Oeufs Masculin à La Francaise

Apparently, French briefs will turn your ‘oeufs’ into a tasty and nicely-presented omelette. Should you be attacked by a smil­ing, retro-styled woman with a hammer.

Not sure this mes­sage will sell many briefs to men, but per­haps the tar­get audi­ence, as my friend Honourable Husband poin­ted out else­where, is actu­ally women — who are look­ing for an Xmas present for a male part­ner. One that they must feel some­what ambi­val­ent about.

Whatever the ad’s mer­its, I think the art dir­ec­tion is deli­cious. Note how the lamp-shades, the stereo-gram top and the hammer-wielding lady’s nail var­nish all match.

It’s the details that mat­ter when you’re mak­ing ‘oeufs’ splatter.

The Truth About Filthy Cars

Just how badly do you treat your car?” asked the step-father of a 20 year old woman recently in an ‘ad’ for her some­what neg­lected gold Peugeot 307 with 91,000 miles on the clock.

I bet it isn’t as bad as this stink­ing, petri dish of McDonald’s infes­ted filth my step-daughter calls her wheels” he went on in his uncon­ven­tional sales pitch. “She has left her car in our car­park and I decided to give it away before it makes me throw up a bit in my mouth.”

The stepdaughter-shaming story about her dirty car got a lot of trac­tion in the media – and also got the appar­ently irate dad a lot of free pub­li­city for his motor­ing blog. We all love the shame­ful joy of a story about a filthy car. Or at least, a car that is filthier than ours.

John, 27, a plain-taking Yorkshireman has seen a lot of filthy cars in his time. “To be hon­est, some of them made that ‘stink­ing petri dish of McDonald’s infes­ted filth’ sound quite appet­ising” he says. Almost noth­ing phases him. He has seen human­ity in its true col­ours. And smelt it.

John you see works valet­ing traded-in cars at a busy used car deal­er­ship. He cares for cars that the pre­vi­ous own­ers have often fallen out of love with some time ago. His job is to make them look loved again – so someone else will fall for them. Sometimes Hercules had it easier with the Augean Stables.

The dirti­est, most unloved car he every had to clean was a Range Rover that belonged to a farmer. “It took four days to clean it,” he says matter-of-factly. “I had to start by shov­el­ling the boot out”. For his troubles John found him­self with a nasty case of ringworm.

Dirty cars can be a real health haz­ard as well as an aes­thetic one. He once caught fol­licu­litis from a Honda Civic. “The pre­vi­ous owner must have had the infec­tion and not worn a shirt – we’d been hav­ing a heat­wave. Fabric seats are very absorbent.”

The filthi­est item he’s ever found? “Probably a pair of very heavily-soiled frilly pink nick­ers – stowed under the pas­sen­ger seat of a Porsche Boxster.”

The strangest item? “One very worn fleshy beige high heel, under the pas­sen­ger seat of Subaru Estate. You would think that the owner would’ve noticed it was missing!”

John finds lots of ladies’ col­lapsible brol­lies – a shelf on the wall of his corner of the gar­age sports three aban­doned ones, just from that week. He also finds sunglassess. “People tend to come back for those.” Unlike, say, soiled frilly pink panties, then.

Some of the things people left behind can be quite poignant” says JOhn show­ing me a Valentines card, still in the plastic wrap­per, found in the glove com­part­ment of a Ford Focus. “Did he/she for­get to post it? Or was it an ‘emer­gency Valentines card’? We’ll never know”.

Does he finds many con­doms? “Nope, never. But I did find lots of little see-through re-sealable plastic bags in a black C-Class Merc.” I won­der what they could have been used for?

Bad car odour is a per­en­nial prob­lem. Dog smell is almost impossible to get rid of: “You can try sham­poo­ing the car­pets and seats but it just ends up smelling of wet dog, which is even worse of course.”

Mould smells the worst though. “Very dif­fi­cult to get rid of it once it takes hold. Often find it in cars that have had kids in them. Milk spilt on fab­ric seats just seeps through the foam to the bot­tom where it festers and turns mouldy – then the mould grows through the seat and comes out the top. Once the spores spread it grows every­where, on the win­dow sills and door handles.”

