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.