Posts Tagged ‘speeding’

Having worked through the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve found myself regularly driving these past months at a time when most people have been at home. This has led to quieter roads, and a halving of my usual commuting time. Paradoxically, it’s also been a time when I have never been more afraid of taking to the road. Speeding, cutting in, pulling out without looking, overtaking on blind corners – all of these things I witness regularly on my commute now. The situation is such that when I am not required to go to work, I leave the car at home as much as possible for fear of accidents. This is not normal and I have a theory about it.

Psychologically we can be divided up into various personality types. There are a number of profiling methods, but the main one used in psychological research is called the Big Five. This lists five main personality traits: extroversion, openness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. Insights into our nature are revealed by how we score against each of these traits.

Those who have stayed at home during the pandemic, those who obey the rules about necessary journeys and social distancing will measure high in conscientiousness, neuroticism and agreeableness. This basically means you worry about doing the right thing, you’re thorough in following the guidelines and you’re thinking about keeping others safe as much as yourself.

The idiots who score low on these same measures don’t care about the rules, they believe the rules don’t actually apply to them, and they don’t worry about others at all, indeed they don’t think about others, and couldn’t give a fig if others found them  disagreeable. Indeed, they might wear the latter as a badge of honour. So, these quieter roads are an invitation for such types to floor the accelerator and really see what the old girl will do. In other words, if you’re sensible, agreeable and conscientious in the current climate you’re more likely to be at home doing the right thing. If you’re on the roads, you’re more likely to be an idiot, and a danger to others.

Speaking of which:

To the driver of the corporate-looking BMW who joined the M61 at around six forty-five this morning, from the on-slip of Junction 5, doing about seventy, and who missed me by inches, then careened blithely out into the fast lane before disappearing in a cloud of dust as he ramped it up to warp speed, I say this: that was some manoeuvre. I’d also say no human being could possibly have reacted as fast as you did, threading that obnoxious beast of a car into tight traffic, unless they were coked up to the eyeballs, which I suspect you were.

You didn’t see all the tail lights stabbing in alarm to make way for your safe passage, and even if you had you would not have cared. Nor did you feel the jolt of shock I felt, deep in my stomach, and which lingered well into the day. You would have considered it amusing perhaps, merely the price others must pay for you to exercise your divine right to do as you want.

And then to the stone-faced cop in the scowly-faced SUV, who followed me halfway home this evening, waiting, I presume, for me to forget to indicate (yes, I score high in neuroticism), I say to him:

Where the hell were you this morning?

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racy lady 2

Mazda MX5 Mk2 – 02 Plate

It’s now a week since I picked up the Mazda. The day before I was worried I’d made a terrible mistake, buying such an old car after no more than a quick look round and a ten minute test drive. What if I’d missed something? Rotten door bottoms, bubbling wings, blue smoke, badly fitting rag-top, leaking oil, duff tyres. The list of things that can go wrong with an older car is long indeed, especially if it’s not been pre-loved, and the dealer turns out to be a rogue.

The car was waiting when I rolled up. The top was down and the guy had washed it off for me. To my immense relief it looked even better than I remembered. A quick card transaction, a handing over of documents, and I was on my way. In real terms it’s probably the cheapest car I’ve ever bought, but easily the one that has impressed me the most.

The drive home was a real pleasure; a hot, sunny afternoon, and the way taking me along the winding country lanes of the West Lancashire coast. The car warmed quickly and ran sweetly.

It has been loved, I think, and the wad of service reports reassures me it’s also been well maintained. I did no more than forty, but it felt like I was flying. I made a quick stop for petrol and the lad in the shop complimented me on the car. It’s a conversation starter, something that’s not happened in 35 years, not since the days of my ancient Mk1 Cortina Super. The Cortina was rotten underneath, but managed good show up top and conversations were frequent when I was out on my travels. Sure, it’s a long time since heads were turned by anything I’ve driven. The Cortina eventually collapsed, literally, its McPherson struts held in place by nothing more than spiders webs.

A long time ago. God bless it!

