January 27, 2013

It’s hard to believe that so many drivers don’t know what the little stick thing with the button at the top is for. The one between them and the passenger.

It’s a handbrake.

The idea is, when parking, you pull it on, and it stops your car from rolling away. (That said, I have to admit there have been a couple of occasions when I had to chase my car down the street.)

But that’s by the way.

The other use for a handbrake is when you come to traffic lights and they are red. You brake. Pull on the handbrake. Select neutral gear. Then take your feet off the pedals.

What could be simpler?

So, how come many people don’t actually use it? Instead, they sit in front of you with their foot firmly on the brake pedal.

Was a time when cars had two brake lights, one on either side, and down low. Now, however, most have an extra strip of laser-bright red LEDs at a height which precisely matches the eyeball height of the driver behind.

On a dark night you invariably have one of these never-use-the-handbrake clowns in front of you, and their intense eyelevel brake light is melting your eyeballs.

Obviously they never look in their rear view mirror, because if they did they would see a furious, demonic luminous red face glowering at them.

And when they eventually take their foot off the brake to draw away, the after-image of their brake light is burned into you retina to the extent that you don’t realise they’ve gone.

Just another example of the thoughtless, inconsiderate, lazy driver.

That brake light after-image could explain so many UFO sightings, though. “It was amazing… this red light seemed to dance in front of me. Wherever I looked it was there; just in front of me… until it melted through a wall. And my car didn’t.”

So, to those drivers: the brake pedal is for slowing you down and stopping. Its purpose is not to stop you from rolling away. That’s what the handbrake is for.

The driver behind you would like me to pass that message on to you.

Drew McAdam



April 16, 2011


So, Land Securities who own The Centre in Livingston is going to start charging for parking. Well, that’s good news. It really is.

Well, it’s good news if you happen to be a shopowner in any of the county’s towns other than Livingston. If you run a little hardware store, grocery shop, hairdressers, Post Office or stationery shop then your business is about to rocket.

For years now we’ve grown accustomed to “nipping down to the centre” for odds and ends.  You need a pair of shoelaces? Or a lightbulb? No problem. Zip into the centre carpark, run into the shop, grab what you need and get out again quick.

Livingston residents didn’t really think about it. A pen, or a newspaper – some small item that you urgently needed – you would jump in the car, zoom down to The Centre, pull into a parking space, get what you needed and be gone again within minutes.

Easy and free car parking was always one of the major attractions of using The Centre.

But that’s no longer the case. Now, a pair of shoelaces will cost you 50p, plus whatever they decide to charge for the pleasure of shopping there. That’ll be right.

Want to post a letter? Or check your bank statement? Then add the parking charges. And if you think you’ll be able to park in the streets around the centre, we have been warned of “resultant traffic management issues”. You can bet you life the area will be crawling with Parking Wombles.

And if you think you can go by bus, think again. Have you ever tried getting a flat-pack wardrobe onto a bus? Or what if you get your purchase home and find it doesn’t work? That’s right; back you go and pay the parking charges again!

I predict that sales over the Internet will rocket throughout the county.

You know, I have shopped at – and supported – the centre since 1976, when Woolco was the only shop that was there. Remember that?

Well, no more.

There are plenty of little towns around the county that offer quick and simple shopping – with no parking fees. If you’re a butcher, a baker or candlestick maker in Broxburn, Bathgate, West Calder and so on… you have a new customer the minute they turn the ticket machines on.

And I suspect I’ll not be the only one. Good news for you, eh?

Drew McAdam


July 31, 2010


I’m writing this column while I’m on the phone. Waiting to speak to somebody – anybody.

It’s a long story, but the nub of it is that I was driving along minding my own business when another driver decided to switch lanes without looking, and sideswiped me. Annoying enough, but the really annoying part is trying to get through to my insurance company on the phone. A company, mark you, to which I have paid an entire years salary and financed their company Christmas party over the time I’ve been with them.

They’ll take you money quickly enough, but just try contacting them when you need them.

So far I have listened to the “Please keep holding as your call is important to us, and will be answered as soon as possible.” speech so often I could start screaming and never stop. In some countries, you know, they use that as a method of psychological torture to break hardened terrorists.

But they won’t break me; even if it IS costing me £40 a minute and I’ve already started drooling.

