Relative Sanity

a journal

Are you sitting comfortably?


He's not so much whining as pleading at this point, and he's right — I'm being completely irrational, but I'm struggling with this. I know it's irrational, I know I'm wrong, yet there's some part of me that's physically resisting the simple change to go from being stubborn, stuck-in-his-ways old fart to sane member of modern society.

"Please dad…" his voice is starting to crack. He's beginning to panic. I can see it in his eyes, the way they're widening slightly, the way he's unconsciously looking round, worried that we'll get caught, get in trouble, or worse, the thing he's worried will happen will actually happen. "Dad," he's getting quieter now, clearly trying to be the grownup to my stubborn, petulant child.

"Dad, put your seatbelt on"

Inconsistent insanity

I lock eyes with him and wonder why this is so hard. If we were in the car, I'd have belted up without batting an eye, and they would both be locked down to within an inch of the seat backs, Jess essentially unable to move, and me getting grumpy should I sense Josh even thinking about trying to open the window. I remember those adverts when I was a kid, the ones where the passenger in the back seat turns into a stampeding elephant during a crash at 40mph. I've seen Death Proof and, thanks to my childhood education, I fully believe every horror visited upon the cast.

When I was a kid, of course, seatbelts were still going through that awkward transition from neat feature to required-by-law. My mum learned to drive when I was about five, and yet I never had a car seat. Never really had a booster seat, in fact. The closest we got was a little red deep-pile cushion that helped raise me up maybe an inch. I don't remember ever wearing a seatbelt in the back of our Mini. In fact, I think we had to have them fitted when seatbelts became required in the back as well as in the front.

I may, of course, be misremembering some details. What I clearly remember, though, was being completely apoplectic about my Grandma's attitude to her seatbelt. She was extremely claustrophobic, and literally could not put the belt on. She resorted to pulling the belt over herself and holding it by the clasp. I didn't realise this was what she had been doing till years later, and remember having a stern word with her.

Stern words

"Dad, do you want to smash your skull?" Josh is laying it on the line for me now. "Do you want to kill your family if we're in a crash? You'll be bouncing around the inside of this taxi like a… a… like Yoda!"

I wonder what they've been showing him at school. Has Death Proof made it on to the curriculum?


I'm not going to win this, don't even want to, but still it's a struggle. I manage a gritted-teeth "fine" and start fishing for the belt. The cab is already moving, has been for ages, and I notice that Anisa isn't belted in either (having seen to the kids first). I don't mention this. Not yet, anyway.

I find the belt and then realise that I've never actually belted up on the folding seat in a cab. I reach down to where I reckon the clasp should be and… nothing. Where is it? Is it defective? What the hell? I stretch the belt as far as it goes (not far), surmising that this gives me a maximum range to search for the clasp. We go over a bump, and since I'm leaning over, unbalanced, I bounce along with it, losing my footing. I recover, but not soon enough to stop Josh gasping like he's just watched me fall over a cliff.

This is how I feel when you stare on tiptoes over the stairwell railings, son.

I finally find the clasp, way lower than I expected. I pull it towards the belt and fit it in, immediately feeling constricted and uncomfortable. But Josh visibly relaxes. He looks drained, then smiles and turns to look out the window.

This wasn't a victory for him. It was a rescue.

Of course, none of this makes any sense. Why do I think that somehow a cab is safer than a car? I've tried the experiment before — driving off without the seatbelt on in a car feels about as safe as walking down a railway tunnel. And yet, put me in a black cab, and my mind decides it's completely safe to leave the belt off. In fact, putting the belt on made me feel less safe, more trapped, more insecure thanks to the extra security.

The next day we head back into town. On the bus.

Nobody even thinks to reach for the belts that aren't there anyway.