I am not a free man, I am a number

On Monday, I was cycling down the Cowley Road, idly (or perhaps rabidly) scanning number plates for the elusive 230. I’d been stuck on 230 for six days, after having got the previous four numbers within an hour, so my frustration was mounting. Moreover I had a guaranteed 231 and 232 just sitting waiting for me, making 230’s scarcity even more aggravating.

Other CNPS players (I assume there are some) will already know that there are levels of obsessiveness about this game which give the player an indication of how far they’ve sunk. Although essentially pitiful, the game is just about forgiveable if it is used merely to idle away a little dull travelling time, occasionally glancing at passing cars to see if they have the number required. Taking it any more seriously than this is basically indefensible, although there are degrees of surrender to the game which show how far it has advanced. The most minor aberrance is the choosing of alternative routes to check out fresh plates. Then there is the Henmanesque fist pump on seeing a required number; making a mental note of forthcoming numbers; taking a large detour from one’s normal route in order to see one of the previously mentally noted numbers; realising that there are too many numbers to keep mentally so starting a physical record. One by one, I admit, I have marked these notches of shame on my metaphorical bedpost.

I think I only have two levels left to plummet. The final degradation is the car park tour/roadside vigil. (I had a disturbing vision of the possibility of this coming to pass a few weeks ago when I cycled past two women sat on the ring road cycle path doing a traffic survey, and felt a pang of envy at the ease with which they would be able to complete the game. I even fantasised briefly about the possibility of getting a job as a traffic surveyor. Happily that fantasy was swiftly replaced by an alternative fantasy about cycling repeatedly over the cable stretched across the cycle path to record wheel pressure, thereby completely slewing their statistics. I realised that they would be able to see me if I just rode back and forth, so I would have to go round in circles, each time wearing some new disguise. Even that probably wouldn’t be enough, so then I wondered about the possibility of diverting the Tour de France via Cowley. I think that if I watched enough episodes of ‘Wacky Races’ I could probably harness enough dastardly techniques to machinate such an eventuality. After they’d ridden over the cable I would drape one of those tunnel curtains down in front of a wall, via which they would all return to the race, with the exception of Floyd Landis who would crash into the wall behind as penance for completely destroying my faith in genuine sporting endeavour.) But I am not at that point yet.

The penultimate level is belief in some greater meaning behind the game not known by the mere mortals who play it; a fatalistic sense that there is more to it than meets the eye. I am in grave danger of falling into this category. For on Monday, I gave in to the temptation to cycle down a cul-de-sac purely to look for the pesky 230. Even as I was turning into Edmund Road I cursed myself for the idiocy of the act; not only was it a further capitulation to the all-consuming CNPS, it was also almost certainly a complete waste of time. What were the chances of seeing one specific number in a randomly selected road? Approximately three seconds later, on a white van parked up a side road not visible from any other position, I saw a 230.

A coincidence, you’ll say. I did too. A happy fluke. That’s what I thought.

Even though it was successful (or possibly because it was) I felt rather ashamed of my excursion, and resisted the temptation to repeat it. I picked up my 231 and 232 in the places I knew they would be, and all was right with the world. But then this morning, when I was labouring into work, I was suddenly driven by an urge to go via Bulan Road. This didn’t feel as bad as the Edmund Road incident, because Bulan Road is just an alternative route; but it’s one I’ve never taken before in nearly 8 years, and I had to make a small U turn to go down it. It was an odd decision, and as I was doubling back I felt rather bemused by it.

The first parked car I saw was a 233.

It sends a shiver down the spine, doesn’t it?

I now know I am a slave to some mysterious stronger force, impelling me to my statistical destiny. Surely it is not coincidence that if and when I complete this game it will be with the number 999 – an inversion of 666.

You may have thought that this mission was merely symptomatic of the obsessive compulsive behaviour of a loser, but slowly it is becoming apparent that it is much, much more.

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