I am what Evelyn Waugh would have called a “close student” of traffic. I am a print addict, too. Stuck for reading matter when driving, I sample whatever text is on offer on the road: on the backs of cars, vans and lorries. I mull over every message, including those urging me to find God, protect birds or consider the sex appeal of the driver in front. I follow those who claim to have Jesus on board and those who advise (or warn?) other drivers about their babies. What does “Baby on board” actually mean? Drive as dangerously as you like, kill grown-ups if you must, just as long as you steer clear of my baby? One day, I will devise a yellow sign which reads “Adult on board” with a symbol of my husband upon it.
Now there is a new text to occupy my thoughts (or perhaps not so new, but more ubiquitous) as I inch my way from Highbury Corner to High Barnet: the lorries and vans that have “Well driven?” or “How am I driving?” on their dusty backs. For those unacquainted with such vehicles, they come complete with a telephone number so that, if you wish to make a comment, you may do so.
I have been speculating about this bogus pretence at conscientious communication for some time. I have imagined ringing up the numbers: “Hello, I just wanted to say how splendidly I thought your driver (reg R239 FFG) handled the Highbury roundabout. He was in charge of a long vehicle and I was especially impressed by the way he swung the tail end right round without crashing into anyone. Congratulations to him!” Alternatively: “I am ringing to let you know I didn’t think the driver of heavy goods vehicle (L425 GYT) was up to it. When did he pass his test?”
I discussed the matter with my eldest son, Leo, and we decided to do some research. He volunteered to make a note of telephone numbers, scribbling them down on bits of litter floating about the car, and also to try and catch the registration numbers of the drivers apparently so keen to have their driving assessed. Leo got the details of a Sainsbury’s lorry (M911 CGF) and its telephone number: 0800 225 533. He also noted a lorry with “How am I driving?” on it and the telephone number 0800 101…