March 14 2010
Let’s be realistic, it was all that blasted caravan’s fault… “I mean, honestly,” says Davina, explaining, “how long can a sane person be expected to sit behind a road hog on a single-lane road in the depths of North Wales without overtaking?” What she had failed to see, of course, on her charge to get in front was the small red-and-white sign indicating 30mph or, more crucially, the roadside camera. “Pop” went the flash as she whistled past at 37mph, and “plunk” came the letter through her door 10 days later to inform her of her driving misdemeanour.
Davina, as a rule, doesn’t break the speed limit, and she’d prefer not to think about the nine points on her licence. But this three-pointer takes her tally to 12 and the prospect of at least six months off the road. How joyous, then, for the lifeline of a Speed Awareness Course, whereby she can trade in the three points with a £60 fine and a special class for naughty drivers.
Davina’s special class is to be held in Flintshire. “In where?” she barks at the kindly voice at the other end of the line when she rings to book her session. “Where, for mercy’s sake, is bloody Flintshire? Surely, when I live in Belgravia, there must be somewhere a little more civilised and convenient?”
“I’m so sorry, Madam,” replies the voice, “but I’m afraid the Speed Awareness Course is not about convenience and can only be carried out at the nearest centre to where the offence was committed. We’ll expect you on February 22 at 9am. Don’t be late as you will risk disqualification from the course.”
After several hours’ driving, a dismal night in a Travelodge and an early start in order to negotiate her route through the caravan parks of the North Wales coast, Davina pulls into the car park of the Flintshire Business Centre with five minutes to spare. To say that she stands out among her fellow offenders is putting it mildly. Not only is she one of a small handful of women amid the assembled collection of truckers, cabbies and bikers but she is also the only one in a fur hat and Jaeger coat with a southern accent. Bob, a former driving instructor who is leading the course, immediately fastens her with a beady eye as he perches nonchalantly on his desk at the front of the class.
If Davina had wanted to remain silent, her plans are thwarted by Bob, who clearly intends to revel in the humiliation of making her speak in public. “Could anyone give me three reasons as to why you might break the speed limit?” he poses. “Running late for work,” says Smartypants to Davina’s left. “Being tailgated by an aggressive driver,” says Goody-Two-Shoes to her right. “And you, Madam, would you like to give us a third?” Bob asks pointedly. “Not wanting to miss the start of your daughter’s lacrosse match,” stutters Davina.
The comfort break for coffee and biscuits comes not a moment too soon. Frankly, Davina would much prefer a stiff gin to a watery vending-machine cappuccino but, here, beggars can’t be choosers and as she has just a crisp £50 note in her wallet, begging is her only option. She is (reluctantly) given 20p by a fellow offender, which, sadly, doesn’t stretch to a three-pack of Bourbons.
In the second half of the session, the group is reintroduced to the Highway Code. They are flash-tested on the meaning of various road signs and asked complicated questions about what constitutes a dual carriageway and the significance of distances between streetlights. Davina is baffled. Finally, when they are full to the brim with frightening images and statistics about braking speeds and collision damage, Bob draws the session to a close with a sycophantic smile that barely conceals what he is really thinking – “You’re a bunch of law-breaking numbskulls, who shouldn’t be allowed on the road, particularly you in the stupid fur hat.”
Will Davina’s caravan-overtaking days be behind her now that she has endured three gruelling hours of speed awareness in the back of beyond? As she puts her foot down to get the hell out of Flintshire, one assumes sadly not.