22 Jul 2007
I was one of eleven poor feckless saps with felt-pen name-labels humiliatingly stickered to our chests all crammed up in a small room in a 1970s office block on the UK Atomic Energy site in Winfrith, near Bournemouth.
Commensurate with our delinquent status, we had been forced into stress positions: peculiar old-fashioned chairs with those little folding tables under your elbow on which to rest your pad on. Every single chair in the room was right-handed
The room was hospital-grey and very hot. Behind yellowing curtains there were floor to ceiling cross-wired windows and a certain tension filled the air; it was half Edge of Darkness, half Gregory's Girl.
Just forty-five minutes previously, having arrived an hour early for my scheduled remonstration, and with the unaccustomed freedom of not a soul in the world knowing or caring where I was, I had rested in a cool, dark pub for traditional ham-egg-and-chips and a pint of foaming English ale (£9.45). Now I was at the mercy of an earnest and enthusiastic pair of professional chastisers: two middle-aged driving instructors from the West Country.
It was a Driver Awareness Course.
What I actually need, of course, is a speed camera awareness course; sadly the Dorset Constabulary don't offer those, and anyway the horse had bolted: I was caught back in May, and this seemed a better option than three points on my license. It never crossed my mind that the course would be led by a Reg Hollis and David Brent tribute band. Next time I'll take the points.
The course mainly consisted of DVD nasties: photos of crashes, videos of crashes, dummies being run over, dummies being crushed. Far and away the worst was when they produced the speed-camera pictures of our own convictions to humiliate us. As the first one flashed up my flesh crawled; I alone knew what was coming. I accepted that my fellow participants would be shocked, but I hoped those instructors - men of the world - would seen it all before. But it turns out I am the only person these fifteen years caught speeding in Christchurch dressed in a pirate suit. With a parrot.
"So, Mr Botogol", asked Reg, fixing me with a piercing look, "why were you travelling at 38mph that fateful day?" Everyone else had already related their narrative, their desperate excuses, their sick children, their sparkling, highly polished anecdotes, and they all leaned forward expectantly, "Well", I said, "well, I was wearing this eye-patch, right..."
At the end of the course, the participants were effusive in their praise for our two instructors. "I'll never break the limit again" choked Jackie, from Poole, and our instructors beamed.
"We're not on this earth for long" opined Reg "No, not for long" chimed in Brenty, "So therefore we all of us", Reg continued, "need to live a happy and a safe life".
It was worth a day of my precious holiday, just for that.
- space-giving (sic)
- time to plan