The Weasel

Road rage allows fantastically nasty types to behave like extras in a Tarantino film
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The raising of one's digital limbs should not, by rights, be the occasion of great events and terrible consequences. But the evidence is all there in the past: the downturned thumb in the Coliseum, the umpire's dismissive index finger at Lord's, the law of electromagnetism (was that the one where you have to splay three fingers in different directions?), the finger on the nuclear button, the proffering of the fourth finger to receive the royal ring... All in all, extending your metacarpals is not an activity to be undertaken lightly. Especially in public.

Last Tuesday morning, I was driving Tiggy, the Weasel family runabout, down Kennington Road towards the vast and hideous pink temple that is the Elephant & Castle shopping complex. Between the Tube station and the traffic lights, the road narrows emphatically and all the traffic has to squidge into Indian file. Just before the lights, I heard the cacophonous parping of a car horn behind me. I assumed it was someone saluting the morn with gladsome joy and revelry sweet, but when I looked out of the window I saw it was a real bastard in a horrible black saloon, a kind of Reservoir Kennel. He was doing a spirited dumb show, possibly suggesting that he wished I'd choose a lane and stick to it.

Next thing I knew, he'd drawn level with the Weaselmobile, just at the point where the road tapers to single file. He was honking his horn, as mad as a bluebottle. The supraorbital vein in his forehead stuck out like a flex. He was shouting, and although I couldn't get the gist, I could tell he was no longer discussing lane technique. So preoccupied was he, he didn't notice the traffic was moving, so I drove a yard forward, leaving him nowhere to go but behind me. And I did a shameful thing. I held up my fist and, in a gesture one should have forsaken along with short trousers, shook it like one agitating a pair of dice.

That did it. With a squeal of rubber, he leapt sideways out of the traffic, and drove straight at the cars coming the other way. As they screeched to a shocked halt, he careered round a traffic island 20 yards ahead and knifed his way back into our lane - anything to get in front of my car and the others that had thwarted his progress.

The figures came out a couple of days later. One in six drivers has been attacked by a motorised psychotic in the last year. Eight hundred thousand people physically threatened or "forced to give way or leave the road". It's being talked up as an epidemic, like a virus that's spread further than it was expected to. I don't believe it. The thing about road rage is that it allows people to behave atrociously badly. Most are not calm and thoughtful drivers pushed to snapping level; they're fantastically nasty types who feel it's expected of them to behave like extras in a Tarantino film.

I'm taking no chances, though. When you see me processing slowly round the M25, gaily extending a middle finger at enraged people in Ford Escorts, it'll be from the wheel of one of those Centurion jobs in which James Bond took refuge in Goldeneye.

The manifold benefits of rhubarb never cease to amaze. Last year you may recall how the humble plant suddenly became le dernier cri in the nation's smartest restaurants. Fashionable chefs praised its acid piquancy. Reporters were sent to the forcing-sheds of west Yorkshire in order to probe its source. It was trendier than risotto nero.

Rum old stuff, rhubarb. Not a fruit at all, but a stalk masquerading as one. Nothing else like it, unless (O smartypants) you count angelica. I suppose you know that the name comes from the Greek rha, a former name for the River Volga where it was grown, and barbaron, whence our word barbarian. And that until the 18th century it was used solely as a drug to induce purges ("Still is," mutters Mrs W, with the air of one who has seen life).

Anyway, last week it emerged that an extract from rhubarb can be used to break down CFCs, the ozone-munching compounds found in old fridges. Until now, the noisome muck had to be stockpiled because no one had a clue how to get rid of it. But a bunch of boffins from Yale, headed by a Londoner called Crabtree, has discovered that a chemical in the plant's leaves will convert CFCs into salt and the fluoride stuff you get in toothpaste. They don't know how it works but they've taken out a patent anyway. How delightful to think that rhubarb, somewhat unexpectedly, may save the world. After this revelation, perhaps Prof Crabtree and his pals should start looking into custard.

A dog. A lemon. An old nail. A Friday afternoon job. The 97 Networker trains of the South Eastern Train Company answer to all of these time- honoured car-salesmen insults. Introduced a couple of years ago at a cost of pounds 3.5 million apiece, they had to be withdrawn for safety checks last week, when cracks were found in some carriage couplings. A week of chaos ensued for almost 100,000 London commuters. But this was not the only problem faced by South Eastern's fat controllers. It also emerged that the carriages have a tendency to bulge rather like overstuffed crepes when crowded with passengers, until the automatic doors jam.

For anyone who, like me, is on the ceiling side of six foot, they were a nightmare of cramped seating. The only feasible location for long-shanked wonders like myself was the facing seats in the middle of each carriage. Even then, you had to be careful about placing your legs: when everyone was settled, the knees on both sides were meshed like cogs in a gear. If anyone wanted to get in or out, all the passengers had to turn simultaneously sideways with knees pressed tightly together while remaining seated - a manoeuvre I've only previously seen performed by a Busby Berkeley chorus line.

When first launched, the trains carried posters which illiterately boasted that they were "light years ahead of the previous time-expired stock". The Networkers (a name reminiscent of a covey of computer salesmen) replaced a fleet that had no fancy nomenclature, that was a little on the doddery side, reeking of dust and full of random electrical flashes, a fleet that had been trundling round London's obscure southern suburbs for 40 years or so... But a fleet with one major bonus. They kept going. They fought on through every elemental disaster you could fling at them. They did not succumb to metal fatigue, coupling failure, electrical ME or unscheduled bulging after a couple of years. They certainly never provided me with the rare opportunity to crunch over trackside gravel for three- quarters of a mile, as happened last year when a Networker gave up the ghost somewhere near(ish) Victoria Station...

Ms Tiggy Legge-Bourke, England's most famous nanny since Mary Poppins, has some firm views about child rearing. According to a source quoted in the Sunday Times, she feels she is a better mother than the Princess of Wales because "I give them what they need at this stage - fresh air, a rifle and a horse. She [Diana] gives them a tennis racket and a bucket of popcorn at the movies."

I wish I'd known these simple rules of Weaslet-care, although it sounds to me as if they have more to do with the education of Billy the Kid than a future British monarch. But I shall do my best. I can't afford a horse or a proper rifle, but I can just about run to a Honda 50 scooter and a third-hand Holland & Holland shotgun. As the junior Weaslet parades in the fresh air of Dulwich Village with these badges of youth, I can hear the residents murmur, "Just the thing he needs at this stage..."

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