the guy but I like his cooking ethos and he seems a pretty decent fella. Besides - we've at least half a dozen of his books!

Alison @ Running From, Running To said...

I am equally annoyed by things like this. Though for me, it's not the example that people are setting for their children that bothers me; it's the obliviousness (or disregard for) the fact that we necessarily and as a matter of fact live and function in a society with others, and that that only works if we behave as such.

This isn't an "aren't people selfish" rant; this is a genuine philosophical problem. A persistent disregard for rules on the part of some means that eventually, the majority stop holding to them. And that puts a community in a very precarious position. Because in my (philosophical) opinion, it is rules -- or more properly put, the legal framework -- that form the underpinnings of our social structure.

Bear with me.

As a group of individuals who live in close proximity, with very different -- and often conflicting-- values and beliefs, it is the legal framework that allows us to function as a social group. Matters of public interest are legislated, and applied equally and fairly to all (or at least that's the idea); matters of private interest are ringfenced and then protected by the law. This public-private division is the only way we all pay our taxes, put our bins out, and go to different churches on a Sunday (or Saturday, or whatever other day..) without all hell breaking loose.

I might be sounding like a right-wing legal positivist, but I assure you I'm not. I think this is a problem on the conceptual level, not the political (or ideological). I don't think we should obey the law because it's the law. The point is that in a pluralist society, we need a legal framework in order to operate as a group at all. And if that framework is to hold, then people need to keep within its boundaries. Otherwise it starts to break down.

Maybe Mrs silver BMW thinks she can be the one exception to a rule, and park on the yellow lines (a benign example, but nonetheless a relevant one). But she's freeriding on the rest of society; she is relying on the fact that others will keep to the rules in order that she can break them. Otherwise coming late to school and then parking on the yellow lines wouldn't work -- someone else would already be in her spot! Now that's not very community spirited, is it..

And in fact free-riding doesn't work. Based on anecdotal evidence (collected by me, mainly on the London Underground), rule-breaking behaviour snowballs. Meaning pretty soon you're not the only one, and suddenly everyone is walking down the right hand side even though it says keep to the left, and I can't get to the tube platform.

I believe this so strongly that I do keep to the left, even when the right is completely clear and the left is a total clusterf*ck. I don't do it because the sign says so. I do it because cooperative collective action requires that each individual within that collective see themselves as such. Crudely put, if we want society to work, then we have to behave as if we're living in one.

Rant over. Sorry it ended up being as long as your blog post! :D It felt good though!

runningcupcake said...

Don't get me started on walking to school! The school I work at is similar- middle class, most in the close catchment area, yet they majority drive. We saw one parent getting out the car on the roundabout and getting her kids to help her move the logs on the verge (designed to stop people parking)- what is she teaching her kids? Anyway its walk to school week next week for us and we are having a competition to see which class can walk the most. So we are trying!

TOTKat said...

Absolutely justified and not foaming-right-wing at all. I really do despair of people who break the rules with no thought as to why they're there and no thought of the inconvenience and/or danger they are causing to others. And yes, the UK is mostly well catered for walking places (unlike the USA) and yet we are running closer and closer to the problems of the USA with driving everywhere when we really don't need to.

Alison: I love you! (one thing I've wondered for a while is how places like Italy function as a society when avoiding and breaking rules is pretty much what everyone does and if you stick the rules people think you're a bit stupid)

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