But now I’m cruising through West Lancs with the top down and girls are looking. Yes, girls! I assured number one son, who accompanied me, they were looking at him, not me. He assured me they were looking at the car, and not at either of us. We are both blessed, it seems with the same lack of self confidence.

I bought polish and spent the evening buffing her up to a deep blue lustre.

Oh, she’s lovely. Very lovely indeed!

I must have done a hundred miles since then, just driving around on short hops, getting a feel for her, identifying any problems areas. She’s not perfect. All but one of the tyres was duff, so I had to get a fresh set right away, and the brake pads will be next. The driver’s side hood clamp doesn’t latch – a common problem on MX 5’s – but hardly a reason for gnashing one’s teeth, and is easily fixed. There’s also a tendency to bounce when taking up drive in first and reverse gears when she’s cold – another common idiosyncrasy of certain Mk 2.5’s, I’m told, but this one’s more a question of how you handle her than spending a fortune on unnecessary  repair. I’m sure there’ll be other things that surface as our acquaintanceship deepens, but my main worry, the bodywork, is fine. This is a 12 year old car, but it’s in better shape than my 7 year old Astra whose door bottoms, to my dismay, are already starting to bubble through.

The attention the car drew on that journey home has continued. A small two seater sport’s car cruises by and people look at it. I do  it all the time, thinking: isn’t that lovely? And I must get one of those before I’m too old to enjoy it! So I don’t mind that others do it to me, but there’s another kind of attention that’s been much less welcome. It’s a kind of maleness I’m uncomfortable with, and it smells of over-ripe testosterone.

My longtime companion, that grey old Astra with his rotten door bottoms, does not inflame egos. We’ve done Seventy thousand miles together over the years, without so much as a second glance and that’s the way we like it. I’m not a sporty driver. I don’t take corners on two wheels. I like the feel of speed on the straight, but I don’t push my luck. But with the Mazda I’ve had cars overtaking me for the fun of it, running dangerously and blind on the wrong side of the road into bends. I’ve had other soft-top saloons suddenly come alive and pull wheel screeching burnouts in a village where the speed limit is a very sedate 20 MPH.

Oh, how I like the feel of this car! I like the sound of it, and I can’t stop driving it, but after a week, I’m growing tired of looking in the rear view mirror to see a fluorescent Ford Focus with go faster stripes and an adolescent-brained driver behind the wheel, sitting on my bumper, weaving about aggressively.

There have been three recent road deaths in my locale, all caused by stupidity and carelessness involving cars – the victims were all pedestrians or cyclists. Makeshift memorials pepper the black-spots, reminders as stern as the GATSO cams, that motoring without due care and attention is dangerous – says me with three points and an SP30 on his license.

I don’t know what kind of life my Mazda has known in the past, but it looks like she’ll be getting a lot of sand kicked in her face with me behind the wheel. If you’re out and about and you should cruise up behind a little blue Mazda with a silver haired driver behind the wheel, tootling along at forty, and you fancy a bit of sport, don’t bother, because he’s not up for it. Back off or pass me safely because the closer you get, the slower I’ll go. Let me enjoy my old Mazda in ways that does not involve you, or endanger other users of the road.

She and I are strictly Zen these days.


Actually, I’m puzzled by that gender thing. The Astra is male, a safe, steady commute-mobile, slab sided and grey – old Grumpy. But the Mazda’s curves definitely suggest something female. A name hasn’t struck me, but I’m sure it will in time. The good lady Graeme fingers the frayed creases of the ragtop and suggests “Leaky”, but we’ve not been out in the rain yet, so we don’t know about that one for sure.

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I’m sorry to say I’ve been pulled over by the police for speeding. One minute I was cruising along – in a bit of a daze, it has to be said – and the next thing I was sitting in a five series Beamer cop-car while the nice officer printed out my yard long yellow ticket of shame. After 34 years of motoring, my license is now besmirched with three skull and cross-bones (endorsements). There was also a sixty pound fine. The fine is neither here nor there, but those endorsements are going to haunt me for the next five years.

