Victoria Summerley: Town Life

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The Independent Online

If you really want to make me angry, and I mean teeth-gnashingly, hair-tearingly, carpet-chewingly insane with rage, then all you have to do is to don a hard hat, walk out in to the middle of the road, stop all the traffic and direct a cement lorry, or some other mechanical mastodon, into or out of a building site - in slow motion, of course.

I encounter this, oh, let's see, every day. There's a building site just along the road from The Independent office. Just when you think you're going to arrive on time for once, having spent most of the morning since 6am finding gym kit, overdue homework, violin music and so on, there he is, Mr Builder, swaggering into the road with his yellow hat and his smug face to hold up the traffic yet again.

While impotent motorists fume and frustrated bus drivers swear, he'll wave through, in a leisurely sort of way, an articulated nuisance that despite its 18 wheels and 16 gears still can't manage to reverse into or turn out of the entrance without doing a 20-point turn, beeping plaintively as it goes.

When they want to be especially aggravating, there'll be contraflow traffic lights as well. And - they must go on training courses to coordinate this particular trick - sometimes the contraflow gets screwed up by a builder directing a reversing cement lorry, which means gridlock for the next 30 minutes while everyone tries to jostle their way through and white van men hoot like hell.

It's bad enough when you get caught up in this sort of chaos for a good cause, by which I mean necessary repairs, such as a burst water main (there's at least one every day in London), or some sort of cable that will make your internet go faster. But it's far, far more annoying - and more common - to find the people holding you up are working on behalf of some developer who's making megabucks while you're megastuck in traffic.

Take the guy the other day at an embryo apartment complex on Clapham Road. He wandered into the middle of the road, stopped both lanes, and motioned forward a forklift truck, which proceeded towards a lorry parked in the bus lane with about 3,000 pallets of plasterboard and began, very slowly, to unload it. All the traffic sat patiently, as, with exquisite deliberation, the first pallet was trundled away. Then as the forklift returned for a second load, one motorist cracked.

He pulled out of the queue and roared away. The expression on Mr Hard Hat's face was so funny, it put me in a good mood for the rest of the day. Or at least, in a good mood until I returned from work late that evening to find that my route home had been closed altogether at Clapham South because they were trying to get the roadworks finished in time for the opening of the new Tesco store there.

Ah, yes, the new Tesco at Clapham South. It inspires a bout of roadworks rage every time I go past. For months we have had to put up with barriers, road closures, lane changes and congestion so that hundreds more cars can drive in to the new supermarket. The only good thing about it, now it's finished, is that there are new pedestrian lights at the junction, so if you're crossing the road to the tube, you don't get mown down by six lanes of traffic.

What is it that gives people building superstores, overpriced apartments and high-rent office blocks the right to hold up us ordinary workers in this way? Is there some Thatcherite legislation in some obscure Bill?

And another thing - these people may clean up financially, but they don't seem to make and mend. I can think of two developments near me which have nearly sold all their flats but have yet to fill in the huge potholes they've left in the road.

Well, I'm not going to buy an overpriced flat. I'm not going to rent an expensive office that leaves its lights on all night burning a hole in the ozone layer. And I'm certainly not - not now, not ever, never - going to set foot in the new Tesco at Clapham South. Am I being petty? Probably. Will they notice? Probably not. But I'll feel a lot better every time I go past. That's if there isn't a man in a hard hat holding up the traffic...

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