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Unsustainable transport

I thirsted to find a properly researched, well-funded and apparently ridiculous explanation

Some time ago, I decided to abandon my employment and return to college to pursue a second degree. I had spent the years since I graduated working to subvert the capitalist system from within through a prolonged campaign of half day lunch breaks, creative overtime claims and fiddled expenses, but my efforts were frustrated by the fact that I grew to enjoy earning a disproportionately high salary off the backs of the unemployed. Still being unable to face voting Conservative at an election, as my abused sense of morality now dictated, I handed in my resignation and began studying prospectus' with the aim of qualifying in a more socially responsible, New Labourish field.

Hence I elected to take a Masters course in Traffic Management at the Blofeld University of Jenesaisquois, Cranham (until recently, Cranham Technical College and Girls Finishing School). Many would deride my choice of such a staid and perhaps dull subject, when I might have chosen Art, in which I could study naked female students who needed the money, or Medicine, in which I could molest naked female students who needed the money. But long hours at the wheel on some of Britain's busiest, slowest and most congested motorways had left me with an urge to seek the cause behind it all. It seemed to me that it could not simply be due to an increasing amount of traffic, for new roads were being built every day or it was obvious we would soon be overrun by motor vehicles! I thirsted to find a properly researched, well-funded and apparently ridiculous explanation for this modern blight.

The professor of the department at Cranham, Hawkins, was an academic of the old school - in fact the Girls School, until he had been sacked for an incident involving a French student and a cardboard cutout of Johnny Halliday - who believed the best way to teach practical work was to strap one of us to the roof of the college minibus and careen wildly along the M25 doing ninety during rush hour. Not surprisingly, the college lost a lot of minibuses and the occasional promising undergraduate. Luckily, new buses were never a problem, as the department had been sponsored by the Ford Motor Company in return for a report which conclusively, publically and objectively proved that you were twelve times less likely to get stuck behind a Mondeo than any other vehicle. Which Hawkins, ever the responsible academic, duly delivered after three hours of diligent theoretical research in his office.

You were twelve times less likely to get stuck behind a Mondeo than any other vehicle

83% of drivers would reach for a Queen tape

In the first few months, we studied a range of arcane basic principles in great depth, covering the lengths of various makes of vehicle, their top speeds, their average speeds when driven by a person of below-average IQ, statistical derivations of the tendencies of intellectually-challenged consumers to buy Renaults or Citroens and drive them badly, and the increased incidence of road rage around people towing caravans. Eventually, Hawkins was able to lead us through a mathematical proof that in a five mile tailback on the M6, 83% of drivers would reach for a Queen tape even if they didn't have one in the car. The highlight of the Xmas dinner was a speech by our guest Jeremy Clarkson, during which he and Hawkins simulated a sexual encounter on the bonnet of a moving GTi. In the second semester, we covered the psychological profiles of the major personality types on British roads, analysis of their effects on vehicle performance and the conclusion that there could be no rational explanation for their actions. In particular, I remember the thrilling day he proved to us through algebraic formula that Volvo drivers were nine times more likely to cause a head-on collision on a narrow road than any other driver, that they were often incapacitated by the medication they took for their angina and that they were genetically disposed to be too stupid to be allowed to live. At this point, many of the students were beginning to suspect that Hawkins had an ulterior motive for steering the course material in this direction.

Presentation of our final project confirmed these suspicions. Professor Hawkins explained his own hypothesis that all of the traffic problems in Britain today were caused by the actions of one driver. He proposed, through observation, measurement, analysis, deduction and police bribery to discover the identity of this driver.

And after two months of hard academic research by thirty motivated students, involving daily field reports, computer analyses and the procurement of professional escorts for lonely traffic cops, we found the answer. A creased and blurred printout gave us the name of one Arthur Smith of The Copse, Middlesex. In a large ring binder, we had every journey he had made in the last two years catalogued, together with exhaustive listings of his speed profiles, routes and petrol consumption. It was around this time that I broke up with my girlfriend of the first two terms while attempting to interest her in the contents of the binder over dinner. Fortunately, I was too excited by our conclusions to care. Our observations, read aloud, were more intense than a mere orgasm to any man who had spent hours of his life staring at the same bumper on the M40 while wondering who could be responsible for it all.

Arthur Smith, it turned out, covered a remarkable number of miles across a wide swathe of the country each week. This in itself was singular, given that his average speed was around 25mph (less in built up areas). But more peculiarly, he was somehow to be found at the head of almost every patch of congestion that occurred in Britain. On motorways, he was often accompanied by his two brothers, Harold and Ernie, who drove alongside him in the other lanes and matched his speed. Cross-checks with the DVLA, which cost Hawkins a months salary and dinner with a rather fierce head examiner, confirmed that he possessed two vehicles: a G-reg Volvo 240 with a sticker in the back saying "Keep Your Distance - Children Inside" (Arthur was childless) and an Austin Maestro with only the rear hazard lights working. (His wife drove a Renault Clio at 40mph on straight country roads between large towns.) A mechanics report noted that neither vehicle had a moving indicator stalk and that the Volvo was unable to get out of third. Despite this, it had apparently worn its tire treads down 3mm below the legal minimum of 1.6mm - a remarkable achievement - on the middle lanes of the UK's major motorways. The radiator grill still proudly displayed the Volvo marque, along with the damaged badges of several other major manufacturers and the occasional finger. The towbar on the rear bumper was loose, which was caused by the recent unexpected loss of his prized caravan whilst climbing Porlock Hill at the head of a long queue.

Digging deeper, we uncovered his medical record and discovered that he was prone to sudden violent fits that often caused him to change lanes without warning. One almost felt sorry for him, given his impaired sight and semi-paralysed right leg. A torn and abused psychiatrists report jammed loosely into the back of his folder confirmed that he was a mild-mannered, peaceful man most of the time whose dreamy reveries would occasionally explode into psychotic anger at the perceived failings of others. An IQ test rated him at four figures, three of them to the right of the decimal point.

To round off this sordid picture, eyewitness accounts told us that he wore M&S cardigans chosen by his wife after domestic arguments and was subject to a nervous twitch brought on by a number of external stimuli, including VW Golfs, cyclists and yellow cross-hatching. Surely never before had one man been so thoroughly and diligently dissected, apart from the caretaker at the Cranham School of Biology who had inadverdently wandered into a late-night Satanic vivisectionists ritual.

"Keep Your Distance - Children Inside"

Jeremy Clarkson and a girl with a Mark II GTi.

We were jubilant. Our project won publication in a major journal in the field ("Brake! The Journal of Congested Arteries", publ. Elsevier Science) and was received with widespread academic acclaim. At a summer conference on "Practical Studies in Urban Pollution and Traffic Overload" in Honalulu, I slept with an attractive young road signs researcher seduced by my detailed knowledge of London Give Way signs. Our graduation was marked by the public coupling on stage between Jeremy Clarkson, who was awarding the certificates, and a girl with a Mark II GTi.

For Hawkins though, the conclusion of the project marked something of a personal crisis of motivation , and he increasingly lost the plot. Seldom acknowledging visits to his office and often to be found loitering around the power tools section of B&Q, he was last seen spot-welding a rocket launcher to the roof of his brand new Volvo 850 while muttering, "I'll get you now, Smith, the whole damned lot of yer!" We strongly deny, however, that he was anywhere near the vicinity of the recent tragic pile-up on the M6 in which a blue Volvo estate was seen to leap eighty feet into the air and come down some distance outside the crash barriers of the Thelwall Viaduct.

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