Surrey Traffic Police should run a recruitment campaign with the tagline
‘Join Surrey Traffic Police and see the world.’
This would appeal to young men who fancy the glamour and travel traditionally associated with the Armed Forces but are slightly wary of losing their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan.
In August, I hired a car mid-way through my holiday in Venice to drive to the foot of the Dolomite mountains and also took the opportunity to visit Lake Garda.
So that explains why, on the hot, sunny, blissfully lazy afternoon of Sunday 10th August, I was driving slowly through the lovely small Italian town of Spresiano.
To save money and increase fuel economy, the Brightside family were crammed in to a rather underpowered Fiat Panda as we explored churches and Italian villages using the delightfully, quiet country roads.
Imagine my surprise, as I left the sleepy town heading for Treviso, I was flagged over by two Carabinieri (not Italian police - Carabinieri) who were obviously not merely equipped with radar guns but real guns.
The official approached my window and made a polite request in rapid-fire Italian. I looked blank and replied ‘Sorry - Inglese - do you want to see my driving licence and documents ?’ He looked perplexed and a little disappointed: ‘Oh so you are English, yes ?. What are you doing here ?’
‘We’re on holiday and hired a car to come to see your beautiful mountains and Lake Garda’. I pointed at my family who were listening to iPods, reviewing sunburn and consulting the map studiously in an effort to reinforce my argument.
I got out of the car and opened the boot to locate the hire car documents and dig out my driving licence. A pile of wet towels, a rucksack, some beach shells and a large bottle of Fanta Orange fell out. The military official looked dismissively at me.
‘So - why are you having a pink driving licence ?’
A multitude of witty answers immediately sprang to mind but I contented myself with ‘Well - that’s what the English Govermnment gave me.’
His colleague, irritated and curious about the delay on a routine traffic stop, wandered over and the mood lightened. ‘Oh you are coming from London. I have been to London in 2005 - do you know Li-ches-ter Square ?’ followed by ‘I have always wanted to visit Ed-een-burro’.
Finally, their checks complete, I was free to continue my journey. I summoned up the courage and whispered: ‘Excuse me but was I travelling too fast ?’.
The two Carabinieri looked at each other and said ‘Oh no - no problem - it is just a routine stop. This is normal in Italia.’
And then, in a scene reminiscent of the Great Escape where Gordon Jackson has his papers checked by the Gestapo and the German officer quietly says ‘Good Luck’ as he goes to board the bus to which Jackson replies ‘Thanks’, the Italian policeman muttered ‘See you in London’.
This closing comment perplexed me and I assumed I had misheard the Italian accent. That was until today when I received another letter from my friends at Surrey Traffic Police. The letter formally notified me that, on 23 October 2008, 3 further points have now been cleared from my driving licence (leaving an outstanding total of just 3).
Chillingly, the official letter closed with:
PS. Hope you all enjoyed your holiday in Venice