Driven mad

“You see that over there? That’s the BMW version of this van we’re in right now. Except the main difference, you see, is that cost 15k more – and it’s only got 6 seats!!!”

Silence in the rest of the minivan. None of us cared how much the minvan we were in cost. We cared even less how much the minivan were weren’t in cost. What we cared about was getting back to work. What Barry cared about was educating all of us in the World of CarMan.

“Do you know how much it costs to get a BMW serviced? Anyone? Hundreds. I was out with a bunch of chauffeurs the other night, and it’s a big joke among chauffeurs: How do you start a BMW?…”

Our deafening silence clearly served as a sign that we didn’t know, but really wanted to.

“2 – 4 – 6 … Hundred pound service charge! Oooooh, this is busy isn’t it. You know why this is so busy? Edge of the congestion charge, innit. Stupid congestion charge.”

I sat in the back, staring out of the window and wondering why, since he had picked us up in the congestion zone 5 hours earlier so had clearly paid to be in it, he was now skirting round the outskirts of it with all the other people who hadn’t. Call me a dumb public transport user, but I thought that was what the point of the congestion charge was; I thought that you paid the congestion charge, in order to drive in the congestion zone, rather than crawl along the edges, bitching about it with everyone else.

*****

We drove past incredible streets of beautiful houses. Children played outside in the cold wintry air, under the trees.

“God, you wouldn’t want to live there, would you? Nowhere to park.”

A cat sauntered along a balcony on the street that Barry couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to live in. Inside, you could see the twinkling of a pretty tree.

I zoned out, and watched my colleagues – and choirmates, the reason we were out of the office that day – sleeping noddily beside me, while in the front seat the well-meaning short-strawers nodded and smiled politely as Barry banged along.

“Ah yes. That’s a top quality GPS system, you see. Look at this: you press this button, it’ll show you where all the petrol stations are, EVERYWHERE. You see that flashing pump on the screen, there? That’s telling me there’s a petrol station over there.”

There was indeed a petrol station over there. I had been looking at it while the people-carrier grundled slowly past and Barry grundled slowly on. And on.

“There you go. There’s another petrol station coming up. You can tell by the flashing pump symbol on the screen.”

Or, in fact, by the fact there was a clearly a petrol station outside the car.

Outside the car didn’t seem to be much interest to Barry, though. I’d watched all morning while Bary had got lost five times, each time the GPS flashing up little helpful messages and arrows that flipped over as if trying to bite their own arse.

Gradually, and in more detail than any normal person would care for, Barry talked the unfortunate sopranos riding shotgun through every single gadget on the dash. I zoned him out. Or thought I did, until I realised I was getting more and more angry, and couldn’t work out why unril I zoned back in again

“… and can tell what kind it is. So the higher the numbers the stronger the signal, you see. Like this, for example. That’s telling me that there’s a policeman with a laser gun somewhere round here – in a car or hiding around a corner. They get up to all sorts, you know, it’s an infringement on liberties. So I slow down here, and…”

Took me a second to work out that the infringement on his liberties was in fact the idea the a law enforcement agency might be hiding round corners trying to enforce the law.

It seemed that something outside the car interested Barry after all. Speed cameras. speed cameras were Barry’s enemy. Apparently, it seemed, speed cameras were denying Barry his god-given right. The right to speed.

I didn’t get it. I don’t get it. I’ve never got it.

“They used to be illegal, these things, can you believe it? But this one? Well, they can’t touch this one. It’s powered by satellite, you see, so they can’t touch anyone for it. Still, I keep it hidden at the top of the screen, you see, because they don’t like you having it. They don’t… But you get what you pay for, you see”

I wondered how much Barry had paid for his anti-speed camera device. I wondered how much it had saved him in fines. I wondered the same thing I always wonder – if you’re so incredibly bothered about avoiding getting caught by speed cameras…

Why not just drive within the speed limit?

Call me crazy, but I have always wondered about this. I’ve heard many arguments about the evil of speed cameras, the evil of the police in trying to enforce speed limits, the rights of the driver getting lost in all this and.. yes, I know, I know, I don’t understand because I take the bus, but …

But, surely… If it’s safer to not speed, particularly in built-up areas and things, then why would you be so desperate to do so? Why be so proud of your little gadget that allows you to drive at whatever speed you like when you don’t think you’re being watched? I realise that people have rights, but people also have laws to help protect themselves and other people and … really … I’ve never understood this, and this is what Barry was saying, over, and over again, and the thing that makes me really angry.

Barry’s vehicle was clearly his castle. And anything that infringed upon Barry’s right as King to do whatever he liked, in his castle, was infringing upon his human, driver’s, rights. No one, it seemed, had the right to tell Barry how fast to drive.

“There’s a petrol station”

I’m not anti-car, I realised, staring out of the window at the people walking along the bright December pavement. I’m not remotely anti-driver. Some of the nicest people I know drive cars, and they’re lovely.

I’m anti-Barry. I’m AntiCarMan and AntiSpeedCameraDetector and, oh, I don’t know, I guess I’m a bit Anti people who break the law just because they believe they and their cars should be immune.

Sorry Barry.

Thanks for the lift, though.

Sorry about the tip.

Nono – here’s a tip.

Try driving slower.

It’ll save you money. And fret. And brake fluid.

And maybe lives.