Max Winchester Visits Bethlehem

Max hadn’t intended to visit Bethlehem. The truth is, geography never has been his strong point, and satellite technology isn’t either. When the word ‘Stable’ had come up on his TomTom, he’s assumed that it meant something completely different. He’d hit the ‘Go’ button – with a degree of his normal trepidation – and driven off into the night. Mrs Winchester, knowing the limits of her beloved husband’s technological skills, and aware that he’d left his trusty AA map at home, went to bed a little worried. In the morning, when his side of the bed had remained unslept in, she phoned the police.

No, they hadn’t had any reports of accidents, but thanked her for leaving her details. She heard the Community Support Officer on the other end of the phone snigger as she mentioned his satnav skills. As Mrs W. returned the old phone to its rest, she noticed his mobile on the chair. The battery was flat. Her faith in angelic beings looking after her beloved husband of forty years would be tested over the next few days – and it was. She slept not a wink that night, lying in bed imagining the worst. Or even worse.

If she had only checked with his credit card company in the ensuing week she would have found a series of petrol purchases across Germany, Austria, Croatia and Greece. (Greece was worrying.) And a huge cash withdrawal at Athens. Little did she know that as she lay in bed on the fourth night, their little Ford Fiesta was on board a ferry in the Med, headed for Haifa.

Max Winchester arrived at Haifa and continued to follow TomTom diligently. The man at the border had asked him for his passport, and he was relieved to realise he had on the same jacket he’d been wearing when they’d done their last international trip – Newhaven to Dieppe in the summer. The passport was in his inside pocket. What a stroke of luck! He still remained a little confused about how he had managed to travel so far when he’d only planned to go Christmas shopping at Bluewater. The Med had indeed appeared to be the only blue water he had been in close contact with since he’d left home. However, during his drive through Albania he had noticed a particularly bright star in the night sky. He’d found it strangely comforting – not least in the absence of Mrs W’s reassuring night-time warmth that he had snuggled up to for so many years. This shopping trip had not been quite what he’d imagined, and he knew there was no way he could do anything other than follow the satnav. He’d be lost without it.

He drove out of Haifa with his spirits high, and it was one in the morning when, having had a bit of a kip in the back seat, he checked the satnav again. Only ten miles to go!

The next city looked very unattractive. “Unemployment high here” he told himself as he surveyed the unkempt streets with their high walls covered with graffiti. Very down market. Poor. Not a very safe place to stay. He kept an eye open for a place where he could get a room for what was left of the night – with secure parking. Mrs W. would be very disappointed if he came home without the car.

So it was that a few minutes later a little inn attracted his attention, and he pulled over. This place really was the pits. The gum-chewing girl on reception was chatting up a bunch of locals who smelt of, well, the countryside, and through a doorway he could see there was clearly a lot of activity going on under the light in an old stable. He could hear a girl crying in distress. What on earth…

Max never forgot that out-of-this-world moment. It wasn’t the teenager giving birth, or the scruffiness of it all. It was as if a shaft of burning light like lightning pierced his heart on that December night.

And back in her warm bed, Mrs W. switched off the light, closed her eyes and slept like a baby.

Part 2 … Coming Home.

Driving through a red light?

Here’s an interesting story for you!

Last Wednesday I drove through a red light on the outskirts of Storrington, here in West Sussex.  It was at a road works, and the lights had locked onto red in both directions and were not changing. A two mile traffic jam resulted.

When would YOU go past a red light?

Once I had understood the situation, I turned my bike around and rode back to the lights, parked the bike and proceeded to direct traffic, like the good citizen I am. Within half an hour or so, with my encouragement, 200 or more other people had done the same and the rush-hour traffic jam was no more. It was perfectly possible to see past the road works (the works themselves were only the size of a large car with the two light masts set 3 metres apart from each other!) so there was no need for the lights, and as the nervous lady Community Support Officer turned on her heels I told her that I would be turning the broken lights sideways so traffic could flow again without me.

However: how is it that the CSO would not help the hundreds of stuck motorists but dismissed the problem with a wave of her hand?

Here is the conversation:

Her: “Excuse me sir, you can’t do that (me waving traffic through in turn, with drivers in both directions thanking me as they go past).”

Me: “Isn’t this what YOU are supposed to be doing?”

Her: “I’m not allowed to.”

Me: “But there are hundreds of motorists trying to get home.  Everwhere in Storrington (a mile away) is blocked solid because of this broken system”

Her: “Yes I know. I saw the queue when I was in Tescos(!). It happens. I’ve phoned the traffic light company and the police. They could be another two hours.”

Me: “Well, it seems I’m not so restricted in what I can do to help these people as you are.  I’ll continue to do this until the queues go, then we can turn the lights round so they face sideways. Then people will drive past without a problem.”

Her: “I can’t advise that. I’m not allowed to touch the lights. It is up to you.  I’m just going to walk back to my Land Rover.”

And she walked away.  And I cleared the traffic queues, made the necessary adjustments on my own, and everyone used their common sense and drove in turn past the parked-car sized obstruction without the slightest problem.

Yes, hundreds of drivers drove through a red light on Wednesday, including a fireman in his red car. I saw them. A few stopped, and pointed at the red light. I merely beckoned them on more ‘forcefully’ and they started again and drove on. And I wasn’t even wearing a yellow jacket.

Human beings are all too susceptible to mindless obedience. The Milgram Experiments and many like them have demonstrated that all too clearly. Robert Cialdini in his excellent book, Influence, describes the nature of social obedience.

And the moral to this story?

You decide, and write your comments below.