There is a mini roundabout at the bottom of our road. I don’t know how long it’s been there, I don’t know who decided to put it there. I do know, however, that its presence has never been fully embraced by the small rural community where it now finds itself.
It is the stuff of rural legend that ‘newcomers’ to villages and hamlets in Scotland may have to wait two or three patient generations before they are regarded as belonging to said village or hamlet. The same appears to hold true for migrant roundabouts.
This roundabout sits at the end of the main street, where previously there would have been a 3 pronged fork in the road. Many locals act as though the fork remains, genteelly refusing to acknowledge the Highway Code governing normal behaviour at roundabouts. On countless occasions I have witnessed two cars arriving there at the same time and their drivers commencing a simple ritual. If I was an anthropologist I would perhaps call this ‘the waving on’.
I confess I am not sure of the rules involved in ‘the waving on’ ritual. Perhaps seniority takes precedence, perhaps whomever’s spouse has most recently been admitted to hospital for a minor procedure has right of way. Locals, especially the wiser and more experienced ones, seem to know instinctively and, after both parties have politely indicated that the other should go first (sometimes just once, but often as many as 3 times), the person nearer the top of the pecking order drives off. The complex rules also appear to have a clause for people new to the village; in two years of living here I have been consistently unsuccessful in my attempts to be ‘the waver on’.
Not all users are local, of course, and it can be fun to watch the puzzled faces of outsiders, brows wrinkling, when locals tease them by including them in the unfamiliar ritual.
Having failed to convince so many residents of its given purpose, the roundabout has carved out a new niche for itself. It is a picking up and dropping off spot for passengers. (There are 4 adjacent stretches of road each of which would also be suitable for this, but they are ignored.) It is a place for the exchanging of greetings and gossip through wound down windows. Drivers joining the queue when an exchange is in full flow will happily wait until everyone is ready to move off again. It is used by drivers of both tractors and buses to practise their three-point turns.
In summer, on hot days it is the sprawling ground for several cats – though only ever one at a time (I don’t know if they have some kind of cat rota).* In winter, after a cold night turns snow to ice, the roundabout marks the end of a street long sledge run.
Much of the time the roundabout has 3 exits, the most minor one splitting in 2 after a few feet. Occasionally – like something out of a sci-fi novel – a 4th exit opens and closes in a matter of seconds. This additional exit is nothing more extraordinary than a garage door, but even having seen it happen many times my stomach still does an flip of alarm when a car drives straight over the roundabout seemingly into the house wall. It’s somehow less alarming when the garage door swings opens and a car reverses out onto the middle of the roundabout.
A few weeks ago we went though a roundabout rite of passage when driving down the road at the start of a day out. We spotted one of our neighbours walking back up the road from the village shop. Knowing they were going away that day on a month-long trip we slowed to a halt, electric window widening, to ask if we could be of help plant watering or picking up post. I didn’t notice our car creeping forward a few feet onto the actual roundabout. A minute or so later, turning away from our neighbourly chat to glance out of the driver’s window I met the puzzled look of an unfamiliar driver who’s car I was entirely blocking with mine. I gave him an apologetic nod. Then, after giving an even more apologetic nod to our neighbour – who clearly felt the other driver was rudely interrupting us – I drove off.
*I believe the cats choose the warm tarmac of the roundabout over that of the pavement because cars give them space and respect, whereas children do not.