Howard Croft column: Was it incompetence and laziness or slippery connivance?

County Hall,  Northallerton.
County Hall, Northallerton.

During Christmas week I drove through the redesigned junction in Norton, where Welham Road, Church Street and County Bridge meet. I have always been uneasy when negotiating that spot, largely because of poor road markings and signage, but also because of drivers incorrectly assuming they had right of way and others surrendering their right of way, thus creating uncertainty and unexpected vehicle movements.

The new layout is from this point of view no better than the previous arrangement, partly because it is unfamiliar and therefore likely to improve, but from a traffic flow point of view it is disastrous. I observed no accidents during my wait to get to Malton, but I did see several near-misses, and it was obvious even to these rheumy old eyes that giving Welham Road precedence over Church Street is manifestly absurd – and dangerous.

How could a Highways official, presumably well-trained and experienced, make such a seemingly counter-logical decision without adequate explanation and cautionary signage? Does he/she know something that we do not? Then it came to me – a blinding glimpse of the bleeding obvious. The decision was made, not based on local knowledge or a site visit, but on inspection of a street map pulled from a drawer in County Hall.

Then other things began to make sense – sort of. During the infamous Wentworth Street Car Park saga, I had a great deal of fun lampooning the District Council, but never did I think that it would go through simply because Highways would never sign off on it. All the possible approach roads being narrow and residential with two pinch points, one already dangerous, could never be deemed suitable for thirty heavy goods vehicle movements a day. But, it was nodded through and I was surprised; remember that I was young and green in judgement at that time. The whole thing was a map exercise, no site visit needed. I see that now. The scales have fallen from my eyes.

I mentioned this epiphany, my own Damascene moment, to a friend who has long been in the trenches of local political skirmishing, knees brown, sand in his boots, full of years and full of wisdom. He was unimpressed. Consider who benefits, he said, from the new road layout in Norton. Without a doubt – Lidl, their customers and suppliers. Have they been lobbying?

So, there you have it; two possibilities. My theory, incompetence and laziness, or his theory, slippery connivance with commercial interests. Which would you rather 
live with?

On another subject altogether, I recently discovered that the kernels from apricot stones are poisonous, and so are rhubarb leaves. How this useful information escaped me for so many years I cannot explain, except to say that you can’t be everywhere at once. Had I ever felt inclined to do away with someone – and I have occasionally been so tempted – I would have overlooked readily available substances to bring it about.

I understand that both rhubarb leaves and apricot kernels are pretty unpalatable, so victims must be carefully selected, preferably men who were educated at boarding schools, where they would have been trained from an early age to eat anything put in front of them.

It would be easy to make a rich, heavily seasoned (obviously) soup from rhubarb leaves, followed by nut cutlets from apricot kernels, then invite round a few Old Etonians for a simple supper and Bob’s your uncle, well-educated corpses everywhere.

All this reminded me of a series of colloquia on complementary medicine, put on by the Royal Society of Medicine and attended by me as the Society’s publisher. It was to be my privilege to publish the proceedings. As you may know, our Royal Family are enthusiastic devotees of alternative medicine, and going by how long they live maybe they have a point. Prince Charles was there on a fact-finding mission.

The delegates ranged from the now respectable (acupuncturists) to the frankly batty, who were advocating such remedies as holding scrabble tiles in the mouth while humming the national anthem as a sure-fire cure for epilepsy. It is from this batty element that comes the notion that consuming apricot kernels, or extracts thereof, is a sure-fire way of clearing up cancer. Such substances are advertised on the internet. They do not claim to have a cure for cancer – that would be unlawful – but they do show testimonials from “satisfied” customers who do so claim (which is not unlawful). It is believed by the complimentary brigade that anything natural is harmless and probably good. Deadly nightshade is natural, as are apricot kernels and rhubarb leaves, but they are lethal.