Car owner’s strategies for deal­ing with pongs can be eccent­ric. “The Fiesta I cleaned this morn­ing had four air Xmas tree freshen­ers hanging from the rear view mir­ror.” He reaches into the bin and shows me them: Artic Ice, Black Ice, Strawberry and New Car. All of them ancient and shrivelled.

The worst car­pets to clean are the woolly ones in cheaper cars. “You can never get the rub­bish out of them it just sticks. Cleanest cars tend to be Prestige cars like Mercs, BMWs, VWs, Jags. They also have bet­ter qual­ity car­pets, that are easier to clean.”

Is there a dif­fer­ence between men and women’s cars when it comes to vehicu­lar hygiene? “Men’s cars tend to have more rub­bish in them, but stuffed into door pock­ets and into the boot or glove com­part­ment where they can’t be seen from out­side. Women’s cars often have stuff just thrown every­where and make-up on the controls.”

The clean­est car he’s seen? “An eld­erly couple brought in a Jag which was abso­lutely immacu­late. That was the clean­est trade-in ever. They’d obvi­ously ages valet­ing it inside and out.”

Such patience tends to be lack­ing in the younger gen­er­a­tion. “Most just can’t wait to get rid of their old car once they’ve found a new one. And don’t seem at all embar­rassed about the state they’re in when they hand them over. But I can’t com­plain too much as it keeps me in work!”

With that John gets back to comb­ing out the curly car­pet in a Fiat Punto that looks like its pre­vi­ous owner was a herd of espe­cially incon­sid­er­ate wildebeest.

Originally appeared on LeasePlan blog.

The Rise & Fall of Monosexuality

‘There is no middle ground – you are either het­ero­sexual or homosexual.’

Until quite recently, this state­ment was regarded as com­mon sense. More than this, it was a kind of widely-shared art­icle of quasi reli­gious faith, as pre­script­ive as it was descript­ive. An Eleventh Commandment.

Heterosexuality was the default, nor­mal, right, set­ting and any­thing that strayed from that was homo­sexu­al­ity. That is to say: sin­ful, wrong, ill, odd, hil­ari­ous, niche.

This het­ero­centric, essen­tially mono­sexual world-view was not just con­ven­tional wis­dom for many straight people. It was also shared by sur­pris­ingly large num­ber of (usu­ally older) gay people, who some­times regard bisexu­al­ity as a kind of heresy, or at least a cop out. What’s not straight must be gay, oth­er­wise you’re just kid­ding your­self and let­ting the side down.

But com­mon sense can change. And art­icles of reli­gious faith can fall. There has been a revolu­tion in atti­tudes in recent years that has shaken sexual cer­tain­ties to the core. Compulsory het­ero­sexu­al­ity, and the idea that any ‘devi­ation’ from it is homo­sexual, is no longer so com­puls­ory. People have lost their faith in monosexuality.

According to a recent, widely-publicised YouGov sur­vey less than a third of UK res­id­ents now agree that when it comes to sexu­al­ity ‘There is no middle ground — you are either het­ero­sexual or homo­sexual’. While nearly two thirds (60%) agree with the once heretical state­ment ‘sexu­al­ity is a scale – it is pos­sible to be some­where near the middle’.


Most strik­ingly of all, this fig­ure rose to three quar­ters of 18–24 year olds. Half of whom placed them­selves some­where on that scale as some­thing other than 100% het­ero­sexual. While a remark­able 43% of them describe them­selves as being, to some degree, bi-responsive.


It was the pion­eer­ing American sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, who inven­ted the 0–6 scale used in the YouGov poll (0 = totally het­ero­sexual; 6 = totally homo­sexual) back in the 1940s. Like Sigmund Freud, Kinsey believed that humans were basic­ally bi-responsive, that human sexu­al­ity was a spec­trum and that human­ity could not be divided up into gay goats and straight sheep. Kinsey argued that although most of the pres­sure was to be het­ero­sexual, society’s ostra­cism of homo­sexu­als also forced them into exclus­ive rela­tions with the same sex. In a soci­ety with less restrict­ive mores, in which homo­sexu­al­ity was tol­er­ated and integ­rated, Kinsey, who was him­self bisexual, believed sexual inter­ac­tion with both sexes would become the norm.

