I occasionally fantasise, when the flame of righteous indignation flares up in the British motorist, that one day we might get what we clamour for. Speed cameras will be dismantled in a national fiesta of deregulation, yellow lines will be painted over in villages and towns across the country and the epaulettes will be ceremonially torn from the shoulders of traffic wardens as crowds of delirious drivers celebrate their demobilisation. And then we'll all climb back into our cars and bring the whole country to a fuming standstill, having discovered the hard way that our cherished automotive liberty is actually just incarceration on wheels.
And then I think about the consequences of this experiment and think, well perhaps not. Perhaps it's better to be stoical. We'll just have to endure the self-regarding paranoia of the motoring lobby and the whining solipsism with which individual motorists exempt themselves from a collective problem to which they contribute. It's our duty to put up with the tedium.
It will undoubtedly get more tedious this week, with the unveiling of new regulations on parking, which simultaneously tighten and ease the penalties for parking infringement. An intriguing list of the new higher- and lower-level contraventions, which I found attached to a BBC News web report on the changes, details 26 offences for which the fines will go up and 26 for which they will fall – though this rather suspicious symmetry appears to have been designed to forestall protest, rather than actually clarify matters.
Amongst contraventions which will now attract lower fines, for example, are: "Parked after the expiry of paid-for time"; "Parked in a meter bay when penalty time is indicated"; "Parked for longer than permitted"; "Parked for longer than the maximum period permitted" and, just to pad things out a bit more, "Parked after the expiry of paid-for time" once again. This looks to me like five ways of saying the same thing in the hope that people will think the changes are evenly balanced.
At the same time the chief adjudicator for the new penalties, Caroline Sheppard, has assured motorists that they will be given the benefit of the doubt in the case of tickets issued by post, and that telephone hearings will be available to encourage more drivers to appeal against issued tickets. Overall, the net result would seem to be much more complication and much more aggravation – and all this at a time when far greater simplicity is needed.
By chance this most recent surge in the blather about the "rights of motorists" coincided with the United Nations campaign for Global Road Safety, an attempt to limit the damage that cars are doing in developing nations, as their increasingly prosperous citizens seek to emulate the "liberty" we already enjoy. It was a useful reminder that the car has a good claim to being one of the most lethal inventions of the last few hundred years; a device which disintegrates communities, damages the environment and has nearly as many kills to its name as the Kalashnikov rifle.
And yes, I'm a hypocrite. I still drive a car and I hate getting tickets. But I will at least own up to the fact that it's my own convenience that's at issue, not some ludicrous notion of individual liberties. And I'll also admit that the price of my convenience still bears no decent relation to the cost it exacts on society at large. So when driving gets more inconvenient, more aggravating and more expensive, I try to bite my lip and think: "It's about time too."
So is this by Picasso – or Jordan?
The Picasso watercolour found in a West Country house confirms an iron law of great master rediscoveries, which is that however terrible the work, that fact must never be publicly admitted.
Etreinte, the painting in question, appears to be entirely without merit. The brushwork is slovenly, the shading clumsy and the grasp of anatomy hopeless. If you were told it had been knocked out by Jordan for a charity auction you wouldn't be surprised.
Nonetheless, Guy Schwinge, who found the painting, was reported to have described it as "wonderful". He could hardly be expected to do otherwise, I suppose, given that he's helping to sell it. But it would be more accurate to describe it as an unfortunately stained autograph.
* I woke yesterday to hear Robert Peston, who first broke the story of the Northern Rock fiasco, expressing bemusement on the Today programme at the reluctance of the bank's board to challenge the terms of Adam Applegarth's severance deal.
"I don't know why boards don't like calling the bluff of executives in those circumstances," he said, "but they really don't."
My knowledge of corporate finance could be written on a cheque stub – but there didn't seem to be an intractable mystery here. Board members are reluctant to take such action because they know perfectly well that the system has been set up for their benefit and they may need to call in a similar favour in the future. The club has been set up to insulate its members from the very exposure to risk that they claim justifies their high salaries in the first place.
It might be a scandal, but it isn't an enigma.Reuse content