Altogether then, a bit of a bad day?

Well, yes, indeed a bad month so far really, but not on account of that traffic violation. After all, there are worse losses at sea, as my mother used to say. Strange, that use of the past tense – I’m still getting used it.

The stretch of road I was travelling is one I drive every day and it’s always had a forty limit. In recent weeks though, a two hundred yard stretch of it has been lowered to thirty. It sounds lame, but I really hadn’t noticed the new signs. It’s called “change blindness”, honest. So even when the cop-car settled on my tail, I felt safe, making sure the speedometer was reading a little under forty. The cars in front of me got away with it. I got the flashing blue lights and the humiliation of a very public pull over.


It’s no excuse of course, that my head was in a different place. I should have seen those thirty MPH signs, which are as plain as day now, and if I was really so distracted by my mother’s death, then I shouldn’t have been driving in the first place, should I? But at least I know it’s a thirty limit now. And I promise to be more careful, officer, in the future.

My sons thought it was ironic. They say I’m the slowest driver in the world and something of an embarrassment. Maybe my credibility has gone up a little now? Number two son was the most comforting, telling me I’d done well to reach my fifties without acquiring some kind of motoring violation. I suppose he’s right. My good lady also told me it was better to be philosophical about it than beating myself over the head. No use resisting it Michael. Remember that one? There are bigger things to deal with here – so get over it!

Resist it? No, I didn’t resist it. At least I tried not to. I tried to let it wash on through because I was conscious of being in a fragile state and I could do without the extra damage. So what did I feel, sitting there in that cop-car, while the man went through his “booking the motorist” script? Well, I felt very little, because only a small part of me was actually there.

Some of me was still sitting with the Reverend Deacon, attached to the local Catholic church, just an hour earlier, who, after a long and emotionally moving chat about my mother, had raised his hand, and the Good Book, and offered me his blessing. I’m not a Catholic, not much of anything with a label these days, and my mother, raised a Catholic, was severely lapsed to the tune of fifty years or so – though the Reverend Deacon politely and charmingly disputed there was such a thing as a lapsed Catholic.

Anyway, I didn’t really feel qualified to be receiving that blessing, but I was grateful for it all the same, thinking I could probably use the help. But to be pulled over by the cops an hour later? Well,… surely the Lord moves in mysterious ways?

Another part of me was standing in the chapel of rest at the funeral home, the day before. I’d not really been able to associate the deceased person before me with my mother, but she had at least looked peaceful, and though I’d known the effect was entirely cosmetic, it had helped to soften the memory of the last time I’d seen her, the day when in some distress, she’d passed away.

And of course, another part of me, perhaps the most significant part, was still there that day, at her bedside, bearing witness to her passing, while praying to a god I’d no idea I could be so familiar with. For good measure I’d also prayed, Chinese style, to the ancestors, calling them back from across as many generations as I could remember, to lend a hand, because in a situation like that you need all the spiritual support you can get, whether you believe in that sort of thing or not.

I have the feeling they didn’t let us down. I have the feeling that  in our darkest hour I crossed a threshold into the most extraordinary metaphysical realm and felt myself carried aloft, embraced by the loving arms of an ancestry I’d never dared trust, until that moment, to be real .

So,… there was the cop, a big chap, blank faced, broken nosed, in a nicely pressed shirt, but curiously grubby trousers, and he was telling me I’d have to take my licence in to the cop-shop within the next seven days. And there I was, making a mental calculation, wondering if I could fit that in with everything else that was going on – like the small matter of my mother’s funeral, and appointments with solicitors, and a million other pressing post mortem details. And I wondered briefly about saying to him: look, cut me some slack will you?

He might have made some sympathetic noises, I suppose, but I’m not sure how much power of discretion these guys have once the details of your misdemeanour have been punched into the big-brother machine, and anyway it seemed – I don’t know – undignified, I suppose. So I said nothing and took the ticket. And my mother would not have wanted me to be a cry-baby about it anyway.

