THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
My week in a single graphic
Of sheep and distemper

Of sheep and cyclists

Traffic and why "I Hate Cyclists" :: A Very British Dude.

A few friends have flatteringly complained that I don't blog enough now. I occasionally try to exert myself with my old enthusiasm, but it's gone. There's no denying it.

I miss morning news discussions with the late Mrs P. She was a woman of strong and stimulating opinions. As we grazed the online newspapers and blogs in bed of an early morning, she often gave me an angle of attack to a post. This was as much her blog as mine.

I find it beyond unstimulating to be back in Britain. There is such a very limited spectrum of opinion here. Surrounded by sheep too docile to bleat out of turn, it feels extreme even to suggest there is some better way of living than time-share enslavement.

When I lived in Russia and China I kept quiet about local politics out of courtesy to my hosts. I seem to have fallen into the same approach here under the sheer weight of apathy. The neglect of their civil rights by the British - who only ever seem to get excited when demanding others' freedoms be repressed - is an insult to the brave peoples I once lived among.

I miss the hope of the Labour days. Not the hope that they would ever cease (they won't) to be freedom-hating miserablists, but the hope that one day change might come. The only change provided by the current government is in the tone of Polly Toynbee's screeching.

The British public just doesn't care about civil liberties. My concerns are - I now see - entirely eccentric. My greatest recent blogging "success" was the massive reaction to (essentially) a post about bad parking. Readers, if you think that's more important than habeas corpus, write your own bloody blog posts. I am not your bitch.

Then there's the attitudes of my fellow-Brits to the joys of my life. Forget about the publicity-hungry irrelevancies among our politicians calling for lower speed limits when the ones we have were set when an Austin Seven would probably take longer to stop from 20mph than I can stop from 120. Even the often-sensible Jackart went on an anti-driver rant over at his place yesterday. I thought my heart would stop in despair at the words

Sooner or later, cars will drive themselves and the problem will be moot.

Can he really not understand the pain that thought inflicts? The motor car is the very sign and symbol of personal freedom. Does he not remember the feeling of joyous liberation when first free to drive? It is no coincidence that the only flickering evidence of any zest for life amid the BBC's routine suicide advocacy is 'Top Gear.'

Even the ultimate authoritarian, God (if He exists), appears to understand that the possibility of sin is essential to the existence of virtue. If I am ever - God forbid - moved about the place in a legally-compliant motorised wheelchair steered by Google, He will know that in my secret sinning soul I am still among the Ferraristi. In my heart, the dull electric whirr of tyrranical misery will be the strident poetry of a V8. Madness that might be but what, pray, would be the attraction of sanity?

Jackart speaks suavely (if not persuasively) of...

the kind of a**ehole who thinks buying a BMW is something other than the behaviour of a c**t God knows what vile words he will have for me. I shall bear them as a badge of honour. I am planning a run to Scotland at the end of this month to provide stimulus to its flagging economy via its gas stations. I understand that's where he hangs out. He owes me a pint for spoiling my morning. He can buy it for me, as long as he's not wearing spandex.


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"The simple fact is if you misuse any other tool and kill someone, you go to gaol. Cars are the exception."

In what universe is that true? I would argue that present judicial attitudes reflect the mistaken belief that there is no such thing as an accident.

As for injury caused by genuine negligence, I am all for liability as in any other field. Libertarians are for taking responsibility for their actions, you know, rather than letting Mummy State treat us all like children who (as you also seem to believe) can't be trusted with everyday tasks. Didn't I say - above - '...let people drive according to their own judgement, skill, equipment and circumstances, but to hold them accountable for the outcomes...'

"If you're enjoying driving, unfortunately it means you're probably going too fast."

Really. If I agreed with you, I would want to die. Now. I cannot understand how such an otherwise sensible chap can be such a joyless Cromwellian when it comes to motoring. I can enjoy a walk. I might even enjoy a cycle (I have thought of buying one for local tasks, but can't bear the idea of joining a legion of holier-than-thou miserabilists). Why the hell can't I enjoy a drive?

