Comparative idiot-proofing

Brits are smarter than Americans. Want proof? They’re surrounded by less idiot-proofing and they—or at least enough of them to keep the country staggering forward—survive.

Example number one: The cliffs here in north Cornwall are high and dangerous, and in places the footpaths run right along the edge. And no one builds a hand rail or fence (unless the fence is there to keep the cattle or sheep back; the humans are left to fend for themselves). For the most part, no one even puts up a sign. They’re cliffs. It’s assumed you’ll have sense enough not to walk off the edge. Besides, you’d have to fence off half the Cornish coastline if you wanted to protect everyone from themselves.

Our local beach does have a sign about falling rock on one side. People ignore it, but short of installing sheepdogs to herd them away, the council’s done as much as it’s willing to. No fences.

Penkenna, north cornwall

Irrelevant photo: The beach on a much nicer day than the day when I’m typing this. The gusts are high enough that I took the dogs on a stagger,  not a walk.

Example number two: Our car doesn’t have as many you-idiot buzzers as American cars, and I assume other people’s are the same. The makers count on you having the brains to take your key out of the ignition when you get out. In the U.S., they know better, because as it turns out I don’t have the brains–and let’s pretend for a moment that I’m typical of the human race. The other night, I not only left my key in the car, I left it turned so that it drained the battery. (On the positive side, the car was still where I left it.) So in the morning, when I went to drive Wild Thing to a doctor’s appointment (ah, yes, excitement; we were younger when she first got her name, but she still manages to live up to it) the car was dead, dead, dead.

You wouldn’t expect a person to complain about a car not insulting her intelligence, would you? But it does make me miss my insulting American car, which would’ve given me some sort of nasty you-idiot sound and I would have rolled my eyes and put the key in my pocket and sworn I didn’t need the reminder.

Here, the only thing I do (and I do it fairly regularly) to make my car give me the you-idiot noise is leave the lights on. You know, when it’s not dark enough for me to see that they’re on but overcast enough that they made me more visible. And then I forget I turned them on but the car—thank you, car—remembers.

When I drove cab—and we’re going back a few thousand years here—the company bought a bunch of new cars that, for the first time in Blue & White Cab Co. history, made a deeply aggressive you-idiot noise when the driver didn’t wear a seatbelt. A sizable percent of the drivers were of the Don’t You Tell Me What to Do persuasion, and they dealt with it by either fastening the belts permanently behind them or unplugging the wire between the belt and the screamy thing.

They even took a certain joy in it, as if they’d snatched back some control over their lives from an overwhelming and powerful system, and I do understand the impulse, just not the direction they take with it.

The going justification for not wearing a seatbelt was that we jumped in and out of the cab dozens of times a day—to open doors, to load and unload groceries and luggage, to ring doorbells and roust out passengers who said they’d be outside waiting for us but weren’t, so who could be bothered fastening and unfastening the damn thing each time?

Well, me, actually. Maybe it was just innate caution and maybe it was tales from friends and family who’d had their seatbelts fastened during accidents and had come through without a scratch. Maybe it was the accident I had, in a car with no seatbelt, where I ended up in the back seat with the lid of a coffee pot on my head and one boot still beside the gas pedal, ready to keep driving even without my foot to help it. I didn’t have a scratch on me, but I was dazed for the rest of the day.

We didn’t really jump out of the cab that many times a day. I mean, come on. Open the door for people? Only for the elderly and for people who needed to be, um, encouraged to leave. We weren’t fuckin’ limo drivers, trying to make our passengers think they were aristocrats.

Yes, cab driving did wonders for my attitude.

Anyway, I wear a seatbelt so regularly that it took me nine years to find out our current car screams when the driver doesn’t wear one. But I now officially miss all that other you-idiot buzzing. I not only had to ask our neighbor to drive Wild Thing to her appointment, I had to call the roadside assistance, which I’m grateful that we have because we don’t have a charger. While I waited for them, I was so pissed off that I tried out a hot cross bun recipe I’d found on the internet. I couldn’t think of anything else to do with myself. But the recipe turned out to have some uncertainties: How sticky a dough is a somewhat sticky dough? Is that bread flour or plain flour? Are those photographs really the buns you made or did you download it so we’d be impressed?

I used bread flour and left the dough too sticky, so the buns flattened out and even if they hadn’t they wouldn’t have been round anyway because I’m a practical baker, not a decorative one, plus they didn’t taste particularly like hot cross buns although they weren’t bad, and since I couldn’t be bothered putting a cross on top because the cross is decorative and I don’t have a lot of patience for that and would feel kind of weird about the religious symbolism anyway although I wouldn’t if I were buying them instead of baking them [quick pause for breath here], they ended up being cold secular buns. Not at all bad but not hot cross buns.

Then the guy came to jump the car and the world looked like a marginally better place. I don’t need a buzzer to keep me back from the cliff edges, but I will not complain about being insulted by my car.

If you want a cold secular bun, stop by soon. They’re going fast.