Mary Dejevsky: A cherished tradition in black and white

Share
Related Topics

A day-long street party has celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Beatles album cover everyone, but everyone, knows.

The festivities on Abbey Road drew thousands of fans, and camera crews from all over the world. But I have long felt the band that put a nondescript north London street on the global map should share top billing with the other signature feature of that photo: the zebra crossing. It's the crossing that makes the picture – and indeed that made the picture possible.

Alas, the zebra crossing is becoming a species more endangered than the beast. Yet, with its attendant Belisha beacons, it is one of the glories of what might be called British civilisation. I recently heard a widely-travelled foreign politician observe that the way a country treats its pedestrians shows you what sort of a country it is. The voluntary nature of the zebra, which presumes mutual respect between the car-borne and the foot-traveller, is something we are losing with each new Pelican crossing that is planted and connected up. The Pelican brings with it enforceable rules and the law; the zebra was testimony to an unspoken, but understood, code of behaviour.

Returning from almost 10 years abroad, I well remember standing at a zebra crossing, wondering why all the cars had stopped. And I still marvel at how many drivers pull up with an encouraging smile when I am with my husband – who walks with a stick – and we come within sight of a kerb. It's as though they see it as their good deed for the day. They feel good about themselves, and we about them.

As a driver, I try to be as generous. If only today's pedestrians were not so distracted by their iPods and mobiles that you can't tell whether they want to cross or not. Stopping to let someone across is a mutual thing: the beneficiary is supposed to signal a gentle thank-you, too. So far, I would say, we're just about holding the line. I have been nowhere in Britain anything like as terrifying as central Des Moines, in the US state of Iowa, where I stood petrified on a central reservation with three lanes of rush-hour traffic speeding past on either side, and no crossing point in evidence anywhere. Non-existent pavements in many US suburbs are more evidence of the assumption that you will not be moving around on foot.

Encouragingly, the traffic in pedestrian courtesy is not all in an adverse direction. Some US suburbs have recently been adding pavements, while one of the earliest signs of change in the newly liberated countries of East and Central Europe was a dramatic improvement in street manners, in and out of cars. Last year, I even noticed a similar trend in Russia, where observing red lights and lane discipline seemed to be passing from the exception – almost – to the rule.

Earlier this summer, the Russian Parliament upped ten-fold the fine for failing to stop at a zebra crossing, and launched a campaign to reduce pedestrian deaths; one in six pedestrians killed, according to the traffic police, are run over at marked crossings.

Mercifully, British roads remain some of the safest in the world. But they won't stay that way, if we lose the habit of civilised give and take exemplified by the zebra crossing.

A corporate case of cops and robbers

Could you repeat that, please? Exactly how many employees of the Metropolitan Police are NOT going to be prosecuted over misuse of their corporate American Express cards? Yes, I thought I heard it right: 1,183.

There apparently comes a point when there are just too many offenders to bring to book and the offence is dismissed as trivial. After all, we're not talking a multimillion-pound Mayfair jewellery theft.

And there are, of course, mitigating circumstances. What is delicately called "misuse" began in 2003, so a backlog built up. "Most" of the money has been repaid and, would you believe, three officers have actually been convicted; with two more facing trial. Someone ran up a debt of £82,000 – which puts into a rather different perspective the poor MP Sir Peter Viggers and the duck house he wasn't reimbursed for.

But the biggest mitigating circumstance is surely the decision of some panjandrum somewhere in the Met to issue more than 3,000 staff with credit cards in the first place and so put them in temptation's way. Even under the new, stricter system, more than 2,000 staff still have such cards. If you want to see a microcosm of the causes of Britain's debt crisis, look no further than New Scotland Yard.

Bogof with your unripened fruit

I'm delighted to learn that the days of supermarket "buy-one-get-one-free" deals will be numbered, if the warriors on waste get their way.

Such offers encourage you to load up with food you don't need; they discriminate against the car-less, because you can't carry all the extra stuff, and they distort the rational link between price, quality and quantity. "Bogofs" are just as bad as the acronym sounds.

But there is something I'm coming to regard as even worse – fruit labelled "ripen in the bowl". Unripe fruit is unripe fruit; it has been prematurely picked for the convenience of the wholesaler. Sometimes it ripens evenly; often patchily or not at all. You shouldn't have to pay a premium for fruit labelled "ready to eat". Unless it's edible, it shouldn't be on the shelves.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
With an eye for strategy: Stephen Fry’s General Melchett and Rowan Atkinson’s Edmund Blackadder  

What Cameron really needs is to turn this into a khaki election

Matthew Norman
An Italian policeman stands guard as migrants eat while waiting at the port of Lampedusa to board a ferry bound for Porto Empedocle in Sicily. Authorities on the Italian island of Lampedusa struggled to cope with a huge influx of newly-arrived migrants as aid organisations warned the Libya crisis means thousands more could be on their way  

Migrant boat disaster: EU must commit funds to stop many more dying

Alistair Dawber
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own