"The idea cars invoke "freedom" just because you're free to steer it into a cyclist or tree is laughable."

Not when your alternative mode of transport is a tube train or bus, it's not. Control of your own destiny is the only true joy in this life. Waiting on others and travelling their choice of routes at the times they deign to provide service is a profoundly miserable activity.


Your thesis is absolute nonsense. To believe that drivers only get pleasure from speed is false, I believe what Tom is encouraging is sensible use of the existing road infrastructure so that people who enjoy touring can proceed at a reasonable speed (probably close to the posted speed limit). When this is frequently impossible due to anti-social activists (cyclists and caravans being notable examples) it indeed becomes frustrating.

Your concept of freedom is also warped, you seem to believe that you need the sanction of government to be able to do something you enjoy-very dystopian.

Fortunately your wet-dream of guided way control of vehicles will not be technically or financially feasible within my lifetime, although the logical consequences of such thought is already on display in the London tube system, if that is how you want your life to be controlled be my guest, I will decline.

It is a shame that one selfish group can affect so many, I remember clearly in my school days that we were required to obtain a cycling proficiency test certificate before being allowed to bike to school. The test was essentially a driving test for bicycles, a major part of the test was showing courtesy to others and signalling your intentions very clearly. The idea that you should pull off the road for a short period if you were hindering others was taught. Though I am not disposed to governmental interference generally I would favour the re-introduction of such a test and road licensing of all vehicles that use the road. Introduction of minimum speed limits on well-travelled roads should also be considered to remove dangerous obstructions .


Absolutely, Everyone's allowed a prejudice, mine's BMWs.


We already have "human-driven country roads reserved for driving pleasure - free of cyclists, ramblers, caravans, lorries, tractors and oncoming traffic..." they're called race-tracks.

Cars are not toys. They are the single biggest cause of death of otherwise healthy people in the developed world and part of a mass transit system designed to move people and goods. The idea cars invoke "freedom" just because you're free to steer it into a cyclist or tree is laughable, or would be were it not so widely held.

If you're enjoying driving, unfortunately it means you're probably going too fast. If you're not going as fast as you'd like, you're getting all angsty. Then you get aggressive and kill either yourself, or someone else. Or you just endure a surge of cortisol and eventually die of a heart attack.

The simple fact is if you misuse any other tool and kill someone, you go to gaol. Cars are the exception.

The sooner computers take over the mundane task of piloting you from A-B the sooner we can all get along. Let the enthusiasts race on tracks - hell, I'll be there too, getting it all sideways, But let's make the boring task of getting to work safer for everyone.

Unfortunately I'm in Herts, not Scotland, but a pint would be wonderful!

N. Mouse

I was once told that BMWs in Britain were driven mostly by short bald guys with an attitude. I've found that to be somewhat true.
Also, aren't most unmarked police cars over here BMWs? That might add to the general attitude towards those cars.


Mr Paine, your distemper is understandable, and as a non-resident of the UK the cure is obvious.

Your fine car is a beast of the autostrada and autoroute, it will never be at ease on the speed cameraed motorways of the UK amongst the most envious drivers and over-populated roads in Europe. Unfortunately over-policing speed is becoming a worldwide problem, enjoy your car while you can, our future seems to be dreary conformist hybrid mobiles if the current crop of politicians have their way (witness the USA-what would Thomas Paine conclude?)

As to your unhappiness with the political situation, I wonder at your bewilderment, my memories of political leaders go back to about Macmillan and it was obvious that twenty years after his departure that nothing would or could improve. Even golden opportunities such as Thatcher and North Sea oil have been squandered. To live in the UK is to be perpetually disappointed.

I fear the best days of western civilization have been seen and we are now on a downward trend of mediocrity, yet still there a pockets of the world where enjoyment is possible on a more continual basis than yUK. You seem to be a man of reasonable wealth perhaps some exploration is in order.

