Deborah Ross: Our Woman in Crouch End

Smoking is dangerous- but it's not half as dangerous as a woman who's just given up


I have given up smoking again and am doing rather well, if you don't count these queasy feelings I get about the rest of my life stretching before me in an utterly empty and meaningless way, and the terrible, fizzing fury. I feel this terrible, fizzing fury towards everything, from the way plants photosynthesise (rather noisily, in my opinion) to the fact I've never been used as a honeytrap. "How come," I asked the other night at supper, after I'd banged a lot of pots about and managed to shred the lettuce just by looking at it, "that I've never been asked to be a honeytrap?" "And not even," replied my son, "for a man who can not see."

That improved my temper so much that I may or may not have spat in his Tropicana when he wasn't looking. I can't remember. I can't remember anything now I've stopped smoking. It's like my memory has just packed its bags and gone. Last week I read Bill Bryson's A Brief History of Nearly Everything, truly believing I understood it all, but now all I can remember is that the universe is like a mattress. "The thing about the universe,"I say to people, "is that it is like a mattress." The trouble is I can't then remember why.

Anyway, other things that make me furious: packaging that has to be opened with teeth; Ruby Wax; the person ahead of me at the supermarket who looks surprised when asked to pay and spends forever rummaging in handbag for purse; Nigerians who want my help in transferring monies; dirty dishes stacked next to dishwasher; silver foil rolls that get a nick at one end and come off in thin strips; free CDs of rubbish compilations; JK Rowling. What's she all about, then? Why does she always look so miserable? I must say that if was worth 300 billion, trillion pounds, I think I'd find it quite hard to keep the smile off my face. Perhaps she just affects to look miserable so we don't hate her more. Perhaps when she gets home and has closed the front door behind her she dances down the hall, punching the air and singing: "I'm so rich it's unbelievable!"

And yet more things that make me cross: people who rummage at the supermarket and then come up with a cheque book; greaseproof paper that won't stay flat; hardboiled eggs that won't give up their shells without a fight; Jimmy Carr; yoghurt tops that spit at you; my partner reclaiming the free CD from the rubbish and saying you can't throw away CDs and that I'm just going to have to live with Female Legends (Vol 1) and get used to it; the recycling people who make us fastidiously separate everything then throw it all into the back of the same truck; God (what did he intend tobacco for?). And pedestrians.

Pedestrians. At this point in my simultaneously empty and fury-filled life, they are making me maddest of all. I mean, why is everything done to slow the motorist down and nothing ever done to speed the pedestrian up? Great dawdling, time-wasting shufflers they are, with nothing to get to, nowhere to go, all the while getting in the way of important motoring people who have made something of their lives but, nevertheless, have to suffer speed bumps and whatnot, even though none would be necessary if only pedestrians would learn to jump out of the way of oncoming vehicles quicker. Is that really too much to ask?

I don't even see why we can't have "slow traps" so that the worst offenders, which is possibly all of them, can be sent photographs of themselves with their average speed printed in one corner - "0.0000000001mph" - and perhaps a message of encouragement in the other along the lines of: "Ever thought of putting a rocket up your arse, love?"

Walking nuisances

Pedestrians have had it their way for much, much too long, and it's not like they haven't been indulged. They even get shoes, which don't even have to be tested annually in that nail-biting way to check if they are still pavement-worthy. And they also get underpasses and overpasses and basically every pass they could ever want, but still they're out there, tormenting motorists as if they have nothing better to do, which of course they don't, because if they did they'd have to be places and earn money and then they'd have a car too.

So, a curse on pedestrians, and a curse too, on their main accomplice, The Lollipop Lady. OK, I accept it's nice to have someone there to see children across the road safely, but if you have ever watched The Lollipop Lady at work, as I have been forced to do many times, while drumming my fingers on the steering wheel, they will help anyone across, including very old people who move so slowly that if they were on a nature programme you'd have to speed it up to show that something was actually happening. I have even seen lollipop ladies letting very old people across the road and then - get this - stopping to talk to them when, four hours later, they reach halfway. "Alright, Betty?" I have never known any other professional abuse their position like The Lollipop Lady. This is why I hope you'll get behind my plan for a much-needed Report a Lollipop Lady Week (confidentiality guaranteed, unless I forget).

Off the buses

Lastly, of course, pedestrians will try to fool you by doing this thing where they gather at something called The Bus Stop to catch something called The Bus which is huge and blocks the road. Then, just as you think you can nip past so you can get stuck behind another bus further down, the bus will indicate and cut you up while the driver makes "wanker" signs at you. Now, pedestrians will say that once they're on the bus they are no longer pedestrians, but we know. We know. We know that buses just shift pedestrians around without ever solving the problem or turning them into something more useful to society. You can't fool us that easily. We also know that it needn't be hell with Nicotenell, but it is anyway. Next week, how to kill a cyclist with every left turn. Oh, go on then. And every right turn too.

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