A Day In The Country

 

Concrete, steel and tar by Paul Forsdick

Concrete, steel and tar by Paul Forsdick

Yesterday I had my wrists thoroughly slapped by Essex Police: for the heinous crime of driving 7 mph over a speed limit, I was faced with a choice. My day in court. £60 and 3 points on the licence. Or a speed awareness course (costing, coincidentally enough, £60).

 

 

Having three points on the form already (Haringey Borough Council are clearly substantially less forgiving than Essex), I didn’t fancy the extras – although points expire from the licence in three years, insurance takes note for five years, and I don’t like the increased premiums that come with 6 points… So, I booked myself in to a course in Chelmsford, the nearest still available, presuming that it would be a nice simple journey in the wagon. Then the car breaks down and plans have to change. Having hung around in the morning for the tow-man to wheel away my car, I set off for Tottenham Hale on my bike, braving taking it on the train for the first time.

Having finally, circuitously, reached the venue (riding in Chelmsford makes me look a lot more fondly at London cycling conditions), I find my way to the reception. It’s in the sixthform block of a large high school, so already I’m put off a little. I’m five minutes early, so I stand (sweating, as always after a ride), putting away my helmet and gloves. On being ushered into the classroom, I’m faced with two driving instructors, the Johns, an East Anglian equivalent of Office Space‘s Bobs – a sort of skewed, good-cop-bad-cop sort of set-up. John1 is a typical Essex bruiser, a big man, but out of shape. He’s smart and engaging, but no nonsense. John2 appears to be a reject from Phoenix Nights  – all dapper moustache, and round guppy-headed Northernisms, delivered in a slightly grating voice. He takes a back seat for the first half.

First we write our names on name tags and stick them on our chests, or, in resident ancient man’s case, on his baseball cap. I’m sat with the gruff, hard-done-by Alan, caught at 37mph, at 3:30am. Other reluctant participants include Nigel, a dead ringer for David Cann; Dave, a grizzled, sarcastic, HGV driver, the Cool Hand Luke of the scenario; one or two mouthy Essex girl types, and the two who got stopped in 4x4s but are keeping schtum.

John1 reads the lesson. Statistics and percentages fall from his lips as readily as any driving advice. Admittedly effective are the frank and serious statistics relating to speed, but also useful are some reminders of the nature of speed limits, means of enforcing, etc. John1 is forceful and aggressive, but abounding with witticisms. More fun than my own (incidentally moustachioed) driving instructor.

After an awkward, quiet break – this is unlike most social situations, in that no-one knows anyone at all… – we’re back for the more interactive part 2. John2 takes over, his bizarre, quizzical voice skipping about as does his head. We joke about the reasons why we speed. Lateness; hunger (that was my suggestion, surprise surprise); the open road… we are asked whether we’d be satisfied if someone knocked on our day saying they’d killed a loved one. John2 is dramatic.

Three and a quarter hours later, and I’m back into the frostbitten Chelmsford air to ride to the station. The vans and cars depart the school, and I follow in their dusty wake. I’m out by £60, I’m free of points and prosecution, and I’m thoroughly re-educated. Far from being the Simpson’s-esque horror show, the programme is quite enlightening. But you don’t half see some odd specimens of humanity here in the sticks.

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