Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Red Flag

Until 1896, British drivers weren't allowed to exceed 4 miles per hour. Furthermore, when they did drive, they were obliged to have a man running in front of the car, carrying a red flag, in order to warn people who couldn't manage 4 miles per hour to get the fuck out of the way. Although driving must have been fun in those days, it was also a ruinously expensive hobby. Not so much when the car broke down (which happened often enough), but when the man did.

The thing is, when a car breaks down, it's relatively easy to put right. Indeed, if you know what you're doing and have the proper materials, even a total write-off can eventually be resurrected, from either spare parts, or cannibalization of used parts from another car, or both. Granted, technically speaking, what you end up with isn't the original, inasmuch as there's usually a replacement clutch from one vehicle, a gasket from another, and so forth, but the combination works well enough. So much so that you usually can't tell the difference between the restored car and those fresh from the dealer. People don't usually flee in terror at the sight of it, anyway. This wasn't always the case with the restored man, however.

Films such as "Frankenstein" and "Bride of Frankenstein", both of which I watched last night, show us that, in the 19th century, when your man broke down or expired totally, restoring him to any semblance of working order was a somewhat more problematic affair. Sourcing the replacement parts, especially. You couldn't go into a shop and say "Can I have a lung, please?" or "Have your got any reconditioned brains that will fit an 1857-vintage male?" No, instead, you had to go to graveyards, charnel houses, and medical research facilities and nick the bits you required, which wasn't entirely legal, even if their owners had finished using them. So reconstructing the red flag-waving counterpart to, say, a vintage Daimler, was rather long-winded and, usually, not entirely successful. But it was when you had your reconditioned man run in front of your car with his red flag that problems really started.

Even if your intention was to drive from, for example, London to Brighton, more often than not, your reanimant would lumber off in his own direction. Invariably, he'd take you to middle European destinations called Vassaria and Ingoldstadt, where he'd trash entire villages and really get up people's noses. Legally, though, you had to follow him, and at the regulation distance of 100 feet. So it must have been quite embarrassing, especially when people came up to you and said, "Oi, mate! Is that yours? He's just tossed my fucking daughter in a lake and drowned her!" or "Are you the cunt who's red flag man has shacked up in my blind uncle's forest cabin and nicked his cigars?" What could you reply? You couldn't deny it, because there he was with his red flag, and there you were with your car, driving immediately behind, so people would inevitably put 2 and 2 together. Then, before you knew it, you'd have hundreds of angry villagers descending on your house, bearing flaming torches and shouting something about witchcraft. Wouldn't you feel like a total arsehole?

It's a good job then, that, in 1896, the legal requirement to have red flag man running in front of your car was repealed. Now, if your reanimant rampages through Europe and murders people, willy-nilly, you can drive in the opposite direction, and people will never know he's yours.


K. MacEgan said...

Let us examine the teleology.Nicking parts for a body is something Mary Sheeley never research.What would happen if one were to weld the runty chest of say a sub 44inch specimen onto the arms of a Herculean with concommitant shoulders?The result would be mocked and pitied and reviled by humanity>

Joe Slavko said...

Not so much as an original with a 48 inch chest and dodgy knees, however.

K. MacEgan said...

Re-make the Elephant man but with deformed knees?

Conrad said...
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