70s years on, mores have become less restrict­ive, the stig­mat­isa­tion of homo­sexu­al­ity has greatly dimin­ished – and the avail­ab­il­ity and insa­ti­ab­il­ity of online porn has opened the eyes of many to prac­tises once deemed so immoral and unnat­ural they were unmen­tion­able. And on paper, it would appear that Kinsey has been largely vin­dic­ated – at least as far as young UK het­ero­sexu­als are concerned.

The fact that only half of 18-24s say they are com­pletely het­ero­sexual is a sign that the younger gen­er­a­tion is abandon­ing mono­sexu­al­ity as a belief sys­tem — which has to appear to be a uni­ver­sal truth, not a minor­ity or ‘niche’ cult. It’s also an indic­a­tion that a the­or­et­ical level of bi-responsiveness has become or is becom­ing the norm. Most may not be act­ively explor­ing it (20% of 18-24s and 27% of 25-39s say they have had sex with someone of the same sex), and most of the less than 100% het­eros huddle at the het­ero­sexual end of the spec­trum, but they are touch­ingly keen to be – or at least appear to be – open-minded. Half of het­ero­sexual 18-24s say that if the right per­son of the same sex came along at the right time they could be attrac­ted to them.

Perhaps the col­lapse of com­puls­ory het­ero­sexu­al­ity and the crisis of mono­sexu­al­ity shouldn’t be so sur­pris­ing. A couple of years ago a sur­vey into male groom­ing found that half of UK men now describe them­selves as met­ro­sexual, and want to be beau­ti­ful. Men, espe­cially young men, have in the last dec­ade or so, been given per­mis­sion to enjoy products, pleas­ures, prac­tises, pret­ti­ness and poten­tials that were pre­vi­ously strictly for ‘girls and gays’.

Little won­der that as gender norms have relaxed they have become more open-minded about sexu­al­ity itself. As I’ve argued before, men in gen­eral are less hard on the gays nowadays because they’re less hard on them­selves – no longer need­ing so much to pro­ject their ‘weak­nesses’ into the des­pised, or just pat­ron­ised, ‘other’.

Instead, they now want to show how accept­ing they are of the ‘other’ – but most par­tic­u­larly they want those kinda fun, kinda kinky ‘weak­nesses’ back now, thanks very much, now that they are much more into them­selves than they used to be.

US Data

In Kinsey’s own coun­try the US, where mono­sexu­al­ity was even more entrenched than in the UK, a sea-change is afoot too, but one that seems by some meas­ures to lag behind the UK, and lead it by oth­ers. A YouGov sur­vey there pub­lished shortly after the UK one found that 31% of under-30s plot them­selves as some­thing other than com­pletely het­ero­sexual on the Kinsey scale – com­pared to 78% of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion who say they are com­pletely het­ero­sexual, and 4% who say that they are com­pletely homosexual.

Unfortunately, there is no 18–24 cat­egory in the US data, so that 31% fig­ure for under 30 non-heterosexuality is dif­fi­cult to com­pare prop­erly with the UK fig­ure of 49% (though the UK fig­ure for the next age cat­egory 25–39 is 42%). However, as in the UK there is clearly a major gen­er­a­tional shift at work, with young people being much more open-minded. ‘No homo’ isn’t quite so ‘no homo’ as it used to be.

Some of the other data avail­able does sug­gest that the US is still more mono­sexu­al­ist than the UK. Nearly half (48%) of Americans believe ‘there is no middle ground – you are either het­ero­sexual or you are not’ com­pared to only 27% of Brits. (However, the UK question/statement reads: ‘there is no middle ground — you are either het­ero­sexual or homo­sexual’; the US question/statement replaces ‘homo­sexual’ with ‘not’, which is per­haps itself symbolic).

