The new Highway Code is full of many worthy and ethnically balanced tips for making the world a greener and safer place. You can’t smoke. You can’t leave your engine running unnecessarily. You can’t apply make-up if it’s been tested on cats. And if you must eat at the wheel, make it a biodegradable pot of fairtrade hummus and not some corporate ghastliness like a Big Mac. There are also many rules for the elderly. Motorised wheelchairs, it says, should be driven on the pavement wherever possible, at no more than 4mph. And if the driver does have to venture on to the road, he or she should think about wearing a high-visibility jacket, especially when negotiating roundabouts.
Strangely, however, the vegetarian lunatic who wrote all this guff has no specific advice for older people who have not yet got themselves a Stannah stairlift on wheels. The three score and tenners who still have a car. I do, though. And here it is. Get a bloody move on.
I want to make it absolutely plain at this point that I have no beef against the older generation. They fought Hitler. They invented coal. They made a quarter of the world pink while eating nothing but cabbage. And I’m grateful for all that. But if we delivered your meals on wheels at the speed you drive, you’d end up with botulism.
There are no depths to which my shoulders will not sink when I happen upon a spotlessly clean Peugeot – and it is almost always a Peugeot – that is being coaxed along the highways and byways by someone whose ears are so big he can use them to pick up the shopping channels.
Of course, the poor old chap is in no rush. He has spent his life relentlessly dodging Nazis and diphtheria. He has worked his fingers to the bone for 40 years. And now he’s retired, he can slow right down. Potter to the potting shed. Take his time. Relax.
Hmmm. If you are Japanese or French, then this is undoubtedly the case, because you will live until you are a hundred and forty-twelve. But here in Britain, the average life expectancy for a man is 77. So, if you are 70 now, there is no time to lose.
No really. If you only have seven years left, that means the Reaper will be dropping round for tea and buns in about 61,000 hours from now. You therefore shouldn’t be wasting time by pootling to the garden centre at walking pace. So come on, grandad. The clock’s ticking. Pedal to the metal. Or you’ll be in your flowerbed before the plants you bought.
I was particularly distressed by a piece of geriatric driving last weekend since it was my eldest daughter’s first leave-out from boarding school and I wanted to be there on time. Unfortunately, she has made it crystal clear that I am never – never, d’you hear – to pick her up in any car that is even slightly flamboyant or flash. Nothing with four-wheel drive. Nothing with only two seats. Nothing with a big snarling engine. Nothing yellow. And as a result, I was tootling up the Fosse Way in a placenta red Fiat Bravo.
It was the sporty version, I’m afraid, but even so, it simply didn’t have enough oomph to get past the inevitable Peugeot. Which meant I arrived at the school late. Thanks, Mr Molehusband. I hope you have a big-end failure very soon. And because you chose a Peugeot, you probably will.
And speaking of unreliability . . . I honestly cannot work out how Fiat is still in business. British Leyland failed because it made rubbish cars, essentially for the home market. And yet – somehow – Fiat has been doing exactly the same thing for years but is still with us.