Regular readers will know that I am a great collector of that modern kind of folk poetry called Motorway Verse – that is, folk poems that celebrate the one kind of travel that is common to all of us, young or old, poor or rich. Here, today, is part of a long motorway ballad that was narrated to me by an old man at the Charnock Richard service area, all about a man who did what many of us have wanted to do but none of us has dared...
Oh, Michael was a salesman bold
Who went wherever he was told
To sell what his employer made
(A drink resembling Lucozade)
And drove there in his motor car,
Sometimes near and sometimes far.
He loved to drive along the M,
To London or to Birmingham,
It made him feel alive to drive,
Especially tuned to Radio 5!
"This is the life!" he often thought
But not the day that he was caught
On camera as he hurtled past
A speed trap mounted on a mast.
Oh no – it changed his view of life
When, at breakfast, Michael's wife
Handed him a piece of toast
And one small item in the post.
"Dear Sir," the friendly letter read,
"We know your car (a Honda, red)
Was going at a fearful rate
Last Thursday night at half past eight,
Because we have a snap of you,
With your number plain in view,
And so we plan to prosecute
And soak you for a bit of loot.
You have a choice. Obey the law,
And pay up 60 quid now, or
Appear in court and fight the case."
You should have seen our Michael's face!
It turned an ugly shade of puce
From which 'twas easy to deduce
That he was filled with dreadful hate
Against those officers of the state
Who put up cameras on a stick
To get poor motorists in nick.
"Next time I go along the M,"
He said, "I'll get revenge on them."
"What do you mean?" his wife did cry,
For she had often cause to sigh
When Michael got into a rage
Or went off on a wild rampage,
For salesmen may be suave and meek
On duty, in their working week,
But out of hours, 'neath that facade,
Lurks something hot and cruel and hard.
Next day, when coming back from Stroud,
With Radio 5 switched on quite loud,
Our Michael spied a tall dark shape
Outlined against a field of rape.
It was a speedcam! Filled with hate
Young Michael parked there, by a gate,
And, seeing no approaching cop, With wrath-fueled strength climbed to the top!
Holding on with both his knees,
He turned the lens by 90 degrees...
"That's funny!" said one PC Green,
Sitting before his TV screen,
"One of our speedcams's off its trolley.
It's showing a hedge of beech and
I cannot see a car at all
Just trees and fields and one stone
Do you think it's tired of filming
And needs a scene more photographic?"
A police car went at once to the site
(Travelling as fast as the speed of light,
But killing no-one on the way
Which was most unusual, truth to say)
And when they looked round they
found no clue
As to what or why or how or who...
From that day on, our Michael swore
To wage a new and holy war
Against police cameras on the road,
And some he bombed and some he
And some he bashed and some he
And some just vanished – simply
The police all swore to give him hell,
This modern Scarlet Pimpernel,
But every motorist in the land
Stopped their car to lend a hand
If they should see a man with axe
Giving speedcams 40 whacks...
The ballad goes on for hundreds more lines, telling how Michael became a famous outlaw and finally surrendered when King Richard came back from the Crusades, though I think that part of the ballad may perhaps date from a rather older version...Reuse content