Since I stopped drinking in 1974, after inadvertently reversing the wrong way up a one-way street after attending the (spectacularly unsuccessful) launch of a unicycle chess league, I’ve quite enjoyed being stopped by the police.
You know the sort of thing: Officer: “You are driving very carefully, sir. Have you had a drink?”Me: “I’m afraid so, officer. Guilty as charged. Four pints of Diet Coke and a wine-gum for the journey.”Usually the boys in blue quite like a bit of mild badinage, but the day Norman and I were driving back from the warehouse with a van-load of cut-price orthotic insoles, it was a different story.
We were waved over by a policeman who looked about nine and was carrying a thing resembling a black hairdryer. “It’ll be ok,” Norman said. “He used to go out with my sister. Hi, Barry – it’s a fair cop, mate. We’ve just done Barclay’s. There’s a million quid in that bag of shoes.”
“Is this your vehicle, sir?” Barry said. Still hoping to lighten things a little, I said: “It’s an automatic but I do try to be here when I can.”
Not a flicker. Barry consulted the hairdryer. “You were travelling at 34 miles an hour in a restricted area. Have you anything to say?””That can’t be right,” Norman said. “We haven’t been out for an hour. Give us a break, mate.”
But Barry was busy writing out a ticket. “It could be eighty pounds or a speed awareness course,” he said. “Which will you choose?” “I think I’ll take the money,” I said. When he handed over the ticket, I asked what I was supposed to do with it. “Just keep it,” Barry said. “When you collect four, you get a bicycle.”It was the only time he smiled all afternoon.
He said it had been a long hard day. At dawn he had stopped a drunken driver and asked him to explain why he was out at that hour. “If I could,” the man replied, “I’d be home by now.”
He had also discovered that a speeding lady driver wasn’t wearing the glasses stipulated on her licence. “She told me she had contacts and I said I don’t care who you know – you’re getting a ticket,” Barry said.”Some people really try it on.”
The speed awareness course was in the YMCA billiard-room (they could do with a new set of balls and the table-cushions looked a bit dodgy). Perhaps I should explain that I had to take the course rather than get penalty-points because Norman can’t drive the van – or anything that goes backwards. His driving licence is only for motorbikes, tramcars, steam-rollers and motor-mowers and it took him seven driving tests to even get that.
There were ten of us on the course. The instructor, whose name was Maurice, offered us tea or coffee and two sorts of biscuits and asked why we thought we were there. A youth with “made in the United Kingdom” tattooed on his neck said he realised he shouldn’t be there because he didn’t have a driving licence and had stolen the car, but could he have another biscuit?
An elderly man complained that as he was travelling backwards at 40 mph before hitting a tree when his car jammed in reverse, he wasn’t technically breaking the law and had asked the AA to look into it. Another chap said everyone else was driving fast and he had no option but to do the same or be bashed into by following drivers. “They’re all lunatics on the road today,” he said. “If you lined up all the cars in the world end-toend some twerp would still try to overtake them.” I said I was there because my assistant had tried and failed to bribe the prosecuting officer and if the authorities wanted Norman’s name and address would they see me afterwards?
Maurice turned out to be a reasonable sort of chap who had been in the police until his feet started giving him problems. To be honest, I didn’t learn a lot during the actual course apart from you know when you’re in a 30 mph area because the lamp-posts are closer together and people drive faster in hot weather than cold, but we agreed to keep in touch.
In fact, Maurice has just phoned to say that he has a mate who’s doing a nice line in cut-price satnavs which pick up all the latest speed cameras, no problem at all. And by the way, the couple of pairs of orthotic insoles I slipped him are apparently doing wonders for his feet.