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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Columnist: Phil Peverley

Crime and punishment

I am a criminal. I sit, head bowed, silent in a room full of other felons. We await our summons. There is no conversation; we avoid each other's eyes. The cramped waiting room has the air of an oncology outpatients clinic. Surreptitiously, I scan the other villains, hoping none of them are my patients. I am fairly sure one of them is. He catches my eye and looks away.

A fat man comes in and addresses us: 'Welcome to your speed awareness course.'

I am not, by nature, a dangerous speed freak. I never knowingly break the speed limit. There are several reasons for this. First, after a couple of years as a casualty doctor, I have no desire at all to be on the sharp end of a chest drain.

Second, I am never in that much of a hurry. All right, some days I might be late for work. But hey, I'm a GP. What are they going to do, start without me?

I even saw the mobile speed camera that flashed me. 'Ah, yer sneaky bastard!' I said to myself, checked my speedometer, and waved a couple of fingers in the direction of the bobby (below dashboard level of course ­ people have been prosecuted for less).

I was doing 35mph past the Sunderland Stadium Of Light and I assumed I was in the clear. Not so, as it turns out. The speed limit down there is apparently 30mph, not 40 as I thought, and it transpires that I have broken the speed limit down that road up to four times a day for 12 years.

Taking holidays and weekends into account, I may have smashed highway regulations anything up to 11,000 times. You don't get much more recidivist than that.

This sets me to wondering. Are there any other crimes I may be committing on a daily basis without knowing it? I ask Mrs Pev, and she doesn't hesitate for a second. 'Well there's those shoes for a start,' she says, and she begins a familiar list of my sartorial misdemeanours. But while I agree that the state of the elbows of my jumper might be offensive to the cultured mind, I hardly feel that they might interest Her Majesty's constabulary.

My plight fails to elicit sympathy among my partners. I switch on my computer and some joker has altered the screensaver from a picture of Kate Bush to a neon scream that says 'Oi! Stirling Moss! Slow down!' When I'm walking down the corridor, they leap out from behind corners with the registrar's video camera shouting 'Aha! Got you again!'. The screen in the waiting room now flashes up the legend 'Mrs Smith, please go and see Jensen Button in Room 8.'

The fat man leads us to our computer terminals. The aptitude tests tell me what I already know; I am a fairly poor driver and compensate for my tendency to distraction by driving slower than average. The course is, unfortunately, interesting and informative. I learn the number of mobile cameras in my region (four) and that, although all the fixed cameras will flash you all the time, only 25 per cent of them are recording information at any given instant.

I had hoped, at least, that I would be able to get a Pulse column out of it by describing how pointless and silly the whole operation is. But it seems I can't even do that.

Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland

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