It is inevitable that progress, or I can call it “progress” if you’re in the mood for a bit of cynicism, means that some of our once-essential skills have been gradually lost over the years. The art of knowing exactly when to put the 10p coin in the slot when using a public telephone is one. So is the ability to sense precisely the right moment to press the “Record” button on your tape-recorder to start taping that week’s Top 10 chart singles. The internet, digital technology and mobile phones have rendered them redundant. That’s the way it goes, but there are other skills that are at least as important today as they were when the Bay City Rollers were top of the “hit parade”, and when phoning Mum from a red telephone box that smelt of urine, fags and cheap whisky to tell her you would be home soon (you were lying) was a weekly occurrence.
One such skill is the ability to cross a road without appearing to be doing an impression of a lemming who’s just been declared bankrupt. For this we owe much to the “Green Cross Code” and the “Green Cross Code Man”. In despatches we should also mention Tufty and his friends as well as the rather creepy “Charlie says…” series of public information films, in which all sorts of advice was dispensed to wide-eyed youngsters regarding playing with matches, not going off with strangers, playing near water, and throwing weapons-grade uranium around in the school playground (I may have made-up one of those). But it was Dave Prowse, also the body (but not the voice) of Darth Vader who, in the guise of the “Green Cross Code Man”, commanded most respect. Seven-year-old boys were left in no doubt that if they defied him and got themselves run over, he would finish them off if the Ford Capri hadn’t.
Traffic volumes today are many times greater than those of the late 1970s. No longer can the street be used for a game of football when school has finished but dinner (or “tea” as my northern friends call it) is not yet on the table. Worryingly, the increased familiarity with traffic seems to have bred a very dangerous contempt. All sorts of people now seem to take rather lightly the prospect of becoming road-kill; the text they’ve just received is more important, as is the fact that their i-Pod is on the blink. Curiously, many seem to be of the view that the white line in the middle of all city-centre streets should be regarded as some kind of safe haven, immune to articulated lorries and the number 18 bus, courtesy of a force-field of which the rest of us remain unaware. The laborious business of waiting for there to be no approaching traffic from either direction, or walking to a nearby pedestrian or zebra crossing, is not for these intrepid souls. I quite often stand, open-mouthed, as parents shepherd children into the middle of a busy road and then, once they’re all safely under the protection of the white line, consider what they’re going to do next. I can only assume that they aren’t familiar with the numerous videos on YouTube which show, in glorious technicolor, exactly what happens when a lump of metal moving at speed comes into contact with human flesh and bone. It’s not a pretty sight.