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Tony Deyal: The bonfire of vanities

Published:Saturday | September 19, 2015 | 9:00 AM

'Vanity' in the English language means "excessive pride in or admiration of one's own appearance or achievements". It can also be a 'dressing table'. A dressing table is not a 'press' or 'cupboard'.

In fact, an Irish newspaper has featured, as a burning question, what is the difference between a 'cupboard' and a 'press' and has come up with the added information that there is also a 'hotpress'. They are all enclosed shelving spaces. The cupboard is for airing clothes, the press is like the old-fashioned 'safe' found in some parts of the Caribbean where food is stored safely from roaches and rats, and a 'hotpress' is always where the hot-water heater is hidden.

But, let us press on secure in the knowledge that in English, 'fat chance' and 'slim chance' mean the same thing unless, like me, in the town in which I grew up, there lived the Chance family, and given the disparity in size of the two Chance daughters who went to school on the bus with me, we were able to differentiate quite easily.

A 'vanity press' is not a cross between a dressing table and a cupboard but a publishing house in which authors pay to have their books published. Bearing in mind that English is such a funny language that we park on the driveway and drive on the parkway, what is a 'vanity plate'? It is not Wedgewood, Royal Copenhagen, Spode or Villeroy and Boch. It is not the sparkling golden false teeth that some Guyanese people prefer. It is a special costly licence plate for your vehicle.

Personalised plates

Britain's driver and vehicle licensing agency (DVLA) claims to have more than 50 million personalised number plates available through online purchase or auctions. The DVLA says that prices start "from as little as £250, which includes VAT and £80 assignment fee".

The Independent newspaper revealed that the personalised registration scheme allows car owners to bid for previously unissued plates in order to give their cars a distinctive look. Since 1989, more than three million such registrations have been sold at prices of up to £352,411 - the record set in March this year when a businessman bought the combination 1 D in one of the DVLA's auctions. He paid £351,411 for it, while in second place was the person who spent £254,000 for '51 NGH'.

Plate sales raised more than £80 million during the DVLA's last financial year and that is more than Royal Copenhagen earns with its Flora Danika pattern, which sells for £1,500 a dinner plate.

However, there are limits on the amount of vanity allowed, especially as some plates are far too hot to handle. The DVLA has a steering committee of 'censors', who meet every six months to decide on potentially offensive licence plates.

Earlier this Wednesday, The Independent reported that the DVLA had released a list of banned plates, revealing while you are allowed to have ORG45M on your car, you can't have a VA61ANA on the roads. The list is 49 pages long and details all the "suppressed car licence plates, ranging from homophobic to the puerile and obscene".

The Toronto Star reported the latest DVLA's release as "PEN15 got a pass but P15 OFF was shot down". Also included in the list are BL03 JOB, JE55US and AL14LAH. The Guardian stated that potentially offensive number plates have become a serious issue at the DVLA after the release of H8 GAY in 2006 prompted a storm of protest. It was later withdrawn after an MP and members of the public complained that it could be understood to say 'hate gay'.

Religious tolerance

However, some people complain about a lack of consistency in the list. For example, JE55US and AL14LAH are banned, but last week KR15 HNA - referring to the Hindu god Krishna - was sold for £233,000. A man from the Midlands with the surname Islam applied for the 15 LAM plate but was told it was "inappropriate". The man, who did not want to give his first name, told the Guardian: "I'm not particularly religious, but I am proud of my name. I was thinking of buying the plate as a gift for my brother. To be told that my name is offensive is really upsetting."

Yet, despite the ban on 15 LAM, the registration of M014 MED is expected to fetch significantly more than £100,000 at auction. This is less than what is expected for PEN 15.

I am waiting for cash-strapped Caribbean governments to go into the plates business in a less restrictive way. Not that we have been restricted in punning with those we have. Lord Kitchener (Kitch) used the licensing system in Trinidad where you start with one letter of the alphabet like 'H' for a 'Hired', 'R' for a 'Rented' or 'P' for a 'Privately Owned' vehicle and then when you sell out the series, you add another letter starting from 'A'.

This allowed Kitch to compose and sing his classic, "I will park my PP anywhere." I have already started thinking about a 'good' plate in the sense that the writer, G.K. Chesterton, explained it: "The word 'good' has many meanings. For example, if a man were to shoot his grandmother at a range of 500 yards, I should call him a good shot, but not necessarily a good man."

- Tony Deyal was last seen saying that the DVLA pulled F4 GOT and D1 KES because of their resemblance to the 'derogatory' terms 'faggot' and 'dikes'.