How am I driving?

"How am I driving?"

The sticker cheerily calls out from the rear of the wagon in front of me, whose driver has so far caused it to swap lanes three times, failed to stop at a pedestrian crossing and has now been jauntily straddled across the white lines for the best part of two miles. I catch up with him at a roundabout and note that the can of Coke in one hand, miraculously still clasped to the steering wheel, and the mobile (cell) phone in the other probably has something to do with it.

Traffic lights. Every set all the way home, gleaming with their sadistic little red faces. And that "B-M" in the outside lane, foot to the floor; as if I care that he will be a dot on the horizon before I hit second gear! Sadly I do. It's not that I feel the need to go faster: I've drawn up behind enough hazardous overtakers at the next junction to believe that speeding really won't get me there any quicker, however ridiculous the old adage sounds. It's simply that, to my knowledge at least, nowhere in a BMW (Mercedes / Lexus / Audi - delete as appropriate) owner's manual does it state "from now on you must drive like you own the British highways".

There are times, usually when stuck in a jam behind idiots like these, when I feel sorely tempted to get out, a la Michael Douglas in Falling Down, and never drive again. I don't really mind stickers, well most of them, but I loathe selfish road-users and their ludicrously over-customised cars. Thank the Lord that the end of the eighties brought about the demise of many motoring travesties, including the 'SRi' and the 'XR3i', the original pimped-up ride. It is perhaps worth noting at this juncture that I failed my driving test in 1989, and only passed the second time around in 1991, when the trauma of having the examiner perform an emergency stop on my behalf had faded. The shame of failing was sufficient, without a manslaughter charge and a dead cyclist to contend with, so I can at least thank the man for that. I imagine that my response of "Right" every time he ordered me to turn left (or manoeuvre the vehicle at all) had pissed him off to the point that he willed me to mow down said cyclist, saved only by a moment of conscience at the crux of my first and only 'right' turn during those forty horrendous minutes. Talk about 'L' for loser!

Anyhow, I spent relatively little time on the road prior to 1990, if I exclude occasions in the back of friends' cars, hair splayed across the parcel shelf by a mixture of g-force, gale force and incalculable decibels bouncing the boot three feet off the tarmac. Or the journeys in the front of my mother's mini, which she affectionately named Norma on account of the NMA on the number plate. Head to head with a giant Mercedes Benz in a narrow tree-lined avenue, with some vague recollection of "I'm not bloody pulling over. I've got the right of way!", I long ago decided the phonetic pronunciation of Norma's registration more apt.

At the time I bought a Volkswagen Golf - a bargain I was led to believe, but a heap I must confess. It was red, mostly, and it sort of went. It was my first car, so I do have a rather romantic attachment to it, and was devastated when a housemate called a scrap merchant to take it away. I called them, and they told me it had been fragmatized. I told them it wasn't a real word, and they suggested that perhaps I could collect it and use it as a novelty coffee table. I went home to lament, but no sympathy there. Ah yes, it's the biggest Oxo cube they ever did see! Hilarious.

Alas I digress, consciously so, for even now, a glimpse of that dreaded car sticker would inspire the most out-of-character attack of roadrage you're likely to see.

"Bebe a bordo."

What on earth is the point in that? I ask for three reasons:

  • This is the UK, and by and large the residents do not speak Spanish, Italian or whatever the hell it is.

  • Presumably it translates loosely as 'baby on board', in which case just display that.

  • Babies may be cute and all, but the rest of us can as easily be snuffed out by a nasty collision as the next pre-toddler. I for one will drive no less carefully knowing that the car in front is 'bebe-less'.

Pleasingly, these days cars urge on the side of caution and go for the English translation. After all, perish the thought that the driver behind you isn't bi-lingual, although it is worth highlighting that they're probably so dangerously close because they're trying to read the sticker on the back window.

Alas, when the 'bebes' alighted, an equally irksome replacement leapt right in to the gap in the vehicular sticker market. It would seem consumer sovereignty dictates haulage companies and other businesses dependent on road transport carry information on their vehicles for the benefit of obtaining (hopefully positive) feedback on their employees' driving qualities. However, such companies are apparently compelled to do this through the use of informally worded questions that seem almost always to be essentially rhetorical in nature.

"How am I driving?"

Meanwhile back in the truck, the juggler at least has the foresight to put down the Coke can before attempting to light the cigarette dangling from his mouth. Amazingly he is still attached to the phone and the steering wheel, and I can't quite figure out whether he deserves arresting or an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for 'the most items held whilst driving a very large vehicle'. As we approach the next roundabout, him and his tricks, me and my complete inability to overtake out of sheer fascination, I observe that the BMW has got himself stuck behind a learner driver signalling right, and on passing through the roundabout, now level with the driver himself, I note the fury in his revs. The learner driver ambles onward, apparently unable to disengage their indicator to show their true intention, and Mr. BMW is stuck between a Micra and a hard feat to accomplish, for the truckie has gone for the hat-trick, cigarette phone and can. Phenomenal stuff!

It is with a certain air of smugness that I turn left at the next set of lights. I don't need to, and it will take me a very long way round, but I do because I can, and the BMW can't. By now the man is scarlet, and I am pleased to amble away from the premonitions I have of all the possible consequences that may ensue for these three lunatics, four including the short-armed instructor who apparently can't reach the indicator either. Away I go, trundling happily through the countryside, taking in the sounds of the open road, the sunlight between the trees creating that hypnotising flicker as I meander along. Yes this is the life. Not another car, lorry or L plate in sight. Then a sudden, terrifying reality occurs to me...

Unless I really hammer it, I am going to meet up with them a mile or so down the road. I quickly search my mind for alternate routes. Next right? Dead end. Left then right and I'll be back on this road. A crescent, another dead end, and a signpost pointing to the place where my journey into hell began. Frantically I scan the road ahead for any turning, any escape from the red lights that signify my return to the dual carriageway. Nada.


As usual my timing is spot on. I make it to the traffic lights in time to watch the entourage sail by. The lights turn green, I turn left and take up my place once more behind that impossible question and its implausibly dextrous inquisitor, and all the way home, resigned to my fate, I ponder: how are you driving?