Beep - beep!

by Esmerelda Weatherwax (September 2010)


I passed my driving test in 1978. I was living at the time in Leyton, East London. I took my driving lessons locally and once I bought my own car later that year I regularly drove across and around east London and into the countryside.

At one point I drove to my workplace in Ilford every day, later I would occasionally drive through the City of London to work near the Elephant and Castle in south London. I had relatives in Dagenham, Romford, Shoreditch, Hackney, Tottenham and Bethnal Green. On outings with friends I made numerous trips to gigs in Shepherds Bush, Woolwich and once, memorably, around Hyde Park Corner to Hammersmith. I tell you this so that you know that I am not a suburbanite who has had little experience of the big bad city traffic.

When I learnt to drive it was the height of bad manners to sound one's hooter other than in a potential emergency. (Yes, I am aware than in US parlance the noise alert on a car is called 'the horn' and that 'hooter' means something vulgar, but in English parlance 'the horn' means something even more vulgar)

I took my daughter to visit some family graves one Sunday afternoon a few months ago. We drove from Walthamstow to Manor Park, then through Ilford. The junction of Ilford High Road, Romford Road and Ilford Lane under the A406 flyover was the busiest I had ever seen it. But despite the traffic moving steadily, albeit very slowly, every other driver was constantly tooting and bibbing his hooter.

Beep -beep! Tooot! Honk-honk! It sounded like the soundtrack of some foreign language film, shorthand for 'this is a very busy city in foreign parts'.

I noticed it again last week when I was on foot and walking from Fenchurch Street station following the route of the railway line to Limehouse. I'll put my hands up; I had noticed a couple of interesting pub signs from the train and decided to track them down. I also went down Cable Street and I'll deal with the fruits (literally) of that detour in the near future.

It has always been a feature of London (and probably elsewhere) for the space under railway arches to be used commercially. The most common use was car and bike repair. By Leyton Midland station the famous Alan Gordon rehearsal studios showed many a young band that they may be loud but a fully loaded diesel powered goods train was louder. One set of arches was used as a stable for the last generation of draft horses that pulled coal and vegetable carts for delivery around Hackney. I remember as a very small child one of my cousins lifting me up to see the kittens newly born to the resident mouser curled up in the straw. At the bottom of Watney Street Market (where another cousin used to have a stall) the arches under the Fenchurch Street line contain foodstuff bazaars.

You can see from the photo it is a narrow street, one way only and no spare parking spaces. Cars were snaking slowly along the available space to the exit at the far end, with a constant cacophony of tooting and beeping. It served no purpose whatsoever. No one was going to move out of the way any faster because there was nowhere for him to go. I suspect that the drivers learnt to drive in a place where it was not considered aggressive or bad manners to use the hooter other than sparingly. The effect was startling.

But the habit is growing and I don't like it. People are more impatient and bad tempered in all situations than they were 10 years ago. Two days running, once on the way home from the seaside and again on the way home from the supermarket, I was hooted at for no other reason than that my mere presence on the road delayed another driver a second or two in his desired manoeuvre. 

There would be no point in demanding another law against improper use of the hooter as it already exists.

This is Section 112 of the Highway Code. Interestingly the government draftsman prefers the US usage.

The horn. Use only while your vehicle is moving and you need to warn other road users of your presence. Never sound your horn aggressively. You MUST NOT use your horn

?         while stationary on the road

?         when driving in a built-up area between the hours of 11.30 pm and 7.00 am

except when another road user poses a danger

If the police have failed to enforce the law against using a mobile phone while driving they are not likely to have much success against aberrant honkers. I suppose the good thing is that it is impossible (I hope it is impossible) to bib the hooter and talk on a mobile phone at the same time.

So I suggest a nifty gadget to be installed in cars, especially Mercedes and BMW. As soon as the driver hits the hooter, electrodes in the driver's seat spring into action. Painful but harmless bolts of electricity flood through his body causing unimaginable pain. Unlike a wasp which can sting and be very annoying over and over again a driver will be thus encouraged to be like a bee, only minded to sting in the sort of extreme situation where he or another road user is in danger.

I appreciate this might be dangerous to someone with a weak heart, but in that case the driver should be practising relaxation and not getting so worked up in the first place.

Alternatively I will fit my little Skoda with an anti-matter sten gun.

Then come on parp; make my day!


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