The Independent, 12 February 2013

Say goodbye to Tufty the Squirrel. It has come to my attention that road safety adverts for children — which have been on TV one way or another since the 1960s — are being axed. Budgets at the Department of Transport have been reprioritised, a usage which has surely caused Orwell to spin in his grave. We’re all in this together, you’ll recall. Particularly those of us whose heads are near bumper height.

Although, now I think about it, a squirrel was in no place to offer road-crossing advice. How many times have you seen a flattened squirrel on the road? I see at least one a week, which implies that far too few of them have been looking both ways and checking for hazards.

But since the Department of Transport has decided that the next generation can take their chances, I would like to provide this handy guide to road crossing at any age.

  1. Look both ways before you cross. Then look again. Is that erratic driver swerving because he or she is pothole-dodging, on the phone, or drunk? Err on the safe side: don’t cross.
  2. Follow step 1 even when it’s a one-way street. That high-pitched whining sound is someone reversing at speed in the opposite direction to the way the arrows are pointing. Leap out of the way. Try not to learn or recall any of the names the driver just called you
  3. Be aware of the ‘They Don’t Mean Me’ philosophy. Many drivers think that rules, like taxes, are for the little people. Why stop at a zebra crossing, or even a red light, when it’s so inconvenient? They don’t mean me, thinks the driver who swoops through, one hand on the steering wheel, the other holding mobile phone to ear. This driver is a sociopath. Stay on the pavement.
  4. Listen before you step into the road. If you hear a car, don’t cross. If you don’t hear a car, check you’re not about to be mown down by a Prius. I once borrowed one of these hybrids, and had to put my head on the steering column to tell if the engine was running. Shhh.
  5. Anyone driving an SUV or similar, anywhere other than on rough terrain, is an idiot. Chances are they’ll drive like one. This is doubly true if the driver is the only person in the car.
  6. Any minor inconvenience to a driver means they are owed one by the world. This includes you. If a lane is closed, for example, this justifies swerving into another lane without indicating, and speeding for the next five miles. Observing other road users is now optional. Don’t cross.

The Germans are brilliant at creating compound nouns, like Blitzkreig (lightning-war): smashing one word into another to make a whole new one which derives extra impact from its formation. So it seems right to applaud any chance for them to create another. And the plight of former education minister Annette Schavan is just such an opportunity. Ms Schavan has had to resign from her post, after being stripped of her doctorate last week by Heinrich Heine University, which has alleged that she plagiarised her thesis, 33 years ago.

For the education minister – who oversees universities amongst other duties - to resign in such circumstances, is so horribly apt that Schadenfreude (harm-joy) doesn’t really cover it. Surely no-one would take joy in her downfall, unless they were her political enemies. But a word needs to be coined to describe the ugly satisfaction one gets when something simultaneously so neat and nasty occurs. Schavan-freude? Anyone?