Miles Kington: The ballad of the salesman and the speedcam

'We know your car (a Honda, red)/ Was going at a fearful rate/ Last Thursday at half past eight'
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The Independent Online

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...