In which my potty-mouthed satnav tries to save me from Swindon’s finest.
Like any half-decent Englishman, I have learned, over the years, to accept and obey the traffic laws and by-laws dictated to us by criminals and lunatics in suits. I’ve been burned too many times now, and any fight I may once have had in the flower of my youth has deliquesced into a tragic slurry of sufferance. In my head, I remain a Knight Templar of fierce resistance; in reality, I’m that bloke who’s married to Hyacinth Bucket.
Anyway, for reasons completely beyond me, I was forced to drive into Swindon a few weeks ago. As I turned off the M4, I tried to remind myself of any saving graces it had to offer: I knew the band XTC came from there, and I found myself whistling Senses Working Overtime over the top of Radio 4 as the landscape morphed from remote pastoral beauty into a brushed aluminium and steel megalopolis. ‘No biggie’, I thought, ‘I can handle this.’ But then, as I mentally glossed over the brutal truth that was beginning to unfurl, everything ground to a halt. The satnav, which I had recently upgraded from a bossy American cartoon character into a satisfyingly British Jeeves, suggested ever so politely that I did a u-turn. Then ever so slightly less so. And then it really kicked off:
Satnav: Get the fuck outta here, dickweed!
Me: Listen, I’ve just paid an extra £40 for some manners and a posh voice. What’s going on?
Satnav: This is Swindon, man! It’s the wild fucking West! See that bitch coming up? See that? That’s the Magic fucking Roundabout, dude! No one gets out alive.
Me: Perfectly straightforward. If we simply obey the Highway Code and follow the signs, I’m sure everything will turn out just fine.
Satnav: Damn! I should kick your scrawny ass right down that motorway. TURN THIS MOTHERFUCKER AROUND NOW!!! Ain’t telling you again.
Me: I can see you’re upset. But it’s only a roundabout. And it’s not exactly Basingstoke, is it?
Satnav: Basingstoke’s got nothing on this. Do your research.
Me: I have. According to the Basingstoke Gazette, Brighton Hill and Thornycroft are the two most miserable roundabouts in Great Britain; particularly in rush hour.
Satnav: Yeah? YEAH??? Well, chew on this one – In 2009, the Swindon Magic Roundabout was voted fourth scariest junction in the UK by Britannia Rescue. And dangerousroads.org said it’s one of the most complex rotaries in the world. So fuck you.
Me: Where were the other three?
Satnav: It didn’t say.
Me: My money’s on Basingstoke.
Satnav: We don’t have time for this. You gonna turn around or no?
Me: It’s illegal to do a u-turn on the approach to a junction. You should know that.
Satnav: You brown-nosed, obsequious piece of shit. On your own head be it.
Me: Do you like XTC?
Satnav: They’re okay. Prefer their earlier stuff.
Me: Shall we put some on?
Satnav: As you wish, sir.
London 1779. A young servant boy runs towards his master along a dirt track that will become White Hart Lane, Barnes in fifty-odd years. They have travelled from afar and seek only a tankard of Harveys and sustenance for the night.
Servant: My Lord! I have found us the tavern! Over yonder by the railway tracks.
Master: Mock me not, Bobbins, or ye shall sleep with the fishes tonight. And the railway has not yet been invented, as well ye know.
Servant: Forgive me, Master, but it is true. The landlord seems most welcoming also.
Master: Perchance, does he sport a ridiculous yellow Miami Vice jacket? And Penny Loafer shoes with white socks? And a beard inside which one could conceal a bantam?And does he answer to the name ‘Nibs’?
Servant: Why yes, my Lord! How could you know such things?
Master: And tell me: Is it not Tuesday the 15th even as we speak?
Servant: Forsooth, I believe it is, my Lord.
Master: Also, pray, whilst you were inside, did you spy the tail of an alligator and/or the gizzards of a zebra on the ‘Exotic Meats For One Week Only As Recommended By A Celebrity We Cannot Name’ menu?
Servant: Santa on a stick, M’lud, thou art surely blessed with divine perception. But as your servant, I cannot use words of more than one syllable at a time if I am to be a credible sidekick to your increasingly unlikely literary device.
Master: BE SILENT insolent child!!! Thou shalt conform to this narrative stereotype or by my own entrails thou shalt go hungry tonight.
Servant: But Master, I am a lily-livered, limp-wristed, ex-art school vegetarian. I fear such sumptuous foodstuffs will play havoc with ye olde plumbing.
Master: GOD’S TROUSERS!!! Boy, do you know nothing? It’s none other than Exotic Meats Week at The Idle Hour Barnes, and by some fantastical feat of fortune we have stumbled upon it at the very start.
Servant: Actually sir, I think you’ll find it was by Sat Nav.
Master: Like, whatever, sirrah! Do not question my methods, or for that matter my timing: I fear we are 232 years too early for such a feast but we do at least have the blessed fortune of being British a century in advance of queueing for fun so we stand a good chance of getting in. Do you really not eat meat?
Servant: Sorry. Not a guff’s chance in a wind tunnel.
Master: I hate you, Bobbins.
Servant: Yes, sir.
The two men turn into Railway Side where they are met by a man in an absurd Miami Vice jacket and Penny Loafers. And a beard. He smiles and embraces them in a not at all scary manner. That’s what you do on Exotic Meat Week. Because there’s lots of exotic meat. And you have travelled from afar and seek only a tankard of Harveys and sustenance for the night.