Police believe that a man found dead on a busy traffic roundabout in West London earlier this week might have been there for weeks, or even months. “Whilst the unfortunate individual had only been dead for a matter of hours when he was found, we believe that he had been living on the roundabout for some time,” Inspector Andy Cobblers, of the Metropolitan Police’s Traffic Division, told a local newspaper. “When officers searched the roundabout they found a crude shelter constructed from plastic shopping bags and pieces of cardboard that had blown onto the roundabout.” Police still aren’t sure how the unidentified man came to be stranded on the roundabout, which regulates traffic coming from both the busy M4 motorway and the A4 trunk road. “We think that perhaps he was returning home from the pub drunk and tried to take a shortcut across the dual carriageway, but was startled and sought refuge on the roundabout,” muses Cobblers. “The traffic gets so busy at that junction during the day that escape would have been impossible. Even at night it is pretty busy, with lots of heavy goods vehicles making crossing the carriageway highly hazardous.”
Indeed, in recent months several motorists had reported seeing a wild figure in ragged clothes and sporting a huge straggly beard waving frantically at them from the roundabout. “They just thought he was some kind of vagrant,” says Cobblers. “Similarly, when the flowers planted on the roundabout as a feature were rearranged to form the word ‘Help!’, it was dismissed as a student prank.” Whilst a post-mortem has yet to be carried out, early indications are that the castaway died of malnutrition. “Food supplies on the roundabout are very limited,” says Cobblers. “We think that he was forced to sustain himself by eating the flowers and grass on the roundabout.” Police were alerted to the presence of a dead body on the roundabout by a council maintenance crew who had gone there to tend to the flower borders. “The London ‘Boroughs in Bloom’ competition is coming up,” explained a spokesperson for the local council. “So we were looking to tidy up all our roundabouts and traffic islands with a few flowers – if it wasn’t for our determination to improve upon last year’s bronze medal, that poor devil could have lain there undiscovered for years!” There has been much consternation amongst local residents about the length of time it took to find the deceased castaway. “It’s bloody outrageous,” declared Wilf Nadds. “If they want to do better than third place, they need to pull their bloody fingers out and tend to the flowers on these roundabouts all year round. To be frank, they’ll be lucky to finish in the top ten this year, the way they’ve let things go!”
However, the unidentified unfortunate found in West London isn’t unique – stories of people castaway on traffic islands and roundabouts are far commoner than most people realise. Only two years ago a Colchester man became a minor celebrity after his claims that he had spent eighteen months living on a concrete traffic island near Swindon. “It was smack bang in the middle of a busy junction – there was traffic from a motorway slip road whizzing past all the time. Trying to cross those lanes of traffic on foot would have been suicide,” claimed twenty four year old Stuart Dongle. “None of the drivers took a blind bit of notice of me, no matter how much I waved and shouted at them. After two days it became obvious that I would have no choice but to find a way of surviving there in the long term.” Survival, he soon realised, wouldn’t be easy, with the only shelter on the island being provided by a crash barrier, and no sources of food or water. “I got lucky on the third day – this plastic bag blew onto the island and I was able to stretch it across the top of the crash barrier to collect condensation and rainwater,” he says. “As the days went by, I was able to sustain myself on half-eaten burgers and apple cores discarded by passing motorists. You’d be surprised at the kind of stuff that washes up on traffic islands – I was eventually able to build a shelter from a wooden pallet that fell off of the back of a van, for instance.”
According to Dongle – who sold his story to a tabloid newspaper, before writing a bestselling book, Roundabout Crusoe, about his ordeal – he was deliberately stranded on the island after a disagreement with a lorry driver. “I was hitchhiking down to the West of England, when this HGV picked me up at a service station,” he recalls. “It was all going really well – he was going to drop me off in Gloucester – when he cut up this Vauxhall Vectra at a junction. When I chastised him for it, he flew into a rage, telling me I was an ungrateful hippy bastard and that if I didn’t like his driving, I could get out right there!” With that, the driver abruptly pulled up at the traffic island and threw Dongle out of his cab. “I kept thinking that he’d come back, but he didn’t,” the former hitchhiker recalls. “But he never did. Eventually I realised that I was going to have to find my own way off of the island.”
Using debris from accidents and other traffic mishaps which found their way onto the island, Dongle alleges that he was finally able to build a crude raft. “It took me over a year – the main body was made from milk crates, with mismatched wheels from a Renault Clio, a Ford Focus and a bicycle,” he says. “Even after it was finished, I had to wait four days before the traffic was calm enough to risk launching it. I had to swerve through four lanes of traffic, but, incredibly, I made it to the opposite embankment unscathed – amazingly, there were houses just on the other side of it!” Although doubts have been cast upon Dongle’s story – with one newspaper claiming that he had actually spent the eighteen months he was allegedly stranded working in a Burger King in Banbury – the Essex resident has subsequently written a second book, compiling the accounts of other traffic island castaways. Most controversial are the book’s claims about the fabled ‘Lost Roundabout of Atlantis’, an ideal society supposedly established on a large traffic roundabout by a group of castaways, which according to legend, sank into the tarmac during road works, never to be seen again.
“I know that most people think it is just a myth, but I’ve spoken to several motorists who claimed to have glimpsed it as they sped past,” he says. “Based on their sightings and the dying testimony of an old tramp who washed up on a central reservation in Wolverhampton, claiming to be a survivor of the roundabout, I’ve been able to establish its location as Newbury – some of the older local residents have told me they have vague memories of a roundabout that vanished overnight when the bypass was built.” Despite the fame it has brought him, Dongle claims to have been deeply affected by his ordeal. “After all those months of solitude, I find human company difficult to endure,” he recently told a TV documentary. “I also miss the constant sound of heavy traffic and the smell of exhaust fumes – even the busiest city centre seems too quiet and clean to me.” Consequently, Dongle now spends much of his time camping on a grassy roundabout close to his home in Colchester. “This one has a subway for pedestrians to cross the road,” he says. “So there’s no need for me to build a raft – I can leave any time I like.”