Swings and RoundaBlogs

I grew up in a village called Poynton, which is roughly equidistant between Macclesfield and Stockport, in the County of East Cheshire (in case you aren’t familiar with this part of the country, and were desperate to place it geographically).

In terms of East Cheshire (bear with me here, this is going somewhere), Poynton is very much in the Far East of the County – which is interesting, because like the Far East, we also have a number of Chinese eateries, a stockpile of biological weapons, and, until a few years ago, parents were restricted to having just one child to combat our chronic over-crowding*

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*only one of these facts is actually true.

Anyway, I spent the first eighteen years of my life growing up in Poynton, returned for a year after Law School, and, despite now living in Sandbach, I commute back to the village of my childhood every day for work. In short, I have spent more time in Poynton than anywhere else on Earth.

I therefore feel suitably qualified – no, entitled – to state that Poynton is, for want of a better phrase, a bit peculiar. And this comes from someone who lives in Sandbach, a town with plenty of its own quirks (and nutcases); so when I say that Poynton is ‘a bit peculiar’, I mean it’s really fucking peculiar.

Now, I need to be careful, since I plan to work in Poynton for the foreseeable future (until I win the lottery or secure a lucrative book deal – and the odds of each happening are roughly the same), plus half of the office lives here; but, so long as I choose my words carefully, it should be fine. Besides, it’s not like anyone reads these blog entries anyway.

So, while Sandbach and Poynton have many similarities (the most obvious of which being that both are clearly desperate to be the next Alderley Edge, such is the current upsurge in trendy wine bars and restaurants); the main difference between the two is that Poynton also ‘boasts’ what must be one of the most bizarre traffic systems in the country.

In 2011, Poynton was the subject of a major redevelopment, partly to deal with the terrible congestion caused by our position on the main road between the northern powerhouses of Stockport and Macclesfield (there was a time, in the not too distant past, when you couldn’t buy a fancy armchair and a hat in the same day, without travelling between the two), and partly for aesthetic reasons because, well, Poynton was fucking ugly.

If you don’t believe me, here is a picture of Poynton taken shortly before the redevelopment, c.2009:

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And this is what Poynton looks like now:

Quite the change, I am sure you will agree.

Ok, the first picture is actually of war-torn Syria, but I decided to use that photograph instead, partly for comedic purposes (not that there is anything even remotely amusing about the situation in Syria), and partly because the Poynton Illuminati appear to have erased all images of the village pre-2011, so I couldn’t find anything online to illustrate my point (if you have ever seen the film Hot Fuzz, it’s a little like that here).

In truth, Poynton didn’t look that bad before; but, aside from some pretty shoddy paving work (which looks like it was installed by The Chuckle Brothers – RIP, Barry), I have to admit it’s actually quite pretty now.

The problem, however, is that part of the redevelopment was to turn Poynton into a ‘Shared Space Village’, which is hippy-lingo for ‘hey, let’s all just get along, man’. Essentially, it means that cars, pedestrians, wildlife, and even Manchester United fans all have equal rights, so everyone is expected to be thoroughly British and simply ‘give way to all’. 

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The problem, however, is that whilst the intention was to create a pleasant, friendly traffic system based on mutual love and respect, if absolutely everyone adopted the ‘no, please, after you’ approach, then no one would move for fear of being the first to do so (because, if you ignore the traffic rules in Poynton, you are immediately chased from the village by an angry mob wielding pitchforks).

As it happens, because the system is so poorly explained to outsiders, they don’t tend to give way when they ‘should’, which makes the locals very angry indeed. Rather ironically, therefore, instead of introducing a friendly shared space, Poynton now features one of the angriest junctions in the world. I should know, because my office overlooks it, and there is an incident of road rage every four to five minutes. And, when all is said and done, there is very little shared space about a white van driver screaming ‘FUCKING IDIOT!’ at a pensioner.

Apparently, the system is based on a Swedish design, and this is often used to justify its introduction, as if the Swedes are the envy of the world when it comes to traffic layouts. Admittedly, I’ve never been to Sweden, so perhaps they are, but when the only other Swedish creations that spring to mind are ABBA, Ikea, and, erm, Stockholm Syndrome*, I’ll reserve my judgment for now.

