Rebecca Tyrrel: Days Like Those

'Matthew will now be justified in inflicting tedious lectures on me - any time of night or day'
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The Independent Online

"The opportunity is too good to miss," says Matthew after knocking on my office door with the particularly officious rap-rap-rap he reserves for delivering what would, to most people, count as bad news. In his hand is an "intention to prosecute" letter from the Avon and Somerset police. It is addressed to Matthew because he is the registered keeper of my car, although, as Matthew well knows, I am the one who will have committed the offence in question.

"Now then, now then," he begins, weirdly straying into a Jimmy Savile impersonation and laying the letter before me on my desk, "I've raided the memory banks on this one, but have no recall of doing 38mph along the Bath Road in Somerset. It is as charming and bucolic a thoroughfare as is possible to find in the rural South-west, I am sure, and well justifies its 30mph limit. But no, I have no recollection of it. Have you perhaps driven between those leafy boughs of late?" There is no need to answer, so I don't and, anyway, Matthew pauses only very briefly before going on to remind me that this latest infringement will take me up to nine points on my licence and increase my insurance premiums. What he doesn't need to say is that he will now be justified in inflicting upon me, at any time of the night or day, tedious lectures, and I will not be expected to complain.

"Not necessarily," says Matthew, apparently reading my thoughts. "Note the penultimate paragraph." I read it quickly and my reaction is as immediate as it would have been had a small dog run out in front of my car while I was so-called "speeding" along the Bath Road.

"I am not doing a SpeedChoice course," I snort, "even if it does get me off the three points." "But the opportunity is simply too good to miss," says Matthew. "You've been saying for a while now that you would love the chance of some form of higher education. Here's your chance." It was true that I had expressed an interest in perhaps becoming a mature student and Matthew had responded enthusiastically with, "Oh, you mean like John Prescott? Well, he got into Oxford, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem for you."

"I know a three-hour SpeedChoice course in Keynesham isn't quite the high table at All Souls," he said as he saw me off a fortnight later, "but it's a start and, if you do well, we'll write off to Balliol for a prospectus." I am leaving two hours earlier than necessary and when Matthew asks why I tell him it is for his own good. "I am taking no chances of being caught speeding on the way, because the irony would give you a potentially fatal dose of joy." "Yes," he says, "you are quite right, it would. And anyway, I am glad you will be there early because it will give you time to have a chat with the instructors. Perhaps you could show them this..."

He hands me a list of questions he wants me to ask, all based on his own personal phobias: 1) If a camera captures the unmistakable image of a male motorist wearing driving gloves and a hat, particularly a pork pie hat or a cloth cap, are extra points added to the offender's licence? 2) Is the speeding fine doubled if the camera spots the emblem of a Vauxhall Cavalier? 3) Is extra punishment accorded to motorists whose cars sport a Jesus fish? And 4) If you have just been flashed by a camera, to what extent does it mitigate the offence if, within the next 10 minutes, you deliberately ram a car displaying a Baby On Board sticker at the back?

He has also handed me an A4 pad, three pencils, a yellow highlighter pen, a rubber and, most curiously, a protractor. Apologising for the absence of a satchel, he says that he looks forward to my safe, but most definitely not speedy, return. "Perhaps if you are back in time this evening we could motor along to a local eatery," he adds, apparently having adopted the speech patterns of the kind of person who drives wearing string gloves and a pork pie hat. "You could demonstrate your new-found safety skills."

The instructors in Keynesham were not policemen, they were specially trained SpeedChoice operatives, and for three hours I sat, with 11 other offenders, and learnt why I should not be indignant because I was only 8mph over the 30mph limit; 8mph over the limit is an awful lot if your car hits a child - at just 35mph there is a 98 per cent chance of death. There was a flip chart, there were videos, there was tea and biscuits, but most of all there was the promise of taking Matthew for a spin to a local eatery with my new knowledge.

He was waiting for me when I got back and suggested a trip to Lisson Grove for fish and chips. I stayed within the 30mph limit all the way to the Shepherd's Bush roundabout and slowed down when approaching amber traffic lights. Matthew shifted a little impatiently in his seat but contained himself until we were on the A40 Westway travelling at just 40mph.

"You do know that the limit along here is actually 50mph and we haven't got all bloody night," he said.

"It is a proven fact," I countered, "that travelling 10mph faster in a car will not get you to your destination more quickly. Besides which, 50mph is a limit, not a target."

Matthew said that he would be driving us home and that as soon as we were back he would be phoning his friend Paul McKenna to see if there was anyway at all of eradicating, perhaps by hypnosis, perhaps by auto-suggestion, everything I had just learnt.