Urquhart Archie Macdonald - I've got your number

People are prepared to go to almost any lengths to get a car number to suit their own identity
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TWO YEARS ago, at the Edinburgh Festival, I had part of my car stolen. It was the front number plate. Nothing else. I reported it to the police. They were baffled. No, they were more than baffled. They were uninterested. Well, so was I, really. I only reported it as a precaution against being arrested for having a makeshift number plate.

Anyway, I bought some Letraset to put G537 UAM back on my car, and it was as I was piecing together the big sticky bits of paper that it occurred to me that this might be a personalised number plate theft. It is well- known that people will give vast sums of money and go to almost any lengths to get a car number to suit their own identity, and it may well be that somewhere in the world there was someone with the initials UAM (Urquhart Archie Macdonald? Ursula Alice Monteith?) who lived at number 357 in a street beginning with G...


Very unlikely.

Even if Urquhart Archie Macdonald liked my number well enough to steal it, and put it on his car, and get round all the documentation difficulties, he would still have suffered from the fact that nobody outside his immediate family would realise the significance of the numbers. And this works the other way round, too. What use is a significant-looking number if you can't quite guess the connection?

Recently I have seen one car with the number plate RINGS and another one with ALERT, and less than a week ago I was passed by a car with the registration number REF 22. Only REF 22 seemed to offer any clues, as it sounded immediately like the car plate of a football referee. Who else would want such a number? On the other hand, these numbers change hands for a great deal of money, and football referees don't earn much, so perhaps the car belonged to someone who would like to sell it for a lot of money to a referee, but can't find a rich referee.

And what about another car I saw the other day, which had the registration number 40 ALL? That must, surely, be a reference to tennis. Of course, when you get to 40-all in tennis, you don't call it "40-all", you call it "deuce", so one can imagine the conversation that takes place when the owner of 40 ALL tracks down a likely buyer.

"Excuse me, I believe you're an umpire at Wimbledon..."


"I've found you at last! I've got just the car reg for you. 40 ALL!"

"Why should that interest me?"

`Well, it's a tennis score."

"No, it's not. The tennis score is `deuce'."

"Yes, but that's only the French for `40', probably."

"No, it's not. It's the old French word for `two'."

"Why should they call `40-all' `two'?"

"Because when you get to 40-all, someone has to go two points clear to win."

"Oh... So you don't want my reg number 40 ALL?"

"I'm quite happy with the car I've got, thanks."

"And what's its number?"

"UMP 1RE."

You don't believe that conversations like this take place? Oh, but they do. People take car reg numbers very seriously. Even embassies do. I remember years ago seeing a car numbered CAN 1 outside the Canadian embassy, and another limo marked NIG 1 outside the Nigerian embassy, and I also saw a car marked XBP 1, which I thought might belong to the humorous ambassador of some country that had just expropriated BP's assets - Libya, perhaps.

What is sad is the sight of someone who has an appropriate licence number, and is clearly aware that nobody realises how appropriate it is. I once saw a car with a number like MCA 1, and printed on the number plate in small letters was the explanatory name "Michael Charles Adams", as if the owner were desperate to let us know how clever the number was.

(Actually, I don't think it could have been MCA 1, because when I grew up in Denbighshire, all the numbers with -CA endings were local to that county; the story went that McAlpine the great engineers had bought up all the car numbers beginning MCA to give to McAlpine company vehicles. Clever, but just as pathetic deep down as going around with UMP 1RE on your car.)

Oh, by the way, there was a sequel to the Scottish car plate theft. A year later the Lothian Police wrote to tell me they had had no luck with getting back my stolen property, but if meantime I had suffered as a consequence, they would help me in any way they could with the recovery process. I think this meant they were offering me counselling to get over the loss of a car number plate. God bless you, Lothian Police, but I'm through it all and out the other side now.