Which is to say, half of America does not believe there is such a thing as bisexu­al­ity, and thus any devi­ation from het­ero­sexu­al­ity is just homo­sexu­al­ity. Amongst Republicans that increases to 63% — and stands at 58% in the South, sug­gest­ing a mono­the­istic basis to monosexuality.

Only 39% of Americans agree with the state­ment that sexu­al­ity is a scale – com­pared to 61% of Brits. And only 27% of US het­ero­sexu­als say that if the right per­son came along they could pos­sibly be attrac­ted to a per­son of the same sex, com­pared to 38% of Brits. (Though this may be a func­tion of British politeness.)

All that said, c. five times as many young Americans identify as bisexual as young Brits. 10% of American 18-29s, com­pared to just 2% of UK 18-24s, and 2% of Americans of all ages. And five times fewer young Americans identify as gay or les­bian than UK young people do: 10% of UK 18-24s (com­pared to 6% for all ages) and 2% of US 18-29s (com­pared to 4% for all ages).

It’s dif­fi­cult to know for sure, espe­cially from this side of the Pond, whether this is a meas­ure of greater enlight­en­ment and inclus­iv­ity about sexu­al­ity amongst young people in the US and a related dimin­ished need for dis­tinct gay and les­bian iden­tit­ies – prov­ing Kinsey right about gay people becom­ing less sexu­ally exclus­ive as they became more integ­rated. Or whether some­thing else is going on, espe­cially given the lower levels of tol­er­ance and accept­ance for homo­sexu­al­ity in the US com­pared to the UK. Perhaps as some older gay people like to com­plain, young gay and les­bian Americans are ‘hid­ing’ their ‘true’ sexu­al­ity in ‘fash­ion­able’ bisexuality..

Or maybe the reason so many young Americans choose to identify as bisexual is pre­cisely because the belief in mono­sexu­al­ity has been so devout and oppress­ive there for so long – on both sides of the gay/straight divide.

What bet­ter way to flip the older gen­er­a­tion the bird than to declare an iden­tity which by defin­i­tion rejects their cher­ished sexual religion?

UK Data Odds & Sods

Men are five times more likely to describe them­selves as ‘gay or les­bian’ than women: 10% of men com­pared to 2% of women. (In the US the fig­ure is 5% for men and 4% for women.) When it came to ‘bisexual’ the num­bers were evenly split at 2% for men and women alike.

7% of Conservative voters described them­selves as ‘gay or les­bian’ com­pared to 4% of Labour voters – des­pite the fact that male homo­sexu­al­ity was decrim­in­al­ised under a Labour gov­ern­ment in the 1960s, and it was another Labour admin­is­tra­tion in the 90s & Noughties which did away with the remain­ing dis­crim­in­at­ory laws – in the teeth of Conservative oppos­i­tion. Rather than attrib­ute this all to Cameron’s recent suc­cess­ful co-option of gay mar­riage, per­haps a bet­ter explan­a­tion for the fact there were nearly twice as many Conservative gays and les­bi­ans as Labour is to be found in the data show­ing social class ABC1 were four times more likely to describe them­selves as gay or les­bian (8%) than those in C2DE (2%). Class and income doesn’t just influ­ence your vot­ing, but also your declared sexu­al­ity. Interestingly, the num­bers for ‘bisexual’ were the same for Labour and Tory voters and both social classes – 2%.

Perhaps not entirely sur­pris­ingly, sup­port­ers of the cent­rist (and largely middle-class) Lib Dems were most likely to agree with the state­ment ‘sexu­al­ity is a scale – it is pos­sible to be some­where near the middle’, at 71%, com­pared to 47% of UKIP voters, who are much more likely to be C2DE (39% of UKIP voters believed there was no middle ground – you are either het­ero­sexual or homosexual).

The great, throb­bing Metropolis of London, as you might expect, had the highest num­ber of self-described gays and les­bi­ans: 8% com­pared to Scotland’s 3%. But wrong-footing ste­reo­types, ‘Midlands/Wales’ was only one point behind what is now surely the gay cap­ital of the entire world, at 7%.


h/t @villouta

Nadal’s Locker Room Service

Is that a rac­quet in your pants? Or are you just pleased to see a camera?