(*Oh, and Volvo. I do quite like Volvo.)

Anyway, whilst shared spaces might be fine for the likes of Björn Borg and Ulrika Jonsson, in my humble opinion the traffic system of Poynton is fundamentally flawed in three distinct ways:

Firstly, I do not know many Swedish people, but they have always struck me as a rather amiable nation, less inclined to drive angrily at pedestrians while beeping their horn and screaming obscenities. In fact, I suspect the only time a Swede has ever given someone the horn, was when I last watched Britt Ekland in The Man with the Golden Gun.

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In contrast, just in case I haven’t made it clear already, Poynton is generally filled with angry drivers, beeping their horns and screaming obscenities. I’m not suggesting all of those drivers live in the village, but one of them will certainly pass through it every few minutes.

Secondly, whilst everyone is supposed to give way, the opposite actually happens; because if the drivers assume pedestrians will wait, but the pedestrians think they have right of way and can simply walk into the road, no one even pauses. They just go. As a result, not a day goes by without someone either very nearly being hit, or very actually being hit.

Thirdly, and perhaps most uniquely to Poynton, we have the pièce de résistance of our ridiculous shared space scheme, the ‘double roundel’:

Now, this may look like a double roundabout, where everyone could quite safely negotiate their way through the village by simply always giving way to their right (as with every other roundabout in the country), but the Poynton powers that be decided our ‘roundels’ would work differently, with everyone giving way to everyone else.

Again, I suppose this could work wonderfully in practice, if all drivers were indeed courteous and patient, but aside from the fact most drivers are anything but courteous and patient, the main problem with our system is that no one from outside of Poynton has the first fucking clue how it works.

So, unless they happen to have studied our unique traffic system in advance (and, I don’t know about you, but if I am driving somewhere new for the first time, I almost never Google ‘do they have any weird traffic systems I should know about?’ beforehand), they arrive expecting motorists to give way to the right like they do everywhere else. Again, this works fine if they only encounter fellow outsiders doing the same thing, because everyone is giving way to their right, but it only takes one self-righteous Poyntonian to royally fuck everything up and cause a scene.

What I witness several times a day, is an outsider (and I use the term ‘outsider’ endearingly, because I happen to sympathise with them) approaching the first roundel (let’s pause here, to acknowledge what a truly ridiculous word ‘roundel’ is), expecting the traffic from their right to stop. Unfortunately, if the driver to their right happens to be a local, they will approach the roundel with an indignant ‘EVERYONE MUST GIVE WAY TO ME!’ attitude, and will simply drive out, beeping their horn at anyone who gets in their way.

The conversation which follows usually goes like this:

Outsider: “It’s my right of way, dickhead!”

Local: “Not here it’s not! This is a shared space! Read the signs!”

Outsider: “What does that even mean?!”

Local: “It means you don’t have to give way to the right!”

Outsider: “What, unlike every other roundabout in the country?!”

Local: “Ah, but this isn’t a roundabout, it’s a roundel!”

Outsider: “A what?!”

Local: “A roundel. It looks like a roundabout, but it works differently. In fact, if there’s no traffic, you can just drive straight over it, there’s no need to go round it.”

Outsider: “But can you always see if there’s traffic coming?”

Local: “No, most of us just drive across them anyway, then beep and swear at people like you who don’t understand.”

Outsider: “Of course we don’t understand! How can we possibly be expected to know all this from a sign that just says ‘Shared Space Village’?”

 Local: “You just should. Shared space means give way to all.”

Outsider: “But you didn’t give way to me!”

Local: “Because I live here!”

Outsider: “So the sign should say ‘Give way to all, unless you live here, in which case just drive’?”

Local: “It’s a shared space!”

Outsider: “Stop saying ‘shared space’!”

Local: “Roundels!”

Outsider: “You’re a fucking roundel!”

Of course, the conversation is never that lengthy, because the drivers have usually moved on after the initial ‘dickhead’ exchange, beeping their horns angrily as they zoom away, both adamant they were in the right.

Then, because they are so incensed, they speed away from the junction – at the precise moment a pedestrian steps out into the road without warning (expecting all vehicles to stop for them), and they promptly end up thirty feet away from their belongings.

Still, so long as it works for the Swedes….

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Thanks for reading x

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