I do not like the way policemen say “sir”. It’s better than being called something impolite, I suppose, but there’s always something false about it. This policeman’s sir came at me cold, impersonal and slightly weary. It reminded me of the cold, impersonal and slightly weary hospital doctor who, two weeks before, had discharged my mother at dead of night, in obvious pain, and unable to stand unaided – sent her home to die because there was nothing more he could do for her, and he needed that bed for someone he had more of a chance of helping than an eighty three year old geriatric with advanced terminal cancer, who might have lingered in his ward for weeks.

How many more of you are out there, tonight in that situation, you poor souls? My thoughts are with you.

So, I’d driven her home in shocked horror at the withdrawal of my nation’s compassion, a compassion apparently metered by the scalpel of economic expediency, and an ongoing political disaster piloted by opportunist powerbrokers, oblivious to the small lives who make up the conscious and moral majority of the people they claim to serve.

It was a short sharp lesson in contemporary reality, that although our professional public servants still do their very best, they’ve also got this unspeakable army of amoral bean-counters on their backs. So it’s unwise to rely on them to be there at your hour of greatest need – at least not in any truly meaningful sense. For that you’re going to need the presence of those who love you, also if you can arrange it, the loving presence of your god and, with still more luck, a blessed over-pressed and underpaid community nurse with a vial of Diamorphine, ready to send you off into your dreams.

Your ego caves in, absolutely, at times like these. It realises resistance is futile, that for all it’s huffing and puffing, it’s pathetic self importance is no more than a teardrop in the ocean. And when the ego finally shuts the fuck up, you discover what’s left is, perhaps incredibly,  a stillness, and a loving peace like no other.

So even though I was sitting in a cop car, accused of an indictable offence, as the officer ominously put it, and being handed a speeding ticket, feeling it punctuating insensitively, as it did, one of the most emotionally sensitive periods of my life, I found it hard to take him seriously. Instead I felt an incongruous, yet also a very real loving presence. It held together the various bits of me that were still strung out and floundering in the wake of dark events those past weeks, the likes of which I can never speak of in full, and it was telling me to be calm, to be mindful, but above all to stop struggling. Because a rabbit caught in a snare basically strangles itself to death because its instinct is to struggle, and it lacks the insight to pursue any other course. If we can stop struggling, however, we stand a chance of untangling ourselves from the myriad snares of the world. We survive, and we discover a better way to be.

I’m not sure if smiling at a policeman is a good idea, for they are unpredictable creatures, but I found myself smiling at him anyway. I heard myself telling him it was no problem, that I should have been paying more attention. I think I even made some lame joke about it being a fair-cop. He did not smile back. He thanked me for my time in a tone of voice that implied no gratitude at all, and he dismissed me curtly with yet one more policeman’s  cutting “sir”. Then he swung that fat five-series-Beamer round and headed back to his hunter’s lair with his radar gun, ready to blow a hole in someone else’s day.

I like to think I dismissed his sickly presence from my life as quickly as he dismissed me. He was just a man doing his job, and it would have been churlish to wish him any bad Karma on account of it, but I trust he had slim pickings from the day he pulled me over.

We said our final goodbyes to my mother on April 12th. The Reverend Deacon did a splendid job, memorable and intensely moving, and I took comfort in commending her into the care of a faith she had once sworn an allegiance to. If I made a mistake in any of that, I hope you can forgive me Mum, but what we did was done with love, respect, and an appreciation for the life you lived, for us. Your children.

On the way home from the crematorium I sat in a black Rolls Royce, cruising along rural lanes I’d known since childhood, and the funeral director became chatty, talking about many things – the lovely spring sunshine, the bluebells, and the first dandelions making their appearance in the wayside green. Death and renewal – a curious juxtaposition, but a comforting one. He also talked about the speed limit, and how I’d do well to pay attention to a certain stretch of road that’s recently become notorious as one of the worst speed traps in Lancashire.

“Ah, yes,” I said. “I think I know the one you mean.”

Thanks for listening.

God bless you, Mum.

Graeme out.

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