Julian's week

Speed awareness and sending seduction to your mother

Writing a fortnightly column means that I’m always on the lookout for an experience or encounter that is rich in anecdotal possibilities. So when I read in my diary that on Friday I was to attend a “Speed Workshop” in lieu of three more fixed penalty points on my already well-requested driving licence, I rather hoped that the afternoon would provide fodder for the NS reader, if nothing else.

The workshop was run by Dave and Irene. Dave could best be described as burly, while Irene was rather glamorous. "What would you like us to call you?" whispered Irene, as I signed in. "Julian Clary," I whispered back, pointing to my name on the list. "Only I wasn't sure if you wanted to remain incognito?" said Irene, knowingly. Not really. I'd been nabbed doing 34 miles an hour in a country lane, not arrested for dogging at Spaghetti Junction.

"We're not police, don't worry," smiled Irene. As she was wearing a black-and-white polka-dot flamenco dress, I instinctively knew she wasn't the fuzz. I couldn't help thinking Irene had seen me during my triumphant run on Strictly Come Dancing a couple of years ago, and fancied that we might cut a rug with an impromptu tango once the class was over. Alas, it wasn't to be.

As an "ice-breaker", we each had to say our name and explain how and where we'd been "caught", in the style of an AA meeting. Then Dave told us some cold, hard facts about road fatalities. Some of this was quite sobering. There were slide shows and pie charts. It turns out that only 3 per cent of road deaths happen on motorways - but 75 per cent in urban speed-limit areas. The "killing speed" is 35 to 38mph. If you run into a pedestrian at 30mph, there's a 20 per cent chance that the pedestrian will die; at 35mph the figure goes up to 80 per cent. You get the drift.

Dave's teaching method was simple enough. He would omit the last word of each sentence, looking menacingly at us to fill in the blank. "You are all here today because you've been caught . . . ?" (speeding). "If you drive too fast you are likely to . . . ?" (kill someone). This was effective enough at ensuring our participation, but ultimately it became wearing. After three hours, I was ready to . . . ? (scream). As a finale, we were each given a copy of the Highway Code and a keyring with the 30mph logo on it. I came away a wiser man. The one sentence that we were unable to finish correctly was: "The biggest killer on the roads is . . . ?" The answer was "lack of concentration". "Don't think about serious things," concluded Irene. Advice that I've rather taken to heart.

I find that I really can, as the slogan goes, “Say it with Flowers”. What other gift is so versatile, capable of expressing congratulations or sympathy, hopefulness or commiserations, with equal clarity? But if you are sending a bouquet long distance, you may not be able to visit the florist to choose your blooms personally. If you go online, you end up browsing a catalogue of dubiously named arrangements, such as the “Casanova” (roses and champagne), the “Attractive Pink Perfection” (mixed flowers – pink, not surprisingly), or the “Ginger Spice” (don’t ask).

It all seems rather misjudged. I can hardly send the "Seduction" to my mother, for example. It wouldn't be right. But as the Seduction is only pink roses and a sprig of eucalyptus in a cheap-looking vase, I could. She wouldn't immediately jump to the conclusion that I fancied a spot of incest. I expect she'd be delighted with the bouquet and polite about the vase. A top British designer who is the epitome of restrained good taste tells me that varieties of flowers should never be mixed. What's more, generally only white flowers are correct (the exception being a small wild-flower selection on a mahogany bedroom dresser). I felt you should know.

Julian Clary

This article first appeared in the 26 March 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Scotland: Time to break free?