diamond geezer

 Friday, April 16, 2021

I have been playing yet another numberplate spotting game, and this one's taken months.

Back in September I introduced you to Reverse Chronological Number Plate Spotting, a game using the two-digit age identifiers on current UK registration plates. The idea was to spot a 70, then a 20, then 19, 68, 18, 67, 17, 66 etc all the way back to 03, 52, 02, 51.

AB 70 ABC
   →   
WY 51 WYG

I have played the game several times since. It normally takes a couple of days, but I once completed it in two and half hours round the backstreets of Newham.

I also mentioned an alternative version using the single letter age identifiers issued to vehicles between 1983 and 2001. The idea was to spot a Y, then an X, W, V etc all the way back to C, B, A.

Y 123 ABC
   →   
A 789 KLF

I have played the game regularly since. It normally takes just under a week, but I once completed it in three days and another time it took a fortnight.

In November I decided to combine the two games, first spotting all the numbers from 70 back to 51, then all the letters from Y back to A. It took about a week. This meant I had seen all the number plate age identifiers from 2020 back to 1983 in reverse chronological order.

I then made the mistake of carrying on. I've seen all the letters from Y back to A at the start of numberplates, I thought, now I'll try to spot them at the end.

ABC 123 Y
   →   
DVL 666 A

And this has taken me five months.

The first problem was that the game involves seriously old vehicles, those first registered between 1963 and 1983, and there aren't many of those left on the road. If I saw four of them on a daily walk I was doing well.

The second problem is that personalised numberplates do not extend back this far. Anyone can buy a single letter prefix so there are a lot more of these on the road than there ought to be, but you cannot buy a single letter suffix so they remain very rare.

This is a game where very little happens. Even if you do spot a rare suffix registration it probably isn't the one you want (probability = 20 to 1 against), so I was only averaging about one success a week.

Sometimes I got lucky, like when I saw W, V and T all parked very close together in Milton Avenue, East Ham. At other times I didn't see the letter I wanted for over a month. K proved particularly frustrating - I saw 9 different Ls while I was waiting to see a K.

But playing the long game also allowed me to speed things up. I knew quite early on there was an M parked in a street near Columbia Road so after spotting N all I had to do was head back. But I had no idea where an H, G or F were, so for those I was reliant on stumbling upon a lucky parking space or a random vintage vehicle driving by.



The letter that lingered longest was B, which took 40 days from when I saw C on a Mini in Mile End in early March. I'd almost given up hope but on Wednesday hey, the redundant Routemasters outside West Ham Garage included seven of them! I then knew there was an A parked outside a vicarage in East Ham (these vehicles tend not to get driven very often) and hey presto, I'd finally completed my list.

But I've still only got back as far as 1963, the year registration letters were first introduced. How much further could I go?

Registration numbers were initially a bit of a free for all, issued locally according to demand. Before 1963 they tended to involve three letters and up to three digits, first in that order and then the reverse.

999 XYZ
   →   
ABC 1

The very earliest plates had one or two letters followed by up to four digits, then when those ran out they reversed the order so it was numbers followed by digits.

9999 AB
   →   
A 1

So to continue playing my game I've decided I need to look for the following character patterns.
123 ABC → 12 ABC → 1 ABC → ABC 123 → ABC 12 → ABC 1 → 1234 AB → 123 AB → 12 AB → 1 AB → AB 1234 → AB 123 → AB 12 → AB 1 → 1234 A → 123 A → 12 A → 1 A → A 1234 → A 123 → A 12 → A 1
This isn't perfect Reverse Chronological Number Plate Spotting but it'll have to do. So far I have seen 217 CLT on a bus and I am now looking for two digits followed by three letters. I do not recommend you try this. I may not even bother myself.

More to the point my original game of Reverse Chronological Number Plate Spotting is technically incomplete. I started back in November with a 70, but by the time I finished in April they'd introduced 21 and I never included one of those. The only response is to start again and hope I can finish the sequence before 71 is introduced in September.
21 70 20 69 19 68 18 67 17 66 16 65 15 64 14 63 13 62 12 61 11 60 10 59 09 58 08 57 07 56 06 55 05 54 04 53 03 52 02 51 Y X W V T S R P N M L K J H G F E D C B A Y X W V T S R P N M L K J H G F E D C B A
I started playing again on Wednesday, immediately after spotting my final suffix A, and I'm already looking for prefix V. That means after two days I'm already over halfway through the list... but it'll likely be several more months before I reach the end.

Bless you if you have read this far. Rest assured I am not playing any other unblogged numberplate games, so hopefully that's your lot.


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