Drive these anti-social monsters off the road

7th October 2005 at 01:00
School is back and so is the school run. Today, as I cycled in, I saw something that confirmed that suburbia is going mad. A well-heeled young mother skipped down her front path, deposited her small child safely in the front seat of her throbbing 4X4, then rummaged in her handbag. All fairly normal. Until she produced an aerosol of "Spray On Mud" and proceeded to decorate her vehicle with tastefully arranged splodges. I practically fell backwards into the bullhorns of a following Freelander.

A Shropshire firm really does market this stuff, for pound;7.95 a bottle.

"People are desperate to get some street cred for their 4X4s on the school run," says Colin Dowse, the brains behind Spray On Mud. "Customers want to make their vehicle look a little authentic. After all, a lot of London 4X4s will never see the countryside."

Too right they won't. So their owners turn the town into a jungle instead.

Chunky tyres are divine for tackling the speed bump terrain of the Shepperton savannah. Bullhorn bars deter the wildebeest that roam Richmond Park, and they're great for bludgeoning unwanted animals - especially cyclists and other peoples' children.

One wonders what's next. Wobbly back racks holding suspiciously new mountain bikes? Hastily arranged copies of Country Life on the back seat?

The ubiquitous "Chelsea tractors" leave much to be desired. Ironically, these so-called people carriers generally carry just the one passenger.

Guzzling fuel and clogging up roads, they turn their drivers into aggressive risk-takers, endangering those who walk or cycle to school.

These school-run Shermans tower over all, a fact relished by some owners.

Do they think the height of their exclusively urban offroaders makes them superior? They are in fact Britain's ugliest example of product misplacement. Machines designed for mud-clogged terrain look ridiculous shiny-waxed and ferrying occupants to Buzzybears.

This negative stereotyping worries the suburban offroading fraternity. What is needed is some muck and magic, to make vehicles look genuine. If your 4x4 looks as if it's from Keswick rather than Kensington, drivers take you more seriously. You're a countryman, not a juggernaut. People give way.

Dirt equals social credibility.

It's time to compromise. What about more school buses? The American yellow bus scheme could work equally well over here. And let's build more cycle lanes. Offer proper incentives to children who walk or cycle to school.

Reassure parents about safety. Otherwise, it's just more air pollution, accidents, and the ridiculous vehicle snobbery of the school run.

You can help Spray On Mud give cred to the 4X4s of suburban Britain by joining my supporting charity, Splat (Sorting out Politically incorrect Landrovers Artfully and Tastefully).

Splat's goal is the creation of Britain's first road-friendly Chelsea tractor. Dressed as members of the Tufty Club, Splatters stop 4X4s in the road, like the students at Tiananmen Square. They wrap lagging around the bullhorns and hang daisy chains from the aerials. Rehabilitated vehicles boast "Say yes to foxhunting!" bumper stickers but also sport a tasteful British Wheel of Yoga cover for the spare wheel, to ensure that people don't confuse new converts with those frightful people from the Countryside Alliance.

There is, of course, a much simpler solution. Get on yer bike!

Cassandra Hilland teaches English in Surrey

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