Darkly hand­some 29 year old ten­nis ace Rafael Nadal’s new ad for Tommy Hilfiger has more than a hint of a Tom Cruise Top Gun locker room scene about it.

It also goes fur­ther than any other recent under­wear ads in com­modi­fy­ing celebrity cock. All but shov­ing it down our all-consuming maws. It’s a big budget ver­sion of a web-cam show.

The ad begins with the cam­era, appar­ently held by a heavy-breathing voyeur pre­tend­ing to towel off after a shower  - i.e. the view­ing pub­lic — slyly star­ing at Cruise/Nadal’s pert bum filling out his designer jeans as he enters the locker room. Then zoom­ing in as the win­ner of four­teen ‘Grand Slams’ strips, seem­ingly unawares.

We clock his ath­letic back, his cotton-clad buns, his tanned, toned, centre court thighs, his abs, and — WOAH! — his ‘open stance’ packet. Is that just the carefully-angled light? Or a pros­thesis? Or is he actu­ally turned on??

And is he going to have our eye out with it if he pulls those pricey pants down?

Just as we are about to find out, Nadal decides to end his little show — shak­ing his head at us with a naughty grin that says he knew full well what we were up to and enjoyed every minute of it. And then he vol­leys us his still warm ‘top-seeded’ Hilfiger under­wear. So kind.

A few years back, when Nadal was still in his mid-twenties, it was another designer, Mr Armani, who was offer­ing us Nadal bent over a builder’s bench, and chopped into smooth, sexy, slip­pery pieces in an abjectly objec­ti­fy­ing video.

In the latest cam­paign Nadal’s world-class rear still has a star­ring role, but now, nearly 30 — and the envel­ope of what’s accept­able in main­stream advert­ising hav­ing been well-and-truly pushed in our faces — he not only sports chest hair but also, a very prom­in­ent penis.

Which reminds me. Perhaps I’ve been pay­ing too much atten­tion, but in the vid Nadal seems to be dress­ing to his right and ‘rest­ing’ at 0:10. But by 0:11 he’s dress­ing left and a semi-finalist.

That’s some service.

Pedal To The Metal — The Devil Has All the Best Drive Tunes

by Mark Simpson

There are few fully-clothed pleas­ures greater than the sol­it­ary, bliss­ful one of driv­ing to one’s favour­ite music.

Pop on a beloved tune in the car and the world becomes a movie to your soundtrack, cho­reo­graphed by your gear changes and pedal work, con­duc­ted by your tal­en­ted hands on the wheel. Everything seems right and revvy in the world. Because, for once, just once, you lit­er­ally set the tempo of life. You are DJ to the world.

Sometimes, when just the right track is play­ing and just the right stretch of road is unspool­ing before you, it even seems like the whole point of your exist­ence and indeed the entire arc of human civil­iz­a­tion has been to make it pos­sible for you to sing along badly to ‘Paradise City’ by Guns N’ Roses at the National Speed Limit.

But watch out! There’s some­thing in the road ahead! My god! It looks like a middle-aged aca­demic! And he’s flag­ging you down!

So he can cri­ti­cise your music collection.

The car is the only place in the world you can die just because you’re listen­ing to the wrong kind of music,” says Warren Brodsky, Director of Music Psychology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel (who also per­haps deserves an hon­or­ary chair in the Drama Dept.) Mr Brodsky recently pub­lished the first text­book on how music can affect driv­ing habits, “Driving with Music: Cognitive-Behavioural Implications” (Ashgate Publishing Company).

Essentially his argu­ment is that the music you like is the music that will kill you. “Whether it’s Beethoven, Basie or Bieber is irrel­ev­ant,” the pro­fessor says. “Ideally drivers should choose tunes that do not trig­ger dis­tract­ing thoughts, memor­ies, emo­tions, or hand drum­ming along to the beat while driv­ing.” In other words, music that evokes a response from you is the wrong kind of music to listen to in the car.

He writes: “…the optimal music for drivers to listen to are pieces with a mod­er­ate level of emo­tional energy (as intense emo­tional qual­it­ies of either pos­it­ive or neg­at­ive valence causes unwanted mal­ad­apt­ive driver behaviours)”.

