The roads seem to be rigged to detect particularly low grade offences nowadays. And when you’ve done nothing wrong at all, the police seem to get ferociously cross. I was once read the riot act by a bearded cop on a motorbike who banged on my window as I sat in gridlock on the Albert Embankment and told me that I was not paying sufficient attention to what was going on around me.
When I asked what he would like me to do he didn’t seem to have any specific ideas; he just thought I didn’t look adequately focused. I pointed out that I had been sitting motionless for half an hour and so letting my hands drop from the ten to two position and staring despairingly into space until the car in front moved again seemed entirely reasonable.
But he was incandescent and warned me that I was lucky he was on his way to an urgent incident or he would book me — presumably for the well-known offence of ‘not driving without due care and attention’.
Another time, I was stopped and breathalysed, a few days before Christmas, as I was going down Park Lane at midnight. The cops thought I was driving erratically, but in fact I was doing 20mph because I like driving slowly and because I like driving slowly I had to change lanes every few seconds to get out of the way of Porsches hassling me from behind.
‘So, been drinking, have we?’ said the policeman who pulled me over, looking ecstatic.
‘No,’ I said. ‘I don’t drink.’
‘You’ve not had anything to drink at all?’
‘Well, I had a glass of wine on February 9th 2001. But I doubt it would be in my system now.’
‘We’ll see about that.’
He got out his big shiny machine and made me blow into it.