John Walsh: How I became a speed criminal

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Indy Lifestyle Online

I am a doomed man. My nights are bathed in sweaty apprehension, my days filled with nervous glances at the Welcome mat and the hall table, and anywhere else the morning post, and that fateful court summons, may sit. For I am about to lose my car, and for the feeblest of reasons.

I am a doomed man. My nights are bathed in sweaty apprehension, my days filled with nervous glances at the Welcome mat and the hall table, and anywhere else the morning post, and that fateful court summons, may sit. For I am about to lose my car, and for the feeblest of reasons.

I wasn't nailed by the Flying Squad after a 120mph chase through Docklands. I wasn't nicked for drunken driving after flooring absinthe all night with Hunter S Thompson in the Rimbaud Club. I wasn't even pulled over for recklessly attempting to have sex with my personal assistant, Ms Xanthe Fellatio, while sharking up the Hanger Lane flyover. No, I'll lose my car because (oh, the shame of it) I was doing 34mph in the Limehouse Link.

It was only in the last six months that I became a Speed Criminal. I'd seen speed-camera signs - that rudimentary logo of a Box Brownie - all over the place, and taken little notice. I'm not a lawbreaker, nor a speed-crazed joyrider. I pootle around town doing something between 30 and 40mph, if there's a break in the grinding traffic. But one day, in the Link tunnel, I realised that lights were flashing at me in an alarming way. It's only a warning, I told myself, it's not taking real pictures, there's no film in the camera.

A few days later, I was flashed again, same tunnel, same exit, and I intoned the same reassuring mantra to myself. Next morning, the first police letter arrived, asking whether I was the owner of Y489 TGC, claiming that I'd been doing 37mph, and whether I'd agree to a £60 fine and three points on my licence. Well, I thought, on the whole I'd rather have nothing to do with you at all, but the alternative was a lot worse. A second letter arrived the next morning, bearing the same cheerful news and asking the same questions about how I'd like to be punished. It was oddly like being at school, having to ask the headmaster to whack you. Suddenly, after 20-odd years of trouble-free driving, I was in trouble. My immaculate licence was spotted with six points.

From then on, I drove with exaggerated circumspection. I drove like a very old man who has an ancient mother in the back and a tureen of watercress soup sloshing around on the passenger seat. I took no risks. I avoided speed bumps. I avoided speed. Alas, for all my caution, somewhere on Upper Thames Street, I was snapped doing 35mph. The police letter enclosed a lovely photo of my Chrysler's (slowly) retreating view. It wasn't even blurred. I wasn't going fast enough to blur.

Now I had nine points. For the last three months of 2004, I drove with ludicrous slowness. Drivers honked and flashed as I crept through the traffic, as hesitant as a mole, as sluggish as a, well, slug. Milk floats sailed by, Reliant Robins overtook me like Scud missiles, pedestrians zoomed past as I strove to find ever-lower speeds. Then my concentration failed one day, I got up to 34mph in the Limehouse Link, and that was that. Twelve points.

A letter from the Bill tells me that court proceedings will start shortly, and I should Do Nothing until summoned. So, here I sit, waiting to appear in court and be told that I'm banned from driving for six months or a year. I cannot bear it. I am practically married to my car. Everyday things - the school run, the trip to Waitrose, the drive to work - suddenly seem touched with an elegiac glow, now that I am about to lose them.

I rehearse what I'm going to say in the dock. "In the Limehouse Link tunnel, Your Honour, there are no members of the public and there is no traffic coming the other way. It's essentially a dual carriageway, and the 30mph limit is nonsensical. I was not speeding. I was barely accelerating. It is a travesty of justice that a careful and experienced motorist should be barred from driving because he did 34mph in the Limehouse Link." The judge will say, "The public must be protected from devil-may-care speed freaks like you", and fine me a grand for being argumentative, and I will trudge off (very slowly) to begin a year of endlessly queueing for buses.

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