A study he con­duc­ted with 85 drivers aged 18 found that 98% of them made driv­ing errors (such as speed­ing and tail­gat­ing) when listen­ing to music. Worryingly, how­ever, 92% of them made mis­takes when listen­ing to no music at all. When listen­ing to Mr Brodsky’s own sooth­ing playl­ist of ‘safe music’ only 77% made a driv­ing error. So ‘safe’ music seems to be bet­ter than no music.

What was ‘safe music’? Apparently, a blend of easy-listening, soft rock, and light jazz instru­mental and vocal. Mr Brodsky should obvi­ously be a Melody FM DJ.

Previous stud­ies have sug­ges­ted that ‘boom cars’ in par­tic­u­lar and loud music in gen­eral decreases a driver’s abil­ity to react to sud­den move­ments and make decisions – reac­tion times dimin­ished by up to 20 per cent in a Canadian study when a per­son was sub­jec­ted to loud volume. (The effects of flash­ing LED dash­board lights and furry dice was not measured.)

Another, not ter­ribly sci­entific study con­duc­ted by Confused.com used a driv­ing app called MotorMark to mon­itor the driv­ing habits of eight drivers over 500 miles. It con­cluded that listen­ing to hip-hop and heavy metal music pro­duced high risk driv­ing habits, such as speed­ing, fast accel­er­a­tion and last-minute breaking.

The most ‘dan­ger­ous’ songs included Johnny Cash’s ‘Get Rhythm’, Snoop Dog & Wiz Khalifa’s ‘Young, Wild and Free’ and… Guns N’ Roses ‘Paradise City.

The ‘safest’ included Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’, Jason Mraz ‘I’m Yours’ and Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist’. Though some might be for­given for won­der­ing what the point of liv­ing was if it meant hav­ing to listen to Coldplay.

Face facts, it’s prob­ably only a mat­ter of time before we’re banned from play­ing music we actu­ally like in our cars – or have to pay a higher insur­ance premium not to listen to dron­ing tones selec­ted by the aca­demic DJ, Mr Brodsky.

Personally, I think they should ban pas­sen­gers first. They’re a bad enough dis­trac­tion in your own car, but even worse in other people’s. Whenever you’re being held up by someone’s dawdling it’s always a car with two heads bob­bing away above the front seats as they have a good old nat­ter – and tut about the really impa­tient man in the car behind them listen­ing to Guns N’ Roses. Very loudly.

Originally appeared on LeasePlan blog

Driven Dotty — The Madness of Motorway Signage

Mark Simpson won­ders what all those dot-matrix signs are try­ing to tell us

In an age when there are so many chan­nels to choose from and so many e-distractions to fid­get with, there is one sta­tion with a very cap­tive, very bored audi­ence. You can’t change chan­nels – or even turn it off. And you’d bet­ter pay atten­tion because oth­er­wise you might get a sum­mons in the post.

So, as you might ima­gine, the con­tent doesn’t exactly have to try too hard to get your attention.

If you drive on the UK’s trunk roads or motor­way net­work you will be, whether you want to be or not, a reg­u­lar viewer of Dotty TV – those help­ful mes­sages and pic­to­grams dis­played on those huge dot mat­rix screens sus­pen­ded over the car­riage­way on can­ti­levered posts seem­ingly every mile or so.

Officially installed to help man­age the road net­work by giv­ing drivers use­ful live traffic inform­a­tion, such as warn­ing of road clos­ures or acci­dents, and also warn of emer­gency speed restric­tions, they are most often used to dis­play unac­count­ably annoy­ing gen­eric ‘safety’ mes­sages such as




I say ‘unac­count­ably annoy­ing’, but it’s pretty account­able, really. You’re driv­ing on the motor­way, you’re so bored you could even listen to Jeremy Vine on Radio 2. But Lo! You spy a large, expensive-looking flat screen TV panel in the dis­tance. How thought­ful and kind to install that for the bored driver! And it looks like it has a mes­sage on it! A mes­sage for YOU!!

