Wednesday, 22 November 2006
ON THE subject of cars, Gwent Police recently caught me speeding. So now I have to live with the shame of having three points on my driving licence, the endorsement having been scribbled by some minor court official. (I imagined the punishment would be inflicted by some cold-hearted machine.)
They got me with a camera van that was parked-up just inside the 50 mph section before you get to the Severn Bridge toll, the point at which you're most tired and concentrating least when driving back from London. I could query the accuracy of their claim that I was doing 72 mph but essentially it was a fair cop and I've taken the rap.
Nevertheless, I can't help feeling aggrieved because although I may have exceeded the speed limit once or twice before in my life, it's never been by that much and I've never actually been caught as such.
That is, except for that one time in Holland (the unfortunate incidents in South Africa and Brazil are best left undisturbed). I was attending an event in Assen and, rather than fly to Amsterdam with the tedious prospect of driving the traffic-jammed length of the country, I hit upon the brilliant idea of flying to Bremen in Germany and then driving across the open border on traffic-free roads.
At the time, I had a business relationship with Hertz in Germany and the big boss made a special point of looking after me. So, I booked and paid for a Category A car (Opel/Vauxhall Corsa or Ford Fiesta with no radio) and collected a fully-loaded Mercedes S55 AMG at Bremen Airport. You should have seen my self-congratulatory grin.
The journey across to Groningen was fast and uneventful on empty, largely unrestricted autobahnen, but as I swung South towards Assen I collected a tail. This was at the point in the journey where, as with the Severn Bridge toll in the drive between London and Cardiff, you're not really thinking straight.
Suddenly, a horrible, tinny, dark green Mitsubishi Lancer driven by a giant of a man who seems to fill both front seats, sits on my bumper and shapes up to pass. Adrenaline instantly charges through my tired body and I naturally decide to show him who's the boss around here.
For such a big beast, the S55 is one very fast car. Already doing 120 kph (70 mph), the back end dips as I stand on the throttle. The tyres grip the tarmac and we blur into hyperdrive. Eventually the S55 reaches its electronically restricted maximum speed and won't go any faster. Cars traveling in the same direction appear to be driving in reverse. Fast! The Mitsubishi is blown away, man. Totally erased from the rear view mirror...
...until 5 minutes later when I hit traffic as I turn off the motorway for Assen. As the Lancer arrives and screeches to a halt behind, an illuminated sign drops down in the front window saying 'POLICE STOP'. I jump out of the car, documents clasped in sweaty hand, and meet the police officer with a torrent of profuse and abject apology.
"You're not German then?" he asks in German, looking at the car licence plate.
"No, I'm Welsh", I answer in English, praying for a way out of the situation.
"You mean English?" he asks in English, looking at my UK driving licence.
"It's a little country with mountains and sheep..."
"What is the speed limit in Holland?" he asks without emotion.
"Oh, I don't know, I've come from Germany and the roads were unrestricted and I forgot and I wasn't thinking and I'm really, really sorry for all the trouble and the paperwork and..."
"Okay. What is the speed limit in... Wales?"
"Ah, I know that, 70 mph on motorways."
"Now, what's that in kilometers?"
"Oh, it must be about 120 kph."
"Perfect! Quite right."
"Oh goodness! I must have been going much too fast."
"TWICE!" he screeches, making me jump. "Twice" he says again, holding up two fingers to emphasise his point. "In Holland we can shoot you for that".
I am a little disappointed by this exchange, to be honest, since the speedometer had been reading a touch over 280 kph (174 mph) and the S55 is apparently restricted to 175 mph. 40 kph (25 mph) is a big discrepancy.
All this time, people who know me have been arriving for the event and our conversation has been carried on to the accompaniment of car horns as others revel in my discomfort.
Finally he looks me in the eye and says, "If I catch you speeding again, you'll be in big trouble."
"Thank you, thank you, thank you", I splutter in relief, bidding him a fond farewell and wishing joyous blessings upon his house.
"Remember, we can easily tear up your driving licence", he says to make sure I've got the point.
As I breathlessly clamber back into the Merc, he shouts across, "By the way. If you'd been German instead of Welsh, it would have been different."