Friday, July 29, 2005

Cops and Knobbers

I was called into work at two o'clock in the morning. I had barely two hours sleep before hitting the M5 south. I was on an emergency call out which had implications of national importance. My role was to be small, but vital. I had to be at the pick up point by 3 o'clock to be driven to another destination by six. There was little traffic on the road save a few lorries desultorily grinding out their endless routes - growing from the gloom of the opposite carriageway looking like low-tech 50s sci-fi space ships with rows of lights outlining their grills and roofs. The trundling trucks on my side proving no obstacle to my progress as I glided effortlessly by.

I was making good time but I had only minutes to spare. With about 10 miles to go I spotted a police patrol car travelling at normal speed progressing by alternating between the centre and slow lanes as the Highway Code says we should. I eased off the accelerator in the knowledge that the speed limit of 70 m.p.h could easily be breached if I were to overtake it. I also remembered being told about two weeks ago that one of my tail lights was out, and lazy procrastinator that I am did nothing about it. Better to stay behind the patrol car rather than blasting impatiently past. Better to keep my distance. Despite being well ahead of time I didn't need any . . . Unscheduled delays.

I slowed to sixty. This I hoped would allow the patrol car to stretch away gradually and take its delay threat with it. But the distance didn't lengthen. Dropping down to 50 didn't help. Nor did 45. It was like being reverse-stalked. Huge trucks - my erstwhile victims, gobbled up and spat out by a quicker, more confidant earlier version of me crept into view and trundled past unbothered by the now pootering patrol car and its nervy snail-tail. The truckers with their ham-sized forearms, glowing woodbines and dreams of one day wearing a tie and driving for Eddie Stobart- probably wondered what dastardly, twisted, cat and mouse affair was being enacted on this quiet expanse of road, at this slumbering hour. They had no fear. Those drivers of lorries with lights to spare. But I was down one, and I was protecting the fact. I had a guilty secret that I wasn't about to reveal to interested eyes. My rear-end illegality was concealed by the facade of my front-end normality.

The patrol car slowed to 40, as did I. I began to feel like the reluctant pilot in Airplane, in mock-up profuse sweat mode, shaking like a manikin with a jack-hammer up its ass. I steadied myself and looked in vain for an exit route, an escape from this hell. And of course there was no exit lane.
The patrol car then indicated left and filtered into what could only be the hard shoulder. I'm lured into a pass I didn't want to take, and grimacing, sidled past to allow predator and prey to adopt their customary roles. I'm sunk. Entrapped. My only hope is that the disinterested officers onboard the patrol car are receiving orders which will send them off at speed once they've consulted their maps, retuned their radios and donned their protective jackets. Which of course is my preferred option as I'll be able to bimble guiltily along leaving the patrol car officers to reconfigure their plans and tea stops whilst I am left pledging to change that damn bulb as soon as I can.

The fired-up strafe-strobe blue lights behind me, turning my rear viewer mirror into a flattened glitter ball practically before I had time to exhale a recovery breath provided an early answer.

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