Last night I sat with the kids watching “Hulk” on TV. It is a film adaptation of the old Marvel Comics’ “The Incredible Hulk” – you know, mild-mannered scientist Dr David Banner performs an experiment on himself which goes wrong, so that whenever he becomes mildly annoyed he turns into a huge, green, rampaging monster wrecking property all around but somehow managing not to hurt people, even the bad guys? I assume the author may have taken his inspiration from the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel “Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde”.
Dial back 12 hours, and I am driving to my weekly Saturday French class. This is one of only two car outings I regularly do every week (the other is to the gym – don’t ask). With irregular or ad-hoc outings I probably average four outings a week in the car. I spend more time on my bike than in the car, although of course I travel less far.
At its very best, with clear roads, in the countryside and with a nice view to admire in front of me, I view driving with mild dislike. At its worst, in cities, busy motorways, or congestion, I loathe it. Yesterday was at the worst end. Forewarned that there was a major tailback on the A3, I decided to take the back roads to Guildford, to my French tutor Anne-Sophie.
Needless to say, the back roads were also congested, thanks to all the motorists rat-running looking for ways around the traffic jam on the main route. Stuck in slow moving traffic, with queues at every light and junction, I feel blood pressure rising and red mist descending. I start to mutter angrily, starting off with fairly mild stuff – “Come on, Grand-dad” – and gradually the density of expletives increases. I am beginning to feel slightly ill, and I start to think “I wouldn’t have to put up with this on my bicycle”.
Indeed I would not. I could, in principle, get to Anne-Sophie’s place by train. Guildford is the first stop on my daily commuter journey. I could cycle down to the station, use my season ticket (valid seven days, used five, per week) get off at Guildford and walk up to her house. It would take a little longer - perhaps 40 minutes instead of 25 – but I could read, or relax, on the 15-20 minute train journey.
So why don’t I? And why do I get irritated about driving? In either of those respects I am far from alone – I see impatient or aggressive driver behaviour in others every day. There is probably some psychological research on it, no doubt involving cramming more and more rats into the same small cage. I see people making car journeys when alternatives would be barely less convenient and certainly cheaper, especially if as so often you have bought the ticket already.
I don’t know, but thinking about my car journey and my impatience and frustration with it, I can’t help thinking of that other famous saying of Robert Louis Stevenson:
"Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive”