What’s the most sensible thing you’ve ever heard someone say?

This following piece is something I started to write ages ago about a policeman that used to visit all the local schools where I grew up and teach us road safety. It was a great excuse for a day outside of the classroom, and we got given really cool badges and wallets with STOP. LOOK. LISTEN. written on them. Even now I can turn to my siblings if they cross the road dangerously and say “P. C. Lister is ashamed of you”. He’s probably in his sixties now, I wonder how he’d feel if he knew he was used as a threat!

* * * *

After all these years I still have a soft spot for P. C. Lister. For almost all of you his name will draw a blank, mean nothing. But for those of us that attended Terrington St. John County Primary School he was the epitome of road safety. He came in dressed in his finery (policeman’s uniform, something to which I am still rather partial), and taught us the basic rules of the green cross code.

Stop. Look. Listen.

What I remember I remember as precisely as it happened: filing in single file to the school all. All 96 pupils, aged from 4 to 11, sitting cross legged on the floor. The school was build in the Victorian era to serve as the village school (replacing the house I grew up in, which was once a one-room school room next to the church). The hall would probably be tiny if I visited today, barely big enough for ten rows of ten children; but it seemed huge to me then, outlined by shadows of old trees, and intimidating in the early morning light.

His visit was foretold, of course, and our parents informed. Our regular class schedule broken up and a whole glorious morning of being free from spelling and counting and sums stretched ahead of us. Of course, we didn’t know what the Green Cross Code was, nor did we care, we skipped into the hall as happy and compliant as birds.

And P. C. Lister said Stop. Look. Listen.

Crossing roads safely probably concerns very few children anymore, as the world’s population spreads to cities with wide pavements and light up crossings every hundred feet. But in our tiny winding villages, with their double parked cars and blind corners, road safety was a dire threat, and we composed ourselves solemnly, as though a terrible, belligerent driver might tear around the corner at any moment, mounting the curb and taking us out one at a time.

And so the schools would invite P. C. Lister to come and talk to us, handing out free information to make sure we would approach road safety with the appropriate level of concern.

Stop. Look. Listen.

I don’t know why this memory stays with me like it does, but it is the only thing I can think of when having the choose the most sensible thing I have ever heard someone say. Surely, it’s not the most important, the most interesting, or the most life changing. It’s not even the most frequent advice I’ve been given (that would most likely be awarded to “follow you heart”, or other cliched expression meant to liberate me). But it has stayed with me forever.

Stop. Look. Listen.

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