The sad tale of Mark's Snapped-In-Two Car Fiasco reminds me of a tale from both our mis-spent youths, when we were callow youths of 16.
It was wintertime, but the weather was wet rather than snowy and the rain had stopped. Mark suggested we go for a ride on his "scoot", a Lambretta scooter stripped down to the bare bones1, and I was up for it.
Naturally, there was a small problem, involving the lack of a full driver's license between the pair of us. I had none, Mark had only a provisional license, what would be called a learner's permit in the USA. This enabled him to ride a motorcycle at 162, but not to carry a pillion passenger. For that he would require a full license.
Not a show-stopper. Mark had a Cunning Plan.
"If we get stopped, I'll tell them I'm Chris". Chris was a mutual friend who had the Magic License required for our journey to be street legal. "You give someone else's name too".
I could see one of us should be the responsible one. "Okay" I said, enthusiastically. After all, if anyone was supposed to be responsible, it should be the driver, right? If he was an irresponsible jerk it wasn't my job to make him straighten up and fly right. Besides, he owned the scooter and I wanted a ride on it.
And so we set out from his house, and blazed out of the suburban crescents onto the main road and thence to the approach lane to St John Backsides school, wherein we spent many a joyless day being educated in subjects soon to be rendered irrelevant by technology. I digress.
About halfway up the lane we were pulled over by a cop in a Panda Car3.
"Remember The Plan" hissed Mark.
"'Ello 'ello 'ello. What's goin' on 'ere then, sonny?" said the officer4. "Which one of you is the qualified driver then?"
"I am, officer" said Mark, while I pointed at him so the officer would be in no doubt as to whom was speaking. It was dark and both Mark and I were wearing dark blue greatcoats that made us look like floating heads on a night like this.
"Let's see your driver's license then, lad" said the Officer, and this was the fulcrum on which Mark's brilliant plan hinged: he could announce that he, as Chris, had "forgotten" his documents and the police would have to allow him three days in which to produce them at a police station. There would be no "feeling of the collar" tonight, and by morning Mark would have explained why Chris had to nip to the local Rozzer House to show his documents in answer to a traffic stop at which he was not present. I was secretly glad it was not I who had that duty, as Chris was easily annoyed and I wasn't that friendly with him.
"Name?" snapped the Officer, poised with pencil over pad of desk summonses.
"Chris!" replied Mark. "My address is 2468 This Very Street."
I let out a small involuntary yelp as I realized the whole plan could come unraveled if the Officer made us walk two hundred feet to Chris's mum's front door, and mentally cursed Mark for not having the wit to steer clear of the street where Chris lived while borrowing his name, but the Officer seemed not to realize what was afoot, nor where the feet in question were.
Mr Brain having been given a sharp dose of adrenaline, then went into overdrive, and a plan for high-jinks of the most amusing stripe formed. I had time to run a quick check and it was perfect. No legal culpability. No way for anyone to actually object. The hard part would be keeping a straight face.
"And your name sonny?" asked the officer interrupting my reverie.
My name is Mark, Officer." I said, and watched with delight as the real Mark's face turned bright red and he did a little mini-jig of extreme annoyance and puffed his cheeks and bugged his eyes in the grimace of not-saying-anything-despite-an-overpowering-desire-to-do-so. "I live at 221b Mark's House Crescent."
"Right lads. Please drive safely and remember to bring your documents with you next time. It is a legal requirement."
"Yes, sir" we chorused, and watched as the Nice Officer climbed into his car and drove into the night.
Mark threw his hands into the air and shouted "Why did you give him my name?"
I naturally threw my own hands into the air and matched his aggrieved tone "You told me to use someone else's name!'
"But I didn't mean mine!"
"Well you never said, and you weren't using it!'
There were a few more rounds of yelling and shouting along these lines until we figured out the neighbours would be calling the police again if we didn't clear threatre tootsweet, so that's what we did.
The memory of the look on Mark's face as I gave "my" name has cheered me up on many occasions when I've been low.
- At the time this went down, Lambretta scooters had been out of production for many years and parts were unavailable outside of scrap yards. My scooter-owning friends had reacted to this by stripping the machines down, discarding foot-boards, side panels and front leg guards. They retained only the tubular frame, engine, transmission, sundry brake, electrical and steering components and wheels. The frame was then pained a bright primary colour (blue and red were two popular colours) and the result driven maniacally around the neighbourhood at high speed, pausing only to fall off or crash - sometimes spectacularly. Mark's scoot was bright blue, and had twin megaphone exhausts with home-made sound baffles that were, frankly, not up to the job, and could give motorcycles a run for their money↑
- The arcane rules of the UK licensing at that time were that you could drive a motorcycle as a learner at 16 but you couldn't take your test and acquire the desirable full license until you were 17. You could drive a car as a learner at 17, but you couldn't take the driving test and acquire a full license before you were 18. A learner on a motorcycle of any age was forbidden to carry a pillion passenger at any time. A learner in a car was forbidden not to carry a passenger - a passenger with a full license to drive a car. It was all rather bothersome really, but you couldn't argue with the grown-ups who invented these daft laws. This, along with thair classification as a motorcycle/sidecar combination also explains the otherwise bewildering popularity of the Reliant three-wheeled cars↑
- What they gave the suburban police officers who were not expected to chase anyone driving more than a push-bike, typically a Hillman Imp or some such subcompact vehicle, often a hatchback↑
- Probably misremembered, since non traffic division police typically open with “excuse me sir, is this your vehicle?”, which I believe is a legal trap. It is natural to panic and answer "No!" in order to get some distance between you and whatever it is that is annoying the police officer, but that is exactly what they are trying to get you to do so they can run you in for Borrowing Without Permission↑