Believe it or not, left-side traffic was once more widely practiced than keeping to the right. When the horse was still king of the road, travellers liked to keep their sword hand free in case of a hostile encounter. And as most were right-handed, they kept to left. Eventually, this turned into a custom, and later, into a law.
Driving on the “wrong side” of the road is actually not as difficult as it may sound and I got used to it quite quickly. However, nobody prepared me on going round a multi-lane roundabout the “wrong way”. To this day I often end up in the wrong lane, trying to follow the correct arrows on the tarmac that tell me in cryptical abbreviations in what direction they are leading and making me feel like a code-breaker, desperately trying to make sense of the different number and letter combinations. Add to this the lovely soundtrack of car horns and you get the picture.
The problem is, they are everywhere in Britain – more than 10,000 – and people’s relationships with roundabouts is very special here. In 2012, protesters camped on a roundabout in Leek to keep it instead of heaving it replaced with traffic lights. There even exists the UK Roundabout Appreciation Society that to this day awards the ‘Roundabout of the Year’ which is currently held by a roundabout in Tewkesbury featuring on its traffic island a 5m tall sculpture to commemorate the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. It might come as no surprise that the modern roundabout was standardised by a British engineer, Frank Blackmore in the 1960s.
And as there is no escaping, let’s just say I have done, and occasionally still do, my extra rounds, muttering and cursing under my breath, getting slightly dizzy, the world spinning like I’m sitting in a merry-go-round until I find myself flung out in some random direction, going somewhere I didn’t intend to. But I will get where I want in the end, it just takes those extra rounds longer. And that’s why it’s called a roundabout. Because it gets me round about where I want to go.