The sign of traffic madness

IN these cash-strapped times, when public sector jobs must be reduced, I would like to nominate as top of the hit list the department bent on putting a bewildering proliferation of signs, symbols and notices on every roadside post or lamp standard, or erecting a new one for the purpose.

It is well-nigh impossible when driving to multi-task: watch traffic ahead, glance in the rear-view mirror, and spot and assimilate all the relevance or importance of the overload of information I am constantly passing.

Now the government or ordering councils and agencies to cull this clutter, much of which is disregarded because of its familiarity. Useless signs, bollards and railings which cause drivers more confusion than benefits face the chop.

One that infuriates me is “Think Bike!” with a crash-helmeted cartoon character. Why not “Think Car!” aimed at bikers who zoom in and out of a line of cars on a twisty road? Presumably the latest signs in the Fritton-Haddiscoe area are targeting motor-cyclists: “Unmarked police bike in use” with a silhouette of this machine.

I once read that it was illegal for the police to put up camera signs purely to put the frighteners on drivers: there had to be a camera imminent. But they are frequent on most busy roads in the Great Yarmouth and Gorleston area even though in many cases I am unaware of a speed camera within miles, other than Bradwell and Caister Road (unless they mean those tall, grey ones that I thought were for traffic monitoring).

Sometimes a camera sign is a few yards past a camera! Puzzling... And what is the difference between a camera silhouette with no wording and one with “Police enforcement cameras” (always plural) on it? Are those the mobile ones in the back of a police van in a lay-by?

If we are not sign-spotting, there are other little puzzles for drivers. For example, on the Haddiscoe-Hales road verge is a slender white red-topped pole about 8ft high, looking like a giant children’s sweet pretend “cigarette”. They are common elsewhere but sparse in east Norfolk. What are they for?

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And alongside the Harfreys roundabout in Gorleston there is a discreet green and white sign reporting: “Pollution Control Point 3”. Explain, please.

On the main road at Bradwell is a mast with a solar panel, wind turbine (now minus two of it six blades) and control box. Is it to do with traffic, mobile phones, sewerage, electricity cables, or what?

The most illogical signs are the derestriction pair on the Yarmouth-bound Acle bypass where the 40mph limit ends and vehicles can travel at 70mph. But at that point is a longish lay-by that was part of the old road before the dual-carriageway bypass was built. Weekdays in particular, that narrow lay-by – largely hidden by hedges – is full of parked HGVs and cars attracted by a refreshment van, with people standing or strolling while eating and drinking.

The head-scratching feature is that on this lay-by there is a pair of derestriction signs, in line with those on the dual carriageway, allowing traffic to do 60 or 70mph through it. Perfectly legal, presumably, but potentially unsafe.

I belong to a band of older Yarmouthians who still rue the day decades ago when bureaucrats robbed the old self-contained urban borough of its EXclusive EX vehicle registration series, lumping it in with Norwich and Norfolk. Now EX is used in Essex, I believe.

I still find pleasure in spotting the occasional one, like EX7533 (Jeep), EEX6Y (camper van), AEX123 (the Ferrow family, I believe)… And I am sure I saw a black police car – yes, black, although not quite a Dixon of Dock Green Wolseley with ringing bell!) – with an EX prefix in Morrisons’ car park in Gorleston this summer.

In this era of data protection, it is impossible to find out from the DVLA if any cars still have the old EX registrations either on the original vehicles or passed on: probably the earliest is EX10, still on the original car, a 1900 Daimler in fine fettle and an annual entrant in the London-Brighton veteran car run each November.

The vehicle used to be parked on the forecourt of Frank Bately’s Southtown Road garage in the Fifties; the first owner, I think, was a Ted Proctor, but Mr Bately found the car in an old coach house when he bought a property from a Miss Briggs in 1945. Although Frank rejected lucrative offers for the car, his daughter Joan sold it on his death to a Somerset buyer.

For more than two decades EX10 has belonged to Mr Ernest Smith who was head of National Breakdown when he acquired it and still enjoys showing it off in the annual London-Brighton rally.

There is another EX10, 5,000 miles from Britain. As a reminder of his home town, ex-Yarmouthian Danny Daniels, whose athletic exploits at 80-plus were featured here recently, put EX10 on his 1986 Jeep Cherokee in Canada where he has lived since 1957; EX10 is currently on his Kia Sportage.

That old friend of this column, Mrs Cecilia Ebbage, of Lovewell Road, Gorleston, recalls her fascination between the wars at seeing Commander Addison Williamson, owner of Koolunga – that unique house on High Road overlooking river and sea – in his little Austin EX1 or EX2

When EX9999 was reached in 1956, the coveted AEX1 was allocated by ballot among motor dealers to Watson’s on Southtown Road who put it on a metallic green Vauxhall Wyvern.

When Mercury photographer Les Gould and I covered the story, the late Tommy Watson invited me – who had used the new-fangled column gear change – to drive it to Hopton Hart where a little celebration was planned.

Familiar with an Austin column change, I wrongly assumed the Vauxhall positions would be the same... Wrong! So when I put it in reverse, as I thought, the car went forward, and I managed to stamp on the brake just before it smashed through the large plate-glass window.

When AEX was exhausted at 999, BEX1 followed, I think on an Austin A105 from Toby Motors that had been an unsuccessful applicant for AEX1.

Finally, some distinctive number plates hereabouts: car, Nottingham Way, a plaintive AN02LUV; FR51GHT (Swift Freight); 4NOW (Ford Ka, Gorleston); and BEG41T.