Tom Paine

I hold no brief for Munich. I think the cars over-rated. I was once tempted by a 6 series (a fine looking car) but went the AMG route instead. I hope I drive like a gentleman, but I am interested by the sociology of this issue. Why would BMWs attract a certain class of Brit? They are driven by decent Continentals, i can vouch from experience. Super cars do seem to get a free pass on envy. A 5 series guy might respond enviously to a 7 series, but Mazzers and Fezzers are treated very nicely by all who recognise them, in my experience. People see the front of a rare and beautiful object in their rear view mirrors and seem to want to see the other views. In British traffic that assists progress more than the mighty engine! Only MPV drivers refuse to allow me in from side roads, but perhaps I am just below their field of vision?

Andrew Duffin

Jackart is a monomaniac when it comes to transport, he talks a lot of sense on other topics so perhaps we can forgive him his foibles.

But you misunderstand his comment about BMW's: it's not just about fast cars, it's specifially BMW's. There's something about those cars that turns practically everyone who buys one into a queue-jumping lane-switching in-pushing speed-limit-ignoring rude aggressive dangerous tailgating roadhog. One sees them, and suffers from them, every single day.

The kind of cars you drive, Tom, are in a different class entirely. Apart from anything else, I am sure you drive like a gentleman. Enjoy your trip to Scotland, the spring weather is here and we have some wonderful driving roads.

Oh, and don't give up blogging, please; what you say about the masses is true, but we're not yet all of us braindead - let's at least keep the conversation going.

Nigel Sedgwick

And the bribery:

[And, if the direct link to my comment does not work for you, search for "March 9, 2012 12:42 PM".]

Best regards


A pleasant vision of the future, for once. Thank you! I wouldn't even mind fitting a Google chauffeur to Speranza for use when imbibing.


An exceptionally good point!

The number of people who believe it is perfectly acceptable for a man who has never been charged, let alone convicted of an offence,to be subject to limitations on his freedoms is staggering.

At the risk of falling foul of "Godwins Law" (in any event an intellectually dishonest device to close down debate),the steady and accepted erosion of our liberties can only be likened to that of Nazi Germany. We even have the fear that "best not say anything" because the "authorities" will hold a grudge against us.

This government is just as bad as the last for eroding democracy (Can't get rid of them for five years!)but are more accepted.

Despair may well be the right response.

Suboptimal Planet

Very well said.

My (qualified) support for computer-controlled cars has more to do with efficiency and convenience than safety. I definitely think they have their place.

I remember an episode of Top Gear where they interviewed American talk-show host Jay Leno. He made the point that the motorcar put thousands of horses out of work, but enthusiasts switched to riding horses for the pleasure of it.

They were discussing electric cars vs petrol, but I think it's even more true for computer-driven cars. Let the robo-taxi take you home from the pub when you've had too many, and ferry you comfortably from door-to-door on your daily commute (while you read a book). Take the Ferrari out for blasts on human-driven country roads (some of which could be reserved for driving pleasure - free of cyclists, ramblers, caravans, lorries, tractors, and oncoming traffic).


It's not ennui on my part. It's despair. When I thought we had the wrong politicians, I could hope to change them. What hope is there if (after years of indoctrination) we finally have the wrong voters?


People make errors. Attempts (however well-intentioned) to protect them from the consequences of their errors tend to make them more prone to error. Bearing that in mind, it's actually best (though H&S-indoctrinated Brits will recoil in horror) to let people drive according to their own judgement, skill, equipment and circumstances, but to hold them accountable for the outcomes.

Once you start dealing with rational men and women on the basis that they are acting under the influence of their "lizard brain" (however interesting that might be to help understand themselves in therapy) you are in trouble. All laws should assume us all to be rational actors (unless actually proved insane).

Statists love to think of us as automota acted upon by the forces of history or psychology; the hapless products of our background, environment or society. Both disciplines are important means of analysis and understanding of human actions, but should neither be instruments of control nor excuses for wrongdoing.

Accept the view that we are not rational, independent actors in relation to the rest of society and you open the door for the all-wise and all-knowing state to answer all your (imagined) problems. Of course, the human actors who make up that state have neither lizard brains, nor social/historical determinants. They are the perfectly rational beings they deny we can be. Funny that, eh?