Mind you, to soften the blow they are playing a selection of Frank Sinatra songs: nice, if you happen to like Ol’ Blue Eyes. But they could have been more discriminating in their selection of songs.

“Talk to Me” (1959)”, “Don’t Wait Too Long” (1965), “Accidents Will Happen” (1950), “As Time Goes By” (1961), “Five Minutes More” (1946), “Where Are You?” (1957). Over and over, these songs are repeated, including “I’ve Heard That Song Before” (1961), and “There Goes That Song Again” (1943).

And as for the line from “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (1963), it runs: “Don’t you know, little fool, that you never can win.” Well, not only have they got under my skin, but also right up my nose. 

Hang on… I’m through. “Yes, I can hold… don’t see why not – I’ve become well practiced at it over the past hour and a half… Did you have a nice holiday?”

Hello? Hello?

Sod this for a game of soldiers. I’m going to drive to their HQ somewhere outside Birmingham and fill out the accident claims form in person. Let’s face it, it will be quicker. And I won’t have to listen to the endless greatest hits of Frank Sinatra.

Drew McAdam


July 26, 2010


News just out: the Government says it wants to “end the war with motorists”, and so is going to end its central funding for fixed speed cameras.

Now, there are around 6,000 speed cameras scattered around the UK, and they generate £100m in fines each year, so it seems odd that they would want to wave goodbye to that – but they do. Hmmm.

More news just out: hi-tech, infra-red, number plate recognition camera devices that are linked into a single server network and draw on global positioning satellites have been undergoing secret trials in the UK. We only know this because it was revealed in a parliamentary report.

And now it makes sense. Forget the old flash-flash boxes at the side of the road. This system, known as SpeedSpike, can monitor thousands of vehicles at the same time, even on little-used back roads.

The manufacturer claims the cameras used to collect the information are small and cheap – so cheap that they could even be used to reduce the need for speed bumps on smaller roads.

The cameras then communicate with each other. The average speed over your journey is calculated, and if your vehicle has travelled too far in a set time then you’ve broken the speed limit somewhere along the route. Bang. You get a ticket.

Spies in the skies. Satellites to watch your speed and fine you if you step over the mark. Who would have thought? It certainly doesn’t sound like the Government is ending the war with motorists; it sounds more like an escalation!

So, what does the Government have to say about THAT? Well, the Home Office said it was unable to comment on the trials because of “commercial confidentiality”. Honestly, I’m not making this up.

Well, I have some news for the “unable to comment”, sneaky, deceptive bureaucrats behind this one… There are an incalculable number of roads where – thanks to the potholes that would make a Third World jungle track look inviting – it’s impossible to even reach the speed limit without your car tearing itself to pieces leaving little more than shredded tyres and a scattering of bolts in its wake.

If you want to end the war with motorists, try spending money on sorting that, rather than hi-tech outer space gadgetry to spy on your citizens.

Drew McAdam


May 17, 2010

Have you ever noticed the little grey boxes that are perched on top of traffic lights? They look like cameras, though they are actually sensors.

My understanding – though I could be completely wrong – is that they work on the same principle as security lighting. It detects your vehicle and changes the traffic light to green. The fancy name is demand-actuated traffic signals.

Great idea. Keeps the traffic moving, saves on fuel, let’s everybody get on their way. Because, let’s face it, there are few things more frustrating than being parked in a line of vehicles with every traffic light at red and nothing coming the other way. Anybody who has sat in a queue for twenty minutes at the Kirknewton junction of the main-route A71 with every light on red at that ridiculous forest of traffic signals knows what I mean.

As far as I can see, almost every set of traffic lights in rural West Lothian has a sensor, yet only a tiny percentage of them actually work. The sensors at the nasty junction on the Blackburn Road from West Calder is one of very few that function perfectly. When you approach the lights they turn green. Great!

Unfortunately, that is the exception rather than the rule.

Now, while making the journey for motorists easier is a good thing, it’s not the main reason for complaint.

I wonder what the cost of each of these hundreds of sensors might be? And how many are there throughout West Lothian? It all adds up to a pretty penny, I’ll wager. And if they are not actually working – if they are faulty – then what a mammoth waste of money THAT is.

And another thing: if they are faulty, then surely the company that installed them is responsible for repairing them. I mean, if I bought a dozen security lights and found that 11 of them gave up the ghost I would at the very least be demanding a refund.

