Lights, cameras and distractions

Back in the days when my life was devoted to taking hugely expensive driving lessons, I recall two things that not only annoyed me but never seemed to come naturally.

Back in the days when my life was devoted to taking hugely expensive driving lessons, I recall two things that not only annoyed me but never seemed to come naturally. They were, in short, one L of a nuisance.

First was the classic “ten-to-two” positioning of hands on the steering wheel, where it would be systematically fed through one's fingers in a calm, businesslike fashion. Who on earth does that?

In reality, every driver knows that the left hand is meant to rest lazily on the gearstick when not otherwise employed in essential duties such as changing CDs, gesticulating at troublesome youngsters in the back, opening pork pie wrappers or texting.

My other problem was always being forced to use top gear, despite crawling around town centres where it seemed utterly unnecessary. Even though the engine would feel unresponsive and grumble to the point of an embarrassing high street stall, my instructor would still insist on us lurching along in fifth.

In 1984, having passed the test and broken free from such driving lesson shackles, I treated myself to a nifty little Talbot Samba 1100 in a hot shade of racing red…and decided to enjoy some real(italics) motoring.

With the Pointer Sisters singing I'm So Excited on full blast, I'd find an open road and take my scorching Samba from zero to the top of the speedo - before she started to shake, rattle and roll. Fortunately, I'm still alive to tell the tale.

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Older and wiser, however, I no longer find that speed thrills and tend instead to pootle along in my Peugeot 307 Estate with all the urgency of a cloth-capped chap in an Austin Allegro. Despite the generally slower pace, even I have become cheesed off with the proliferation of roadworks and speed cameras dominating the roads of Britain.

To date, I have never been 'caught' by any roadside cameras. On one or two careless occasions I've come close, and have then suffered the agonising weeks of waiting for a summons to arrive in the post. Nothing has ever turned up, but the long, guilty wait has always been a penalty in itself.

On a painfully dull journey between Norwich and north Buckinghamshire in the Bullockmobile last weekend, we crawled from one go-slow zone to the next - seeing red at every set of traffic lights and tracked by more cameras than a posse of paparazzi.

It's not even a particularly attractive journey. Apart from the rural charm of Elveden and the stately smartness of Woburn, the muddy, shrubby roads and uninspiring fields along the route have little to offer by way of scenery.

A few years back, roadworks presented a sometimes thrilling 'diversion' to an otherwise uneventful drive: weaving in and out of plastic cones and shooting through narrow chicanes provided a touch of boy-racer excitement.

Nowadays, of course, pesky speed cameras are rigged up to put a stop to any such fun. Drat!

I've also noticed that temporary traffic lights appear to have replaced the old-fashioned stop/go man with his red and green rotating sign. Although such a trend might well have led to widespread redundancies among roadworks teams, the demise of the stop/go man is - for me at least - a welcome development.

As silly as it sounds, I'm convinced those disc-spinning dictators had it in for me personally. However hard I tried to step on the accelerator, avert my gaze nonchalantly or 'hide' closely behind the rear bumper of the car in front, they'd always change the board to STOP just as it was my turn to GO through the single-file stretch.

Call me a snob (and a fair few readers already do) but I came to suspect that my super-duper personalised number plate was to blame for such victimisation. As soon as the stop/go man spotted '3007 IB' cruising towards him, he'd become so insanely jealous that he became a STOP man - forcing me to wait far longer than any other motorist as a form of punishment for my flashy self-indulgence.

The importance of speed cameras in our lives was highlighted on TV in the picture round of a recent episode of University Challenge. Instead of showing the teams four pictures of Caravaggio masterpieces, European museums or deciduous British trees, quizmaster Jeremy Paxman instead asked them to identify four different types of speed camera.

Four different types? Crikey. I'd never realised there was anything other than the much-hated Gatso, which has raked in so much money from motorists it's been dubbed the Fatso Gatso.

On our next journey we'll play I-Spy Speed Cameras and tick them all off on a checklist. That'll be fun.