Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Deviations and Diversions

When I lived on the UK mainland, I used to say that one of the signs of spring was incipient roadworks. Words - usually in white paint - would appear scrawled on the road, accompanied by circles, arrows, or lines. I had become expert in predicting what these meant: pothole repair, repainting road markings, or even digging trenches along by the kerb and repairing drain covers. Sure enough, a few weeks later 'Men At Work' signs would appear, accompanied by what seemed to be miles of orange cones and barriers. Sometimes traffic lights were required. The roadworks had definitely arrived - and so had summer.

But moving to Guernsey brought me onto a higher level of road disruption. The roads here are so narrow - many of them do not even permit a bicycle to pass a car - that roadworks mean road closures. And road closures mean diversions. Lots of them. Roads in the area suddenly become one way - or one way roads might have to reverse direction, temporarily. Traffic is directed in a circle sometimes a couple of miles long simply because ten yards of road have become unusable. This affects both scheduled and emergency repairs alike.

Nor is the disruption confined to the summer. No, in Guernsey motorists have the privilege of experiencing diversions all year long. The local radio broadcasts hourly updates on road closures and the Guernsey Press -our newspaper - publishes them as well. No one is ever lost for a topic for small talk or dinner party conversation - it's a winner.

Sometimes the diversions can be particularly annoying, when they do not seem to be able to cope with the amount of traffic. (Note: in Guernsey, a traffic jam consists of more than 10 cars in a line waiting. We have too many cars for this small island, but even so do not have the press of traffic on the mainland.)

When I lived in Kenya, diversions were called deviations. Deviations they indeed were - invitations to chaos rather than inconvenience. Deviation from tarmac - usually on dusty tracks which had been made haphazardly along the side of the road being worked on. Or deviation from normal traffic rules: it would not be unusual to find opposing lines of traffic weaving in and across each other, every car searching for the easiest way through, regardless of the side of the road it was supposed to be on.

Diversion and deviation are used interchangeably. Yet our language also uses them differently. A diversion can be a distraction, often good: small children can be managed more easily when their attention is diverted away from their own demands. Yet a deviation has connotations of 'badness' - a deviation from the norm, something different.

Are we less willing to tolerate deviation than diversion?

No comments: