Ask not for whom the siren blares

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As regular readers will know, I am a great collector of that modern kind of folk verse known as motorway ballads, and I was told this one the other day by a man I gave a lift to at Taunton Deane. He later got out at Membury Service Station on the M4, together with my mobile phone and in-car fax machine. However, he did leave this long poem behind, which deals with that perennial motorway mystery: what happens if you fill up with petrol and forget to pay for it?

Mr and Mrs Meredith

And their little boy and girl

Were driving down to the coast one day,

Out for a bit of a whirl,

When Father said, "Oh me, oh my,

We're very low on fuel!"

And so they stopped to get some more,

Which is the normal rule.

While Father filled the petrol tank

Mama bought bags of sweets

And crisps and chocolate-coated bars,

And other tasty eats,

For she got bored on long car trips

And so she sat and ate

Which help to stave off boredom

But made her overweight...

And when the sweets were purchased

And pennies had been spent

Papa switched on the engine

And said: "OK - let's went!"

(One of those jocular phrases

Which fathers like to use

Thinking they sound quite comical,

Though no one shares their views ...)

And mother took a sweetie

And the kids got belted up

And Dad revved up the engine

And said out loud: "Hey yup!"

And he left the service area

To rejoin the motorway

Totally oblivious

That he'd forgotten to pay!

Yes, stricken by amnesia

He'd offered no credit card,

Not even reached for his cheque book

So before he'd gone a yard

The girl at the petrol counter

(The one marked "PUMPS 1-9")

Had picked up her secret telephone

And got the police on the line.

"It's Sue at Northbound Petrol

Reporting an abscondee.

A guy in a red Fiesta,

Owing pounds 30.43."

"OK, Susan, gotcha,

Just leave it up to us.

We'll get the money back to you

- Nae bother and nae fuss."

Meanwhile poor Mr Meredith,

Unaware of his fate,

Drove at a steady 60,

While his wife sat there and ate,

And a couple of miles behind him

A police car, flashing blue lights,

Looked for the red Fiesta

To get him bang to rights.

And the gap between them lessened

As cars got out of the way,

For when a police car flashes us,

We normally tend to obey,

And breathe a little sigh of relief

And thank our lucky stars,

As the police sweep past, a-chasing

Some other car, not ours.

But just when Mr Meredith

Was in danger of having to stop,

Another driver, called Reggie,

Looked round and saw the cop.

Now, the car that Reg was driving

Was stolen property,

And Reggie's basic instinct

Was to step on the gas and flee.

And so he went up to 90,

And then went into a skid,

And then was hit by the policeman

(Whose name, I think, was Sid).

And there was a massive pile-up

Of 100 cars or more,

Who all crashed into each other,

And lay there, door to door.

While further down the motorway

The Meredith family

Carried on quite blithely

To their day out by the sea.

And when they read the paper

The next day, back at base,

Father's mouth dropped open

And a happy smile came to his face.

"We were lucky yesterday, mother,

When we went down the M.

There were masses of cars in a pile-up

- See this picture of them!"

"What was the cause?" said Mother.

"Police chase, apparently.

Going too fast in the fast lane

And then - well, you can see."

"Well, we were lucky," said Mother

Looking for wood to touch,

And when she said she was lucky,

She didn't know how much.

Now listen, all you drivers,

And harken well to me,

Next time you go to London

Or down the M3 to the sea,

When the police sirens are sounding

And the lights behind are blue,

Ask not whom they are chasing

- The siren blares for you!