No man is a traffic island

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Ah, the traffic island.

Well do I remember, in the balmy days of my youth, swaying with my compatriots out of a pub in Twickenham to the nearest kebab van.

And from thence, we cast about for a place to sit; and espied a fair traffic island in the centre of the main street. We betook our kebabs there and munched, contentedly, as the late-night traffic happened by. It was a nice evening, if a little unconventional. We got the odd beep, if memory serves.

One of my favourite stories of Phil’s is of his high-powered, career driven friend who has a streak of complete affability running through him. Phil enquired after a recent pub crawl his friends had undertaken, only to find that this high flyer had spent quite a long time talking to a keep left sign on a traffic island.

They are foreign land to us, until we are too insensible to see the boundaries. And then, they become something of a refuge.

But men had to fight for them, once. There was a time when road islands did not exist; when one must take one’s life into one’s hands and negotiate two major lanes of traffic. And that was when traffic was not mechanical apparatus, but carriages drawn by wild-eyes horses who were not always sympathetic to a reveller on his way home.

Such a reveller was Colonel Pierpoint.

Traffic islands were not unheard of in the first half of the 19th century. A Liverpudlian saddler called John Hastings had been campaigning for years for some refuge in the middle of the road, and he succeeded in 1862.

But Colonel Pierpoint’s club was not in Liverpool. It was in London’s Pall Mall.

And negotiating his way home after a few bevvies was proving a terrifying experience. A chap couldn’t have a swift snifter and be alert enough to make it past the thundering hooves of two directions of central London traffic.

And so Colonel Pierpoint began to lobby the powers that be; and he stumped up the cash to buy one of these amazing new road islands, in St James’s Street in 1864. After endless negotiating and a sizable amount of cash. the Colonel’s road island was built. Finally, a guarantee of safety from the uproarious carriages and omnibuses and hansoms and suchlike.

On the day it was declared complete, the story goes, the Colonel came to see his handiwork.And it was all it should be, he concluded; it was the perfect road traffic island.

Alas, his joy was so unconfined that he dashed straight across the road to get a closer look.

And was run over by a carriage.


32 thoughts on “No man is a traffic island

  1. Oops!

    I can imagine how scary, as my rather vague memory of some quote goes, horses… Unreliable brakes.

    Once horses have a carriage in motion it is harder on them to stop and restart, so drivers must do their best i suppose.

  2. bwahahaha! Sorry, that is so funny! Have you been to Bali? There are no stop signs at some intersections and mad people driving on scooters avoiding taxis as they turn in all directions at once – scary stuff πŸ™‚

  3. It is hard to describe my wandering thoughts about this post. From the moment I saw your title I have been thinking about the famous lines from John Donne’s Meditation XVII.

    No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

    Many people do not realize that the famous lines ‘No Man is an Island’ and ‘for whom the bell tolls’ are in the same paragraph.

    In this case the bell is tolling for the Colonel.


    1. In keeping with Kate’s theme, here is Donne recast for the 21st century:
      “All motorways have an island, concrete or grassed over; every island has a metal barrier, a part of the deal. If a post be eroded away by the rain, safety is the less, as well as if an embankment were, as well as if a bridge of an A road or of a B road were: any car crash diminishes me, because I am involved in motor traffic, and therefore never send to know for whom the warning lights flash; they flash for thee.”

      1. πŸ˜€ I think I may have to have that put on my fridge, Chris, where I look every day at odd moments. You have defined Donne in street furniture terms.

  4. No! Around the world, screens are being covered in coffee…
    I hadn’t made the link before- traffic islands and late night ‘resting’. Makes perfect sense.

  5. What an ironic twist to this mostly amusing tale, Kate. I love the image of you and your peers munching on kebabs in the midst of traffic . . . and to Phil’s friend affably chatting up a “keep left” sign. :mrgreen:

    1. That is one of the defining images of our youth and we weren’t even there, Nancy. The accountant in question was a bit of a wild card. Knowing him as we do, we are fairly certain he kept that sign talking for a good long while.

  6. It is one of those tales which one finds it hard to accept can POSSIBLY be true!
    The sort of irony I envisaged when, as a schoolboy, I wrote an epic which had the Apartheid/Nationalist hero banning all modern transport inter alia, and finally getting run over by an oxwagon. I was not popular.
    Why did the chicken cross the road to see? (one of my The Mouse jokes)
    What a sign on the road island read.

  7. Your children must think you and Phil are so cool! Did you make the ending up Kate? πŸ˜€
    I thought our lack of traffic islands (we do have a few) was sad until I went to Phnom Penh and saw there were no traffic lights on most intersections!!!

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