I drove through Kensington Mall into Kensington Church Street and found myself looking at a police van with its lights flashing. I waved it on but it soon became clear that it was flashing me. I was asked to turn off my ignition and stand on the kerb. The officer driving the van asked me if I knew why I had been stopped. I did not. He told me that I had just driven through two red lights at Notting Hill Gate. I had no recollection of doing this, but saw no reason why the policeman should be lying. I began to speculate as to why I might not have been concentrating. I spend a lot of time writing in my head. I was writing a letter at the time I was stopped. I offered this goofy explanation for want of anything more useful to say.
The policeman reminded me that I am a professional driver. Perhaps I should stick to writing when at home. This makes perfect sense, Your Honour, but I would like to point out that I have been writing letters in my head, whilst driving, for at least twenty years. I have an accident, on average, every 150,000 miles.
I was about to be breathalysed when another cab driver appeared on the scene. He rounded on the police, told them they had no business stopping me and were completely over the top to have driven against a one-way street to do so. He thought a bomb must have gone off. Turning to me, he offered to act as a witness and waited until the police had finished their questioning before leaving his name and address. When I spoke to him later, it was clear that he was more incensed by the ‘ferocious’ police driving than he was about my innocence of any charge. Anyway, thanks to him I suspect, the charges have since been dropped.
It is quite unnerving to have one’s job put on the line like this and I began to scratch around for a major statement to make about the police. I did not like being breathalysed when I was plainly sober. Two years ago I went to Paddington Green Police Station for a fix on a nearby pub to which I’d been asked to deliver some food. To my surprise I was asked if I had been drinking. I assured the desk officer that I had not. He disappeared, ostensibly to get a fix on the pub. Moments later he reappeared, by my side, with a breathalyser kit.
There have been other occasions. But all the policemen flashing their breath-test kits seemed very young. This morning I was brooding about the police whilst parking in an illegal queue of cabs which had formed at the back of the rank at Victoria Coach Station. A policeman tapped on my window. ‘I’m booking you for obstructing traffic,’ he said gruffly. I was told to move up to a place where I could park properly. He approached me again. I put up a hand in surrender. There was no excuse. ‘I’m warning you this time,’ he said. ‘You know the rules. The next time I’ll book you.’ He was in his fifties and overweight. I am sure that Traffic Division would benefit from an infusion of middle-aged and overweight men and women. At the moment there is discrimination in favour of the young, the lean and the hungry. The minimum age of recruits should be increased to thirty-five and retirement deferred until sixty-five – at least for Traffic Division police, whose racing proclivities have become an expensive and sometimes grim national spectacle.
Your Honour, I will address my concluding remarks to you. ‘The truth is not manifest,’ wrote Sir Karl Popper. I have been worrying away at this incident and think I may have glimpsed the truth. I was driving east along Notting Hill Gate. Why did I get in the right-hand lane to turn into Kensington Church Street? I was empty. My normal inclination would be to drive straight on to Queensway. I have seldom been hailed in Ken Church Street and the traffic tends to snarl up near Barkers. That is my first point. Second, when I was stopped by the police I asked if I could use a lavatory. This request was at first dismissed as frivolous. I insisted that I needed one and went across to the Kensington Place Restaurant. I take no pride in the fact that the police may have provoked an excremental crisis. I would have preferred not to mention this at all. But another explanation now suggests itself. I had been plying for hire. There was no point in racing the lights. On the contrary, by conforming to them I would have been giving people more time to hail me. Now then. There is a restaurant in South Kensington where I am a regular customer. There is access to a lavatory through a door adjacent to the main entrance. If one is caught short, one can get on with it without the need of explaining oneself to staff. Your Honour, it was a bank holiday Monday, traffic was very light and oncoming traffic in the Bayswater Road was held up by lights. I think I probably did race those lights because I was caught short and wanted to get to the Pizzeria Romana in a hurry. I don’t imagine that my revised entrance requirements for the police will meet with much support. However, if the police could learn to ask the fateful question ‘Caught short?’ – perhaps in a dozen languages – before proceeding any further, then I feel sure that a lot of grief and anxiety will be avoided.