MY WEEK: Why did the villager cross the road?

To halt the lorries’ rat run;

MY WEEK TONY FULLER The pensioner tells how his repeated use of a crossing caused a four-mile tailback

9 May 2010
The Sunday Times
As told to Audrey Ward

 

DRIVEN TO DEMONSTRATE I and some of the other locals in Chideock have said for a long time that we ought to protest about the lorries using our Dorset village as a rat run between Plymouth and Southampton. One lady suggested we lie down in the middle of the road. I told her I loved the idea but it wasn’t going to work. It would have been illegal and very dangerous.

I had heard the council planned to put in a pedestrian crossing near my house and I suggested that when it was installed we could use it to make our point legally and properly. I’ve written about 50 letters to MPs, MEPs and the Highways Agency to complain about the traffic and pollution but nothing was done. You get brushed aside — they all say things that mean nothing.

I’m a 77-year-old retired aircraft fitter and I have never protested before. I’ve paid my dues, I’ve kept my nose clean, I don’t even swear. I never wanted to protest but I had to.

ONE-FINGERED SALUTE We began our protest on the last day of April and we protested again on Tuesday and Friday. There were about 25 of us.

We’re not confrontational, we just want to get a point across.

We did think about the local people — we don’t want to upset anybody — so we didn’t start until 10am to allow people to get to school and go about their business. We pressed the button on the crossing and went across as a tidy little crowd when the green man appeared. When we got to the other side the pedestrian lights turned red, we pressed the button again and waited like good little boys and girls.

We were carrying placards with slogans such as “Give us back our village”, “People before profit” and “Pollution kills”.

Some of the drivers applauded, tooted their horns and gave us the thumbs up. However, we got quite a few single-digit salutes from the lorry drivers and the language that goes with them. One young lady had been waiting for ages at the front of the queue and the lights stopped her a second time before she could drive through the crossing. She shouted, put her foot down and drove on. A policeman made her reverse into a car park and gave her a ticket for jumping the red light. I shouldn’t have found it funny, but I did.

READY FOR PRISON In between each red light about six vehicles passed. In the space of an hour we had a four-mile queue, which just shows the volume of traffic going through the village. Nobody who visits can believe the size of the lorries. They just go hurtling by not 6ft from my window.

I’ve been here for eight years and the situation is getting worse. At about 2pm we started our protest again and finished an hour later. I wrote to the police after the first protest to tell them I was grateful for their attendance. I also told them I had heard someone in the shops saying if we did it again he would drive right through us. I thought the police ought to know.

On Tuesday evening the police officer called me and said: “You realise you’re doing something illegal; we’ve had hundreds of phone calls from motorists.” I told him I didn’t think it was illegal, so he said his inspector would have something to say about that. I haven’t heard anything from the inspector yet. I’m prepared to do whatever is necessary. If it means a fine, I shall not pay it. I’m prepared to go to prison if need be.

DORSET EVACUEE I wrote some poetry on Wednesday evening to relax. I’ve had three books published — my latest is called My Dorset. They’re about the countryside around here, the places and the people. I live here with my wife and I get my inspiration from the rolling hills, the beautiful valleys and while walking on the seashore.

I was born in the East End of London and was evacuated with two of my sisters in 1941. I was sent to a family here in Dorset and I was pleased my sisters ended up living with the family next door.

However, when I met the girls the next morning to walk to school with them, they wouldn’t talk to me. It turned out that the family they were placed with and the family I was with didn’t get on so they had been told to ignore “that nasty boy next door”.

I stayed with the lady of the house and her husband until the end of the war when I returned home to London, but in 1949 I got rheumatic fever so I came back to Dorset to stay with them and convalesce. They were like surrogate parents to me. They’re buried in the village and I sometimes go over to the graveyard and have a little weep.