An Englishman Abroad…

Thinking again of the delightful Alan Bennett’s wonderful play, ‘An Englishman Abroad’ brings much to mind if one is an Englishman abroad.  Bennett wrote of the Soviets, that while the comrades were very good they could not do this that or the other.

An Englishman living in New Zealand often has similar thoughts.  The Kiwis have an abundance of strengths.  Most notable is the ability to use cows to turn grass into a very profitable endeavour and of course, the ability to play rugby union. How  and what then are my Kiwi friends lacking?

Well, frankly, certain things like level crossings.  Premier  Julius Vogel started the trouble by borrowing money and importing labour to build our railways in the 1860s.  He should not have done it.  The country is still is not ready for railways. Where’s is the evidence for this?

Over the last 10 years there have been more than 100 fatalities on New Zealand railways- about  one a month.  All these deaths have occurred on level crossings.  Others have occurred in tunnels and cuttings.  In every case, the person killed was walking along a rail track, through a tunnel or simply walking or driving across a track.  They simply don’t get it, that rail tracks are for trains.

Kiwis don’t seem to understand that when lights flash and bells ring, a train is coming.  If they do, they don’t see that a train driver can’t stop their juggernaut when they see someone sauntering along or across the track.  Nor do they appear to understand that driving through a red light when the bells are ringing is considerably more dangerous than running a red light in Mount Albert.

The only reason they do it, is because they don’t get it  and as a nation are not yet ready for level crossings.  If further proof is required it could be found on the New Zealand Herald’s website in the week before Easter.  It showed a crossing near Mount Eden railway station.  While the red lights flashing and the bells rang, four people crossed the track.  The fourth had a narrow escape – the train only missed her when she smartly stepped out of the way.

Sticking with transport and before moving on to escalators, why do Kiwis not get the hang of the middle door in buses?  Buses are easier to solve than railways but still problems.  New Zealand either buys its buses or has them designed overseas.  These designers know a thing or two about bus design.  They put two doors on the buses to facilitate an easier flow of people.

In all other countries I have visited, and that is at least 25, their buses are sorted.  Not so New Zealand  passengers get on the bus at the front and off via the middle door. (though these days  Covid-19  forces them in and out of  the back door) .

It’s puzzling, that if this delightful nation of delightful people  who wilfully forget that trains are potential killers  or that buses pre-plague and buses were once  scrums, then  why you may ask  why on earth should they be  allowed to have escalators?  As six year old boy visiting London in the first-half of 1949, I was struck at the  sight of  moving staircases in tube stations and large department stores.   How ubiquitous they  were (and are!)

But… there have to be some rules  and  sadly, Kiwis have yet to master them. To find how bad Kiwis are on escalators  just watch. Spend a few minutes observing people on escalators in Britomart railway station or better still at 277 Broadway in Newmarket.

Most countries have  an escalator etiquette, but not here. For example, in Sydney, escalator passengers stand on the left rather than walk up the escalator.  In London, passengers stand on the right for the same reason.  It’s habit  universally  accepted  that  people in a hurry can easily pass standing passengers.

No such thing here. Looking at a well loaded escalator, passengers are all over the place the whole length of one. It’s impossible for anyone in a hurry to hurry.  Despite notices at Britomart asking people to stand to the left, Kiwis simply don’t  seem  to get it.

It seems if there is a rule for escalators in New Zealand, it is that if you think you are on your own on an escalator, you stand neither left nor right but plumb in middle.  Careful observation reveals the bigger a person’s arse, the more accurately they place themselves in the centre of the escalator.  Very  effective in preventing even the slimmest of people passing.

The best examples of escalating Kiwis is best observed at 277 Broadway in Newmarket.  Here, some of the escalators have mirrors on either side.  The glossy carrier-bag loaded passengers stand centrally on the escalator and spend the time staring at themselves in the mirrors.  The mirrors and the ever-moving escalator enable them to view themselves from all angles.  Not only do they turn and pirouette but their friends do as well, as they chatter away to each other.  It’s impossible to pass them no matter how politely they are asked.  Even if it were possible to pass them it would be to no avail because a few metres in front of them there would be a similar group.

But wait, there is worse.  Frequently when groups of shoppers get to the end of the escalator after spending the time looking at themselves and chatting, they step off the escalator with no idea where they want to go.  They step off and stop. And then, predictably, other passengers pile up behind them like a motorway crash.

There is hope that Kiwis will  finally get the hang of railways lines, trains and of course, reflections  of themselves on  the rather more glamorous  escalators. And here’s  a final cause for  celebration – there are signs that Kiwis are finally coming to terms with roundabouts when they’re driving.

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John Anderson is a retired, British born steelworker. He enjoys writing exaggerated versions of the truth and is as wary of news media interviews as he was 53 years ago.