I was beginning to wilt at this point so I was very happy to detect signs that the owner was about to leave.
Finally we walked together to the front of the house as I wanted to get the final bits and pieces out of the car. I assumed she would be getting into her car and driving off.
As it became apparent she was not getting into a car but was walking away up the road I asked if I could drop her somewhere – at the train station or bus stop perhaps? No, she was fine, she said and just then I thought I’d be extra fussy and check that it was OK to park in front of the house all the time. It seemed a bit over the top to ask this as the blurb online where I’d booked had stated that there was a place to park and I asked the question more for something to say than for any other good reason.
It was now 1pm on Wednesday and her reply to the question ‘It’s OK to park here, isn’t it?’ astonished me.
‘Oh yes, it’s fine to park there’ she said.
‘You only have to move it between 8 – 9am, 3 – 4pm and 6 – 7pm every weekday’.
Had I heard correctly?
Did she say move it 3 times everyday during the week…or had lack of sleep scrambled my brain completely?
And since when does ‘You only have to move it between 8 – 9am, 3 – 4pm and 6 – 7pm every weekday’ mean the same as ‘Oh yes, it’s fine to park there’.
What planet is this woman from? I ask myself.
This is definitely not good enough. This does not qualify as ‘parking space available’ and I remind her of this in a shouty kind of way as she is, by now, a few doors up the road from me – hoping, I think, that I won’t pursue the subject.
I ask where I move it to if I shift it. ‘Oh you’ll find somewhere to park a few blocks over there’ she says as she casually waves her hand in the direction of …..where?……Acton, perhaps. How do I know? I don’t know this part of London and am still reeling from the shock.
Surely there’s something else I can do isn’t there? What about a permit of some kind, I ask. ‘Well you could try the local council. It won’t hurt to ask them.’ She says this as if she doesn’t hold out much hope of a positive result on that one and I stand there in utter disbelief as the little energy that I have left drains out of me.
I don’t want to ask the next few questions but know I must if there is to be a satisfactory resolution to this parking problem.
I ask her – the name of the council – the address of the offices and how to get there – where to park – do people often get such permits.
My heart sinks as I listen to her replies and I know now that there is no rest on the horizon because, if I fall asleep at the moment, I won’t regain consciousness in time to shift the car and, knowing my luck, will get a parking ticket or, who knows, maybe even be towed away. So I go back inside, get my handbag and head off to find the local council building.
After driving around the streets for some time I realize that there is nowhere to park near the building and no car park for public use that I can see……. so it’s a matter of driving further and further away from where I want to be until I find somewhere to leave the car. Finally I see someone pull out of a space and gratefully take it, walk a mile to the council offices, tell the girl on the enquiries desk what I need and follow directions to the area in which I’m to wait clutching my numbered piece of paper.
I turn a corner and am terribly depressed to be confronted by a sea of faces sitting in row after row waiting for attention and they’re all clutching similar bits of paper with numbers on them – and most of those numbers will be called ahead of mine.
This can’t be happening I think to myself and to help me cope I pull out a book I was reading on the plane and try to get the words on the page into focus – anything to stop me from thinking about the predicament I am in.
It’s times like these that I dredge up all the old sayings from my childhood. The sort of stuff Mum used to say to make us stop complaining. Things like ‘what about the poor starving children in Asia – they don’t have enough to eat and here you are grumbling about eating up your veggies’. Then I assure myself that not having to dodge