The traffic lights that lie on the road between Stockwell tube station and my flat are broken. Not a promising start, you might think, but I wouldn’t be writing about this if these traffic lights weren't the most amazing traffic lights I've ever encountered.
When I was younger, my grandma discovered – I know not how – that if you can't be bothered to wait around, there's a secret way for pedestrians to make the lights change to red immediately. To pull off this impressive trick, you simply press the button three times in quick succession and the lights will change, causing traffic to screech to a halt as you gleefully prance across the road.
But there are several hitches: a) it doesn't work on all sets of traffic lights b) it doesn't work if you don't get your button pressing timing right c) it doesn't work if the lights have only just changed to green. These three factors have led to problems when I've tried to convince people of the brilliance of the trick. I've frequently had to finish a failed demonstration by explaining weakly, "Well, it doesn't work on all traffic lights." This has meant that not everyone to whom I've revealed the trick has believed I'm telling the truth.
However, the brilliant thing about the Stockwell traffic lights is that the three-click trick isn't even required; as long as the lights have been green for a certain period of time, just one press of the button will immediately turn them red. This, as I often think to myself on my walk home from the tube, places all the power in the hands of the pedestrian. In being able to determine the exact moment that cars stop, and so potentially having an effect on factors such as what time drivers arrive at work, whether they'll miss being in a major life-changing accident up ahead and so on, the pedestrian is actually capable of changing the course of human history.
But now the Stockwell lights are broken. And I have a strange feeling that when are fixed, they'll have lost their unique power. The drivers will have regained the initiative.