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Thursday 28th November 2002

I was talking to my girlfriend the other day about number-plate based games I used to play in the car, as a child, to pass the time. Some involved making words out of the three main letters (eg KPG - could be "keeping". The letters had to remain in order, but the longer the word the better and I think there was some bonus for using less vowels or something).
I also played a game where you had a list of numbers 1-999 and had to cross them off when you saw a car with that number. Amazing how you could be tricked by parents to be quiet.
But the most annoying variant which I found in a book of travel games was that you had to spot the numbers 1-999 in numerical order. So first you had to see a car with the number 1, then 2, then 3. If you saw a 3 before the 2 you couldn't count it. Now clearly this is an extremely difficult game, (especially as I refused to accept personalised or foreign number plates) as statistically you would have to see 1000 cars for every progression, and a total of 999,000 cars to complete your task.
I remember I did take it quite seriously for a period of months when I was around 12. After all that time I had got to about 45 and then, not surprisingly gave up. The book had tricked me. Even then, I could see that.
But to illustrate to my girlfriend how hard it was I decided to play it on the drive from her house in Hampshire to mine. The game is even harder these days as in the last year the number-plate system has changed and only a few two-figure numbers are used in the new system. One of these is "02" which is quite handy for early in the game, but it means that around one in twenty cars (maybe more) are now not going to be any use. As the years pass, the game will become even more difficult.
On that journey I got up to 2. The frightening thing is that I have continued playing over the last week. Frightening because I know it is a both a pointlessly anal and Herculean (Hercu-anal) task. More frightening because I am doing it when I am driving too. I'm not the most attentive driver at the best of times and yet however much I chastise myself I can't help trying to look at the number plates of other cars on the road and ones that are parked in the hope of catching sight of the next number. I have got up to 3. Saw a 5 yesterday, but what good is that to me now? Oh how the numbers mock me. (I would have liked to start from where I stopped off as a child, but cannot be sure of what number I had actually reached and so must begin again)
It is slightly worrying that I should become obsessed with this again and I think it may signal a descent into nervous break-down. But I think a part of me wants to do it to avenge the child me who was so cruelly tricked. To stand up to that book of travel games and say, "Oh, you thought it was impossible did you. You were laughing up your sleeve at me and all the other kids who you were putting through this Hell. Well screw you, pal, because I've done it. It's taken me years. I've crashed my car forty times, but I have completed the task. Clearly there's now way for me to prove that I've done it, and I don't know who you are and have no way of finding you. But the important thing is I've done it. No-one can say my life was pointless or had no meaning. I have seen all the numbers on car licence plates, in numerical order. They said it couldn't be done."
If anyone knows anyone with a number 4 number plate could you please send me their address?

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