Tuesday 16 January 2007

It should be banned

Every year at about this time, I receive a courteous little note through my front door from the Whickham & District Motor Club Ltd. This advises me that a “car navigation event” will be passing my house between 3 and 4 a.m. one Sunday this month, involving up to 60 (but, in practice, probably only about 40) vehicles.

The organiser writes: “I realise any automobile event, however well run, may cause some disturbance to residents along the route”. Which naturally begs the question: why do it, then? Exactly what useful purpose is served by 40 motorists haring (or, as the case may be, crawling) around single track by-roads in rural Northumberland in the small hours, when the only people who should be up and about are poachers, police officers and registered insomniacs?

Once upon a time, it might have been useful to hone one’s navigational skills. But although the news may have been slow to reach Whickham, there is now this marvellous invention called satnav. The gizmo is easily obtainable for less than £200 in the January sales. Or there is the more traditional and much more expensive alternative: the wife in the passenger seat with a road map. Being a woman, she also has the advantage of not being too crippled by pride to roll down the window and ask passers-by for directions. (I do recognise that this may not be a particularly practical option at three in the morning.)

Since I’ve been getting one of these notes for umpteen years, it does seem to me that the event might be getting ever so slightly predictable; so much so that participants could do it with their eyes shut. (For all I know, that could be part of the challenge.)

And in all those years, has it ever actually disturbed me? No, not for a second. Sometimes I’ve been away, and surprisingly often the planned excursion has coincided with the worst blizzard of the winter, and has presumably been cancelled. (I think I’d have heard if it had gone ahead and 40 fearless Whickham adventurers had perished in a snowdrift.) But I can’t believe that it’s happened every time. Even though I am a very light sleeper, it must have taken place on several occasions without disturbing my slumbers.

Since it’s not doing me any harm, why am I forming the Campaigning League Against Motoring Pointlessly (CLAMP) and lobbying all political parties for this sort of thing to be banned? It would be a divisive waste of our legislators’ time, a needless assault on other people’s harmless pleasure, and a further erosion of our already battered civil liberties.

However, there are excellent precedents for just this sort of thing, particularly involving cross-country chases in rural areas. We must never forget that there are important issues of principle involved. At a time of growing concern about global warming, we all have a duty to ensure our diminishing fossil fuel reserves are used only for essential journeys. We cannot afford to put additional pressure on potholed rural roads, which relentless Treasury cash squeezes have left our local authorities unable to repair. Last but not least, there is Elfin Safety to consider. While the chances of innocent children being mown down are considerably reduced by the timing of the event, there are risks to nocturnal animals and to the participants themselves, not least from all the homicidal trees still lining the local roads at the time of writing.

No, I’m sorry, but it’s got to stop. It may be a bit of fun to the Whickham & District Motor Club, but to me it’s frankly nothing short of evil. I shall not rest until Parliament has spent at least 700 hours debating the subject, and passed a draconian ban so full of loopholes that I can look forward to not hearing several dozen cars zipping past my house in the small hours for many years to come.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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