Every time I leave the house at the moment, Maude reminds me to drive carefully. Whenever I leave the house for work, she states ‘I hope you’re still driving carefully.’ I tell her that, of course I am driving with absolute care.
‘I rarely get to ton-up any more dear’, I said yesterday morning when this ritual took place. ‘I have stopped overtaking on bends while sending text messages – all in the past, that kind of thing. I have even started wearing my seatbelt.’
Maude usually adopts her stern 'teacher face' at this point – the one she uses when trying to outstare a spirited teenager at school.
‘You know what I mean. You wouldn’t want to leave me a widow and this poor child (points at bump) an orphan.’
I usually do my mock-chided face at this point and she lightens up, safe in the knowledge that she has put the notion of safe driving at the top of my limited mental agenda. She does, however, have detailed knowledge of my driving habits.
‘What about the flash cards?’
Last year I watched a Bob Dylan documentary and was quite inspired by the film clip for ‘Subterrannean Homesick Blues’. Like most Dylan songs, it is a bit top-heavy with lyrics, but he whips through them briskly and helps his audience with an armful of placards. He drops or flings aside each card when the line is complete. I spent several hours in the garage composing a similar set of message boards – all with a motoring application. Maude flouts the highway code by frequently using her horn 'as a rebuke' (accompanied by some regrettable gestures). My card system is designed, instead, to encourage fellow drivers to reconsider their driving style.
I travel along the A1 a great deal (apart from the occasions on which I am forced to go cross-country. The A1 often grinds to a standstill at peak times and I am forced to pull myself off to avoid an unhealthy build up of frustration). I find that I often end up sat parallel to a motorist who has recently cut me up, changed lane without indication, or has a mobile phone clamped to his or her ear. At such times I have my handy stock of clearly stencilled flash cards. The most useful cards read as follows:
(for handheld mobile phone users) : QUIT YOUR JIBBER JABBER!
(for non-indicators) : GIVE US A CLUE!
(for boy racers) : GROW UP!
(for emergencies) : YOU'LL NEVER TAKE ME ALIVE COPPER!
‘Very rarely used, dear', I reassured Maude, 'and never in anything above second gear.’
Maude put on her coat and kissed me on the cheek, seemingly happy with this renewed attention to safety. She stalled halfway through the front door.
‘I haven’t forgotten about your replica gun.’