Monday, September 10, 2007

It’s the kids in the 4x4’s that really miss out

A view from a child's bicycle seat.

Cycling my son to and from school is brilliant.

On the way, we wave at people who wave and smile at us. On the way home, children often invite my son to stop and play with them on the swing-park or in their dens made of old tyres and bits of broken fence. At the school gates, almost every child seems to know us and the bike is seen as an engine of wonder. We’re often asked if they can ride on it and they’re always amazed when I say we’ve cycled over two miles from home. It seems we live further away from the school than anyone. We’re very lucky to be able to have such fun, to and from, school.

Outside the school, many children walk home with their mums or dads. These are the ones that get to play in the playground with my son after home-time, and often like to remind me to ‘do his seat belt up’ before waving us off. These are happy kids. They don’t get to have picnics on the way home but they can feel the change in seasons each time they walk to, and from, home with their mates.

There are other kids of course. The ones in cars. They don’t chat to their mates on the way in or out but they can, at least, shout to them when the doors are open and are visible through the windows. Their only knowledge of the seasons is through the windows and the brief sniff of the wind when they leave the air conditioned car to rush into the school.

It’s the kids in the 4x4’s that really miss out. The ones perched behind reflective glass, high above the sight their mates and able only, to sit in commanding isolation on top of the vast threatening pile of metal that glower so threateningly at the other kids. These aren’t cars that other children wave at, nor are they ones that kids happily pile into to shout “Hello Mrs Davies!”. These are the cars that no-one can see around – not even the adults - and all children are told to give them a wide berth. “The driver can’t see you, dear”.

Inside, the kids look out like bemused toads, trapped in a sterile box.

We avoid the road, but at each end of the journey, we have to brave these machines. Some of the cars are driven by courteous and helpful people who give you space, smile and even wave you on. The cold faced trophy wives, or men with something to prove, will not do these things. They snarl at all other vehicles and drive, surrounded by ‘idiots’, knowing that the machine they are driving comes with a guarantee they own the road.

They are in a 4x4.

The car industry concentrates on the dangers to those inside the car... but it’s being hit by a massive tonnage of metal that tends to kill kids. Still, there’s little sales revenue in mentioning that the machine you’re driving is an efficient killer of children, or pets.

On the way to the canal, we pass hoardings. More often than not, there’ll be an advert up for a 4x4. 4x4s are not advertised for the joy of motoring in a cheerful, co-operative environment. They’re sold as a defense against a hostile world of treacherous terrain and dangerous traffic. With names like ‘Warrior’, ‘Defender’ and ‘Patrol’ they’re chosen as a weapon by people scared or insecure enough to feel they need ‘Respect’.

From a God-like height above the road, and the knowledge that everything on the road must defer to them, these machines are driven arrogantly, aggressively ... and invariably blindly. Not to edge quietly and give way, but to assert their RIGHT to get through.