A bit of road rage is a wonderful thing

3rd August 2001 at 01:00
Gemma Warren in the first of a summer series on travel

I was driving along the road the other day, and indicated to turn left into Sainsbury's. The man on the scooter behind me started to go completely ballistic. "Indicate you bitch!" he screamed as he went past.

Looking down at my flashing indicator, I turned left to stock up on Pringles for the evening's marking. I considered the moment to myself seriously. I had been a victim of that ever-prevalent modern malaise, road rage.

As I tried to reverse into a space just outside the shop, I pondered the effects of our society's preoccupation with the motor vehicle. As I gave up on the space to an audience of jeering trolley boys and went to find one a good 10 minutes walk away, I realised that civilisation is paying the price for the gradual mechanisation of our world.

We are ruled by fuel, run by the roads, and the effect is moments of causal abuse like the one I had just experienced. Taken on its own, it was a mere blip on my day. Added to all those other moments of menace and threat, what did it say for the future of humanity?

I should have been depressed. I should have been outraged. I should have rung up my local victim support group. But all I could think was: "Good on you mate."

I love road rage. It is an ever-present part of my daily travels. It fulfils a vital function. Because there's something about travel that I don't understand: why do people only write about it in the summer? Do we only take journeys for a peak two months of the year?

We're all travellers - not in a metaphoric, journey-of-life way, but in the sense that most of us embark on some kind of travel during our day. And the daily commute gets a bum deal. We're all obsessed with our flights to Majorca - we get excited about them and buy lots of magazines that we'd never usually read. But why? Because we don't see our daily journey as a real journey and I think that's a shame.

I quickly realised as a teacher that I had to love the mundane things in life. When I was an NQT I was seriously expecting a glamorous life, filled with moments of learning breakthroughs and touching pastoral Dead Poets' Society hugs and personal revelations.

It took me about three months to realise that this was total garbage, and if I wanted to get any sort of joy out of my working life it would have to be because Darren actually remembered his homework diary after two weeks of persuasion, and Shania correctly learned to spell "Skellig".

It didn't sound quite as exciting as spending your days brokering multi-million pound deals on the Stock Exchange, which most of my friends seemed to be doing, but it was a start. I grew to love the little things: the coffee and a chat in your free period; the rare moment of sunshine on your break duty; and the joy of getting into your car at the end of the day.

My daily commute has become a vital part of my working life. I don't want to just switch off and forget about it, like those people staring blankly out at each other on the Tube. I don't go on enough holidays to experience the kind of travel that other people talk about. My kind of travel is, how shall we put it, more localised.

And that's where the road rage comes in. All travel has a function. It's not just about getting you from A to B. For me, it's one of the rare moments in the day when you're actually alone, and in your car you can be anyone that you want to be. You can stop being a teacher along with all the responsibilities that go with it. You're anonymous in your car, you can adjust the temperature, the music, and occasionally you can vent a little frustration.

Now I don't want to give people the impression that I am a violent person. I'm sure most people out there are not violent either. If someone actually got out of their car and approached me with an iron bar, I would be writing a very different column altogether. But in school and in life there are so few opportunities to be rude. After an entire day of Year 8's trying to find out when I lost my virginity, a car horn sounding can often seem like a reliable way to relieve a bit of pressure. The journey home can help you relax, forget about the day, and yes, take it out on other people.

I'm not ashamed to admit it. A little road rage can be very therapeutic, and there's not much therapy in the national literacy strategy. If people want to shout at me, fine. I consider it a public service - one day I'll return the compliment. It's a teacher's prerogative.

Next week: 'Travels with my pen' by playwright Howard Brenton

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