This most recent trip to Auckland was marked by plenty of drama. The ﬁrst experience was getting a virus the second I hooked up to the internet. The second was, having accidentally bumped the light into beam in my rent-a-Falcon on Ponsonby Road, a very interesting gentleman in a Toyota Picnic in the next lane ﬂipped the bird, shouted, ‘You f***ing idiot, you’ve got your f***ing beam on,’ and proceeded to swerve his car into mine, then cut me off in my lane, before running a red light. The dude was angry. Running red lights seems to be commonplace there, having witnessed an average of one incident per diem, and once again, I seemed to receive conﬁrmation that the page on intersection block is missing from the Auckland edition of the Road Code. (This last one has haunted me for years: every time I leave the gap in the intersection, my Auckland passengers consistently say, ‘I can tell you’re not from here.’)
I know the strange motoring habits of Auckland I report are isolated examples as I have not really seen too much of this extreme behaviour on my previous trips. There are some oddities such as the inefﬁcient motorway, where no lane is the quickest one, or the fact that travelling at 10 km/h above the speed limit is de rigueur, but then, you ﬁnd quirks here in Wellington with our one-way system and less than clever signposting (which has, in our defence, improved).
The reason I make these remarks is a concern where it will all lead. An Auckland friend, who was a witness to the Toyota Picnic’s driver’s extreme sense of drama (I wonder: what more does he do when something bad actually happens?), once said to me that he was surprised that in Wellington, a person spotting a friend on the opposite side of the road would shout out to him.
Apparently, this does not happen in Auckland.
So if the everyday gesture of friendship in society is now deemed inappropriate in our largest city, what is next? Could it be this?
These signs were not around last time I visited London, and I had to head to Duck Duck Go to search whether it was just a joke. A few people have reported them, so either they are connected by prima facie unrelated individuals who are coordinating a clever marketing campaign, or they are genuine.
If genuine, then this is a sign that civilization has left Great Britain faster than the gold reserves under Gordon Brown’s watch.
I’ve made eye contact with strangers before on the Tube in a friendly fashion, given up my seat for ladies and insisted they take it (they usually react as though it is a prank), and joked with friends and noticed Londoners chuckle at our conversation.
(Female New Yorkers, incidentally, are still ﬂattered that a gentleman gives up his seat on the Subway, and the elderly are always grateful. In Paris, meanwhile, giving up your seat to the elderly is expected, as well as to members of the armed forces.)
The latest Underground sign makes me wonder if London has descended into the world of Harry Brown, where making eye contact with someone will lead to a ﬁght. I suspect such signs have been put up after incidents of eye contact leading to violence. And that means the most basic aspect of human civilization—the ability to refrain—is now lost on an increasing number of citizens in the occident.
It seems to run counter to the expectation that people stay vigilant, on the look-out for suspected terrorists, after years of the Troubles and, more recently, July 7, 2005. If you don’t look, how do you know?
‘I’m sorry, guv, I never got a look at his face. I can tell you he was wearing Doc Martens. Shoes with Martin Clunes’s image transferred on to them.’
I think it’s a cautionary warning that if we don’t teach our own lot to get some perspective on life—a high beam on a car is not the end of the world, Mr Picnic—we’re looking at cities that are going to reﬂect the lack of civility that this sign suggests.
What an appalling advertisement for modern Britain, undoing anything that the Tourist Authority might wish to do. It’s as bad as Britain’s apartheid policy.