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Running the gauntlet

1 May 2019

No ticket, no problem: Dom Joly on British parking bureaucracy, plus the Moroccan road trip that put his speed fine-swerving to the ultimate test

Despite my reputation as an anarchic comedy prankster, I am actually quite a law-abiding fellow. There is one exception. This is in the traffic-based arena where most laws seem to be entirely about removing money from a driver’s wallet. To me, the sign of a happy country is somewhere you can park wherever you like. This probably stems from growing up in Beirut where, as far as I can remember, there were zero traffic regulations. I was recently back in Lebanon and spotted the first speed camera in the country. It had been placed at the bottom of the new Beirut-Metn highway, but to my delight, the Lebanese drivers appeared to totally ignore the thing.

Then, in England, I encountered the institutional parking bureaucracy whereby most local councils make a large part of their revenue by ticketing and clamping the poor motorist.

This led to one of my favourite comedy characters, the sadistic traffic warden who would wander around London clamping ambulances and buses, hailing taxis before slapping a ticket on them and fining motorbikes at traffic lights. In any other country this would seem extreme and absurd. In the UK, it bordered on a documentary and struck a chord with the usually compliant UK public.

The very worst I ever experienced, however, was on the road between the evocative seaside town of Essaouira and Marrakesh in Morocco. I’ve done this drive many times but on this particular occasion I was with my wife and her 90-year-old Canadian mother, one of the most law-abiding people you could hope to meet.

Someone somewhere had obviously realised that – with a lot of tourists driving along this stretch of road and out of their comfort zone – there were some easy pickings. In the two-hour drive we were stopped by no fewer than nine sets of traffic police who claimed that we had been speeding and that we needed to pay an on-the-spot fine.

Clearly, they had been making a fortune off foreign motorists, but they hadn’t banked on coming across me, battle-hardened from the mean streets of Beirut and London. The first roadblock tried to fine us, but I refused unless they showed me proof of my speed. They eventually released us for easier pickings. The second roadblock had a speed camera, but it was pointing in the other direction and I pointed this out to the officer. In the back, my mother-in-law, who had never seen anybody ever argue with the police was almost catatonic.

But on we drove, like some exciting video game in which I repulsed the advances of more and more traffic officers advancing on our car with their white gloves outstretched. By the end I was not even bothering to stop, and I didn’t pay a single dirham to these uniformed highwaymen. Sadly, I fear that my mother-in-law is now convinced that her daughter has married some sort of road gangster. The joy of her being Canadian, though, is that she is way too polite to even bring the subject up.

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