The Times, 3 January 2007


I don’t know how your year ended, but I got a tiny red iPod that cures AIDS in Africa, which makes me think I must have been very good last year. And a new pair of headphones (this is because I have just handed in my first novel, and could only edit it while listening to the Be Good Tanyas song, Ootischenia. My boyfriend said nothing about this; he simply clicked on my iTunes settings, and pointed mutely at the fact that it has been played 334 times since I bought it in November). The new phones fit inside my ears, and thus make me quiet as an annoying mouse.

These are my favourite presents, because they reduce the amount of noise space I occupy. There are moves to outlaw portable speakers from public transport in London, because everyone, even the congenitally deaf, would now happily see anybody using these abominations strapped to the front of the bus, and used as additional bumpers. Although the reason we don’t ask people to turn them off has nothing to do with the law. It’s because of the moral certainty that anyone who would use miniature speakers on the tube has no humanity at all, and is likely to have a knife in their other pocket, and very probably chemical weapons in their satchel.

So I’m not fighting a lone battle to take up less room, and in a crowded city, it’s vital. I would happily vote for any mayor of London who promised to levy a social congestion charge against those who take up too much space. We should start with wheeled suitcases. People using them take up approximately 6 times their un-wheeled space, and they have no comprehension whatsoever of their increased perimeter. At least fat people know, often too well, how much room they take up. The wheelers have no such self-awareness, and next time someone knocks me into the road with their ugly luggage, I want to know they’re paying £8 a day to maintain my pavements, and possibly to buy me a kitten (I have a Lib Dem council).

The charge would also be paid by anyone who wants to use a buggy which is more than four times the size of their child, or pramtechnicons, as they are known in my house. I bumped into a girl I was at school with a few weeks ago. She was visiting a friend for the afternoon, armed with her month-old baby in a sling, and a tiny handbag. So it clearly is possible to leave the house without most of its contents jammed into a pushchair, penning in your child, and giving it the look of a miniature rag-and-bone man. Yet people persist in using buggies which could double as small cars, in spite of the fact that it must make their lives harder. I once watched a woman slamming her child’s uber-buggy repeatedly into a shop doorway which was a good foot narrower than her giant pram. And she simply refused to give in – I presume something about the process of giving birth had made her think this was a fight she could win. She was, of course, wrong.

I want the pavements back. The fight starts now. But quietly.