“What are you here for, madam?”
“I was doing ninety-five. On the M25.”
“Mine was sixty – coming out of Hangar Lane.”
“Well, I hope you didn’t break any EU speed limits getting here!”
Nobody laughed: this was a British National Speed Awareness Class.
“And you, sir? How did you get here?”
“Get here?” I asked. “I walked.”
“On foot? I love it!”, said Sam, our Hong Kong-born AA Drive Tech Supervisor. “So you were doing 3mph, maybe 4mph to get to my Speed Awareness class time. Nice work! I hope you remembered to beep when reversing! All right!”
Grouped round tables in the north London AA training room were twenty offenders of varying ages, accents and attire, among them Somalis, a Turkish Cypriot, Asians, a Pole, a couple of Romanians, and me. According to Auto Express magazine (11 May 2016), London is still by a long chalk the best place in the UK for law-breakers to evade speeding tickets: the Transport Police are often unable to trace offenders.
Since 2002, of course, the police have offered Speed Awareness classes in lieu of fines and penalty points. Each of us had forked out £100.00 for the course, some of us I suspect grudgingly. A latecomer in bike leathers collapsed into his chair with inpatient-sounding ouff! “The traffic was not so nice”, he explained in heavily-accented English. In his off-yellow bomber jacket and star-spangled blue crash helmet he suggested a hybrid of Evil Kenevil and an EU commissar.
How Brexit will effect UK motorists nobody yet knows. At our table the joke was that traffic lights would no longer be red, amber and green – but a patriotic red, white and blue. “Sounds great!”, said the Romanian woman at my elbow. She resembled Sofia Loren but the most imposing person in the room was Sam, our AA instructor. Always smiling and chipper he spoke to us at times with a touch of comic desperation.
“Lovely to see so many of you beady-eyed delegates here this Saturday morning.” He held up his hand like a traffic signal to stop. “But – and this is a BIG but – by the end of our four-hour course I don’t want to see any of you here again. Ever.”
“Why ever not never?”, asked a Somali van driver.
“Because we don’t want you to re-offend.” Sam answered courteously. “All being well, each of you will leave this room without a conviction. Drive safe, motor well: keep it that way. Yes? No?”
Sam’s co-course supervisor, Mario, a tall, big-boned man in a Bisto-brown suit, put in: “Morning. Now hands up here who’s heard of Chris Huhne?”
No hands went up.
In 2013 the Liberal Democrat MP and occasional Guardian columnist Chris Huhne had been sentenced to eight months for perjury after lying about the penalty points he put on his wife’s record. “Now is there anybody here who should be telling me something?” Mario enquired darkly. “No? Because the other day we had an identical twin in class posing as the speed offender. Eventually he broke down and confessed.” A silence ensued.
“Good”, Sam stepped back in, adding anxiously: “Everything good?” Afterards he flicked a switch on the wall and a sound of AA-themed muzak filled the room accompanied by a slide show of traffic pile-ups, head-on collisions, jack-knifed tankers and EU road safety signage (my favourite, ‘WRONG WAY. GO BACK’, could be a Regrexit slogan).
“OK ladies and gents”, Sam went on. “Some house-keeping. If you want to go to the toilet, don’t ask permission – just go. But you must promise me one thing. Anyone know what that is? No?” We put our heads together, University Challenge-style.