Yes, you are right; for whatever reason the blogosphere seems to have collapsed into trivial mode.

This cannot be because everything is fine-it bloody well isn't! Since when have secret courts been acceptable under the British constitution? But apart from some minor comment-nothing!

Leveson has been put in place to see off free speech-but again very little comment.

Possibly it's just ennui-but it surely is worrying.

Suboptimal Planet

"I find it beyond unstimulating to be back in Britain. There is such a very limited spectrum of opinion here. Surrounded by sheep too docile to bleat out of turn"

It is depressing indeed.

The BBC occasionally offers stimulation, but not the healthy sort. The spectrum of opinion there isn't quite so limited as in everyday conversation: it runs from centre-left all the way to extreme left.

"I miss the hope of the Labour days. Not the hope that they would ever cease (they won't) to be freedom-hating miserablists, but the hope that one day change might come."

Well said. I couldn't bring myself to vote Conservative last time around (I gave my vote to UKIP instead), but I did feel a glimmer of hope when Gordo finally left Number 10.

I now think 5 years of Labour, awful as it would be, could be a price worth paying for the destruction of the faux-Conservatives. But really I don't think we'll be free until the welfare state collapses under the weight of its own contradictions, and even then I'm not sure we'll choose the right path.

Tom Paine

The option is there dear chap. You are just being denied the infrastructure you need by politicians with other priorities. Rather like the rest of us. Roll on cycle paths by all means as you no more belong under my wheels than do pedestrians (another weird minority, long since given their own dedicated tracks). What spoiled my morning was not your spandex porn (though it's not my bag) but your welcome for the automated Google car. that would just be a train for which you got to lay out the capital cost. Eugh.

As you are out of spandex, I guess you can buy me that pint then.

Suboptimal Planet

I use most forms of (private) transportation to get around Oxford (walking, cycling, driving, and motorcycling), and I've seen the inevitable conflicts that arise from all sides.

Like Jackart, I'm not afraid to jump red lights when cycling -- it's often the safest thing to do. But I occasionally annoy cyclists by filtering to the front of the queue on my motorbike, and occupying a small part of the space designated for bicycles. No harm done. Can't we all just get along?

In my experience, buses are the main hazard for cyclists in town. Whenever possible, I use the tow path rather than the roads, but this puts me in conflict with pedestrians who feel a God-given right to walk three-abreast. Ring your bell an you'll annoy some people; fail to ring it and you'll annoy others.

Out of town, I have to say that I have very little sympathy for cyclists who tie up country roads, especially when things get hilly. They seem to share the arrogance of caravan drivers, secure in their entitlement to road use, crawling along with no regard to the queues forming behind them.

It comes down to this: whatever their chosen mode of transportation, many people are careless, thoughtless, self-centred, and intolerant. Basically, people are jerks. I think the best solution is separation.

I can't agree with Jackart's suggestion that "our lizard-brains simply can't cope" with driving. It's amazing how quickly one adapts to triple-digit speeds, and how slow 80 or 90 can feel afterwards.

What we need is separation between commuter roads (which can be as computer-controlled as you like) and fun roads (which can be more like race courses, with one-way traffic, limited access, and no speed limits).


Good to have you blogging again.

Everyone is allowed a prejudice, mine is BMWs and the "people" in them. Maseratis are just fine. (Generally thier owners don't want to bend them, and drive carefully).

It's not spandex, or lycra any more, it's all about the merino wool.

I'm not anti car. I have no problem with people giving it the beans, where appropriate. I'm however anti CAR-FOR-EVERYTHING. I want to have another option. I would like to be safe should I choose another form of transport. Cyclists requesting appropriate infrastructure is not anti car. Indeed if you get more people, especially the school run, out of cars and onto bikes, you will free the roads for those who need it. I'm not a leftie when it comes to transport. I'd just like an option that isn't the car which currently isn't there.

I am right about everyone thinking they're a better driver than they are. The same is true of sex and investing.


It baffles me how Jackart posts such sense on most economic subjects, but turns into a lefty loon when it comes to transport.

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