Wednesday August 18, 2004
Some days I wake up, take stock of the world about me, and wonder if perhaps everyone but me has been abducted by aliens overnight, to be returned in the morning, slightly changed, and not for the better.
It’s a phenomenon that doesn’t become apparent the moment I open my eyes, nor as I step out of bed, groan at the impact of gravity on my spine, and wander off in the direction of the bathroom and the coffee pot. It takes longer than that. Generally, I first notice it when I sit down to view the morning news. That’s when I’m likely to conclude that the world has changed while I’ve slept. Not always, though. Sometimes it takes longer.
This morning I got up, did my morning chores, abluted, and then sat down to my promised breakfast of fresh tomatoes on toast. I’d looked at the butter in which I’d intended to fry these summer delights, changed my mind, and reached for my precious bottle of the very best olive oil instead. That was delicious. Totally, unquestionably delicious. The world about me, while as nasty as ever, was familiar and understandable up to that point.
No, it happened when I was stacking my plate and silverware in the dishwasher, that’s when it happened. The postman tapped on the kitchen door, and handed me a single slightly tatty envelope.
“You’re not going to like this one,” he said, grinning widely.
“Well, take it away, then.”
“Now, come on. You know I can’t do that.”
“No. You’re quite right. Lovely day.”
“That’s a fact. Though I think you might change your mind shortly.”
“You’re being ominous this morning.”
“Just realistic! Bye!”
And off he strolled down the drive, the silver rings and studs in his facial piercings sparkling cheerfully. He’s one of those pleasant anomalies that give today’s life its oddly surrealistic flavour. If you met him on a dark night in a quiet city street you might fear for your wallet, or worse. In fact he’s the nicest postmen I’ve ever known, cheerful, friendly, always takes a moment to pass the time of day. He may look like an East End thug of the really frightening kind but in reality he’s a caring bloke, loves his kids, takes ’em off on family camping holidays at least three times a year, and wouldn’t harm a fly.
Hey ho. I put on my reading spectacles and contemplated the envelope. ‘Nottingham Police’, it said. Inside was a message from their computer, telling me that they intend to proceed against me for speeding the other day. The day we went to IKEA. Apparently one of those camera things snapped me breaking the limit in a thirty mph zone.
Oh, dear. A lifetime of safe driving, never an accident, not a single driving offence, only four parking fines, all duly paid. A completely, virginally clean driving licence. I was rather proud of that.
And now some darned camera has decided I was speeding. There’s no way I can argue it. Tell the truth, I don’t remember the event at all. It was just one of those busy drives where you do your best to keep up with the traffic and go with the flow. I don’t generally drive over the speed limit but unless you’re completely oblivious to the impatience of other drivers, you do tend to go with the flow, even if the flow is going a little faster than it ought. I wonder how many other motorists got caught in that batch.
So I filled in the form, signed it, and put it ready to post.
“You’re not upset about it, are you?” asked Graham, full of concern.
“No,” I lied. “Nothing you can do about it. Seems every driver in the country picks up one of these now and then. Just another tax, really, and a bit more hassle. It really annoys me that my driving licence will carry an endorsement, though.
“How much of an endorsement?”
“Three points, I think.”
“And what will the fine be?”
“Don’t know. I seem to recall reading it runs at about eighty pounds.”
“You said it. I shall have to take it out of the car replacement fund.”
“Well, try to be more careful in future.”
“Being careful is going to become a way of life with me, of that I’m determined. I shall never, ever drive above a speed limit again. I’m going to be one of those old farties who putter along at a snail’s pace and irritate the hell out of hastier drivers.”
“You’ll get shouted at.”
“I know. But being shouted at doesn’t cost me money and points on my licence.”
So, putting my newfound resolution to the test, I set off for Spilsby to post the form back to the Police and pick up bread and milk, driving at least five miles an hour below the limits all the way. I only got shouted at once.
I can’t complain, I suppose. The cameras have been growing in numbers along all the roads, nasty yellow boxes equipped with a radar gun and a flash camera. There have been stories on the news of the growing anger of motorists all over the Kingdom being caught, repeatedly, and fined, again and again. And amassing sufficient points on their licences to be banned from driving altogether.
Well, they ain’t going to catch me again. And I’m not angry. Just resigned. I’ve woken up to find the world changed again, slightly, and in a sinister fashion.
So. If you come driving in Lincolnshire, or any adjoining county, and get stuck behind an old farty puttering along in a little blue Ford, don’t shout at him. He’ll pull over to let you pass as soon as there’s a chance. Your complaints, if any, should be directed at your Member of Parliament. And just think—as the number of old farties who’ve been caught by one of those pesky cameras increases, there’ll be more and more of us, puttering along the road, respecting the speed limit, determined not to be caught again.
And if you think I’m being over dramatic, claiming that one speeding ticket signals that the world has changed about me overnight, you may be right. Or you may not be. The truth is out there, so they tell us. I may go looking for it one day. Be warned—I shall drive well within the legal limits all the way.
Standing in the garden for my evening breath of air, the skies overhead were clear and as the light faded the stars came out, first in ones and twos, then in threes and fours, and then in their millions. Over the fields the thinnest, sharpest sliver of a moon floated like a harvest scythe.
I was minded of the words of a very great man: “The darker the night, the more you can see the stars.” Yup. I may curse and rail, saying that the doings of our bureacracy come more and more to resemble the action of aliens in our midst, but even they can’t take away the words of great men.
Not yet, anyway.
Anything else, ladies?