LA Story gif

Excited you approach this sign, this portent, won­der­ing what thrill­ing, stir­ring news it con­veys, what exotic augur­ies it betokens. But as it looms up, it slowly dawns on you that this is not LA Story – where Steve Martin is given rela­tion­ship advice by a chatty free­way traffic flow sign – but instead pat­ron­ising, use­less, and slightly snotty ‘safety advice’.


Dotty TV is like those 1970s pub­lic inform­a­tion films, but without the charm­ing anim­a­tion, the catch­phrases or the cats.

After a hun­dred miles or so, or even just fif­teen, these nan­nyish exhorta­tions from on high begin to feel like reg­u­lar, smart­ing slaps across the wrists by a Highways Agency ruler.

You begin to think dark, crazy, and rather child­ish thoughts such as: Why SHOULD I keep my dis­tance? Or watch my speed? Or take a break? Who can I phone RIGHT NOW and talk to in a very anim­ated fash­ion while my fuel runs out? And where did I stow that bottle of vodka?

Part of the irrit­a­tion is of course the real­isa­tion that because you’re read­ing these signs you’re almost cer­tainly not the kind of per­son these Maoist exhorta­tions are inten­ded for. You’re being taunted with remind­ers of the care­free fun that other more dec­ad­ent drivers are hav­ing on the road – while you con­scien­tiously read these bloody messages.

Some are just an insult to reason. For instance, the message:


I don’t think I’ve ever towed any­thing in my life, and I sin­cerely hope I never do any­thing so vul­gar. But I have a hunch that if someone who is in fact tow­ing some­thing needs to be reminded they are tow­ing some­thing then they prob­ably aren’t going to take much care at all – let alone extra care. Or read stu­pid signs.

But come the Bank Holiday week­end I have to read that mes­sage a zil­lion times before I have an over­priced Americano in a Welcome Break.

A YouGov sur­vey a few years ago for motors.co.uk found that 43% of drivers ignore dot mat­rix signs. Another 4% claimed never to have seen one, ever. Clearly these people are much, much more sens­ible than me.

The philo­soph­ical prob­lem with ‘safety mes­sages’ is not only that the wrong people read them, it’s that in the con­text they’re presen­ted, the infin­ite bore­dom of the lim­inal space of motor­way driv­ing – and on such huge, expens­ive, portent­ous signs placed, from the per­spect­ive of the driver, lit­er­ally in the heav­ens – they are no longer safety mes­sages. They are bur­eau­cratic for­tune cookie slo­gans exal­ted into life-changing max­ims. You end up think­ing about them far, far too much before some­thing more inter­est­ing hap­pens, such as pick­ing your nose.

A little research reveals that the signs I’m moan­ing about aren’t dot mat­rix signs at all. They are actu­ally called Variable Message Signs, or VMS, and began to be intro­duced to the UK about fif­teen years ago. There are now c. 3000 of them along our trunk roads and motor­ways wag­ging their digital fin­gers at us.

The very latest VMS is the ‘MS4’, which the man­u­fac­turer describes as ‘offer­ing a full graph­ics area with a mat­rix of LEDs in two col­ours. This makes it cap­able of dis­play­ing an almost infin­ite range of pic­to­grams and legends.’

Shame that those infin­ite cap­ab­il­it­ies are mostly used to tell you


Even when a VMS dis­plays poten­tially use­ful inform­a­tion such as road clos­ures ahead, it sud­denly becomes all tongue-tied and tacit­urn, after all those miles and miles of point­less advice. They all too fre­quently just say: ‘A1 CLOSED JCN 21–23’ without giv­ing any more identi­fy­ing info, des­pite acres of unused dis­play room.

Even before the infin­ite cap­ab­il­it­ies of VMS, most people didn’t know their junc­tion num­bers, espe­cially if the road isn’t a motor­way. They tend, nat­ur­ally enough, to go by place names, or inter­sect­ing road num­bers. I’m con­vinced it’s a delib­er­ate wind-up. You find your­self sud­denly shout­ing some­thing at the Dotty TV you never, ever thought you’d hear your­self say: