Kit Hesketh-Harvey would be lost without his Ford Transit — but that doesn't mean there aren't a few metaphorical potholes to avoid.
I have a new Van Blanc. Well, new-ish — it’s my fifth and, thus, I’ve called it Van Cinq. A Ford Transit (a Tranny, we van cognoscenti call them), this one has an onboard WC. I’ve removed the advertising signage of its previous owner, a hire company, which baldly read TOILET MESS.
Like its predecessors, it began life as a welfare van: a mobile facility for road builders to wash hands, dry boots, microwave a meal. The loo itself is called by its manufacturers The Thetford; harsh, I feel, to give the name of our local border town to a chemical toilet, but not completely unjustified.
Having snapped on Marigolds and a mask, armed with bog brush and bleach, I now have a mobile dressing room, equipment store, washstand and props department — a minibago.
Country Man needs his van. Leave your Range Rovers to the suburban pretentious. We must carry fence posts and livestock feed, extra windproof clothing, piglets, spades and — as we lack the internet to contact Ocado — the weekly shop.
White Van Man may be the butt of snobbish metropolitan jest, but those Trannies whizzing down the A12 or up the M3 to the still-somnolent capital are driven by hardworking small businessmen: shellfish merchants, flower sellers, cabaret singers. They supply the farmers’ markets, the artisanal bread, the craft beers — all so dubbed to kid London’s conscience (when self-absorption allows it a conscience) that it cares one iota about the peasantry.
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‘Do not ignore’ shrieked the thuggish letter from the Newham Council, using the grammar of a Dagenham loan shark
The Mayor of London is Sadiq Khan. Born in Tooting to a London bus driver and with a law degree from the University of North London, his familiarity with the countryside is not great. In his laudable battle against diesel pollution, he has imposed the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ), a toll on pre-2016 diesel vans that will soon be rolled out to include most of Greater London. It will balance Transport for London’s (TfL) books, which have been badly holed by Mr Khan’s four-year freeze (for Londoners only) on fares.
To small country suppliers, who were directed until recently by Government to buy diesel vehicles, because they were ‘less harmful to the environment’, such daily charges amount to four hours‘ wages. Replacing a van can cost £30,000, more than their annual salaries. The Mayor of London who, incidentally, supports the expansion of Gatwick and City airports, earns five times that amount.
Coming away from a performance at Haberdasher’s Hall in Smithfield market, I was practically run down by a game merchant from Herefordshire. He apologised, explaining that, having delivered his venison, he was trying to get out of the ULEZ zone before midnight. ‘After midnight, you have to pay the ULEZ again,’ he said.
‘I only entered the Zone at nine this evening. Midnight counts as a new 24 hours. You gotta pay twice. Blatant injustice, shafts us night-workers. It’s extortion with a green face.’
I clutched the straw called TfL’s Showman’s Discount. Those who use their vehicles, necessarily and late at night, to transport costumes, sound equipment, props, instruments, rigs — me, basically — are spared ULEZ, on application. I emailed them in April and in July and in October. Not a word back — too busy counting their money.
‘Entrapment!’ ‘A money-spinner!’ Extortion, with a green face.
Another night, another gig. Confusingly, Stratford’s Westfield lies east of London Fields. It is a fresh hell of half-finished ‘lifestyle’ apartments, excellently served by empty TfL buses. Not a blade of grass is here — not a tree, not one person. A hi-top, unable to enter the multi-storey, has nowhere to park and nowhere even to stop — flashing warnings on the layby- less route scream like the Stasi.
Late at night, hurricane rain was lashing. Seeing the only road out of this fortress, and harried by bus drivers, I made for the (lit) ‘Two-Way Traffic’ sign and, therefore, missed the (unlit) No Entry sign immediately alongside it.
It wasn’t a sympathetic, human traffic cop, but a pitiless camera that charged me £195 (two days’ wages). ‘Do not ignore’ shrieked the thuggish letter from the Newham Council, using the grammar of a Dagenham loan shark. ‘You will be fined £5,000.’
Googling the photo evidence, I came upon a torrent of complaints from other — mostly out-of-town — victims. ‘Entrapment!’ ‘A money-spinner!’ Extortion, with a green face.
The following day’s communication from Norfolk Constabulary, gently reminding me that I had yet to transfer my insurance policy to the Van Cinq, began with: ‘It is of course possible that this is an administrative error.’ And it finished: ‘Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.’ Country people, you see.
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