It’s just one more thing Oor Cooncil needs to sort out. It may not be much, but it is indicative of Oor Cooncil’s attitude towards just about everything: If it ain’t working, just ignore it. Of course, fixing all these niggling little problems would mean actually organising a repair programme, which in turn would require decisions and meetings and committees and so on.

Too much like hard work.

So I have an idea. We could drill a coin-sized hole in the metal casing of each sensor. They’re the perfect size to make into bird boxes! At least then they would be of some use.

Drew McAdam


April 26, 2010


In recent years successive government departments have promoted buses as an efficient way to combat global warming and traffic gridlock. We are encouraged to leave the car at home and catch the Number 44.

Sounds sensible on the face of it. But if you apply a smattering of logic it becomes obvious that it’s utter nonsense.

Consider this: even if the bus IS more efficient and greener – which I very much doubt – when sitting at a bus stop it creates a tailback of parked cars, all of which are producing more greenhouse gasses than if they were allowed to simply carry on their way.

And have you noticed that when you do finally manage to get clear of the bus that’s been holding back the line of cars (and there will be another just ahead, don’t worry) it’s carrying only one or two passengers? A great big bus with a great big engine pumping God-knows-what into the atmosphere so that two people and a dog can get to The Buroo. Hardly sounds like a way to save the planet.

Now, buses are probably a good idea at rush-hour, granted. But for the other 11 hours it’s the stop – go – stop journey these wheeled boxes create for all the cars stuck behind them that really irks. With every stop, more cars join the queue until the bus is leading a mile-long procession through the town.

This isn’t helped by the number of bus stops, either. Take Polbeth; a village hardly a half mile from beginning to end. But it has eight bus stops – plus a temporary stop – within the village. And just yards outside the boundary there are another four! That’s thirteen places where a bus can block the street and create a jam, keeping a line of busy individuals and delivery trucks from going about their business, while a couple of dozy passengers fumble around in bags and pockets looking for the right change. And that’s just one village. Does that sound sensible to you?

Yet drivers put up with it every day. The next time you’re driving around a West Lothian town, try driving at bus-speed and stopping every 100 yards to ask whoever happens to be on the pavement if they have change of a fiver. I guarantee you won’t get very far before one of the drivers in the following cortege pulls you from the vehicle and gives you a hefty slap – or the police pull you over. But buses get away with it.

The conclusion? If you want to free up the traffic and reduce air pollution in West Lothian it might make more sense to reduce the number of buses trundling around our roads, and encourage people to take the car.

Drew McAdam


February 1, 2010


Do you know what a VMS is? No? Well, I’ll tell you.

It’s a Variable Message Sign. In other words, those electronic message signs on motorway gantries that give motorists up-to-date traffic information.

I was approaching one in almost white-out blizzard conditions recently and could hardly make out what it said through the swirling snowstorm. Only when almost underneath it was I able to read: “Caution. Heavy Snow”

Sheeesh. Really?

And it got me thinking. Would it be possible to hack into the system and leave your own messages?

I asked some of my friends what message they would put up there, and I have to tell you there were some belters. Suggestions included “Remember To Buy Milk And Bread” and “He’s Behind You! :o”.

I thought that “Look Up!” was pretty good, too.

Other contributors offered such gems as: “There’s Someone In Your Boot”, “You’re Going The Wrong Way” and “Zombie Area”.

Another favourite was “Sign Out Of Order”.

 Wouldn’t it be great if instead of the usual patronising, pointless messages – about checking your fuel, tiredness and not to take drugs – the person who types the messages at Motorway Command Centre decided to get creative. Or drunk.

The operator could flash up things like: “Ignore This Message” or “Aircraft On Hard Shoulder Ahead”.

If his keyboard has punctuation marks he could even flash ” (.)(.) “. Think about it.

Motorway driving would become so much more fun! Me? If I could hijack one of these VMS thingys on the M8 I’d type in “Whitburn Closed. Plague”.

However, my absolute favourite, suggested by one particularly warped mind, was the message “”REMEMBER: UK SWITCHES TO DRIVING ON RIGHT AT NOON TOMORROW. £400 NON-COMPLIANCE PENALTY – HIGHWAYS AGENCY.”

Come to think of it, maybe the Highways Agency should employ this contributor to come up with some new slogans.

Give control of the motorway gantry messages to those who have a sense of humour and imagination, I say.

Drew McAdam