Miles Kington: There was a young driver called Herbert...

When he looked inside the bonnet he seemed to cast a spell upon it. He made the engine kick and roar
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The Independent Online

This ballad I was told by a travelling bard whom I encountered recently in a service station in Lancashire ...

Young Herbert was a clever man

Who liked to tinker with his van,

And give that heavy, lumbering thing

Some zap and go, and snap and spring!

Yes, when he looked inside the bonnet,

He seemed to cast a spell upon it He jiggled this, and fiddled that,

And tweaked the little thermostat

(Or is it called the carburettor? My knowledge of motors could be better...)

Until it made a fearful sound

It seemed to nearly paw the ground!

He made the engine kick and roar

And go so much quicker than before

That many a motorist, driving fast,

Looked round to see Bert's van go past.

No one likes being overtaken

But what would leave them really shaken

Was that the van just looked so slow

And had no right so fast to go.

Yet this dowdy vehicle

Was really much more powerful

Than anything like it on the road.

When he made it go, it go'ed !

(The factory where the van was made

Would, I think, have been dismayed

To see their unassuming child

Give a performance quite so wild.

They would have checked their order book

To take a very serious look

At why this van had gone insane.

They would have looked - and looked in vain.)

One day young Herbert took the wheel

And set off down the road to Lille.

(His business was the export trade,

Though what he exported, I'm afraid,

I am not legally free to say,

As right now it's sub judice...

Just let me tell you that his boss

Sometimes did business with Kate Moss ...)

And as he purposefully went

Through the countryside of Kent

Towards the busy port of Dover,

A police car tried to pull him over.

(The keen-eyed policeman had espied

A defective back light on one side,

And being bored, with nowt to do,

Thought he'd give Bert a talking to.)

As soon as Herbert realised

What was up, he was galvanised.

He put his foot down on the floor,

The engine gave a sudden roar,

And, sprinting like a startled hind,

Left the policeman far behind.

The copper could not believe his eyes.

"To go that fast with a van that size

Is quite impossible," he said.

" So I'll let him get a bit ahead,

Then catch him up and give him hell

And put him in the cells as well!"

He switched his flashing blue light on,

His siren too, then he was gone,

Hurtling down the motorway,

After his retreating prey.

But however fast the police car went

It could not even make a dent

On the gap between the fleeing van

And the police car driver (whose name was Dan).

It is a very chastening thing

For a man who thinks he is the king

Of traffic on the open road

To see that title now bestowed

On a hitherto unknown man called Bert,

Whose van is totally covered in dirt...

That is as much of the ballad as I have room for today, I am afraid, as it goes on for hundreds more lines. It tells the story of how the two men run out of motorway, still driving at top speed, and eventually run out of road altogether near Hove, when they agree to settle it by personal combat in a muddy field on a hillside, as the dusk falls. Some more of this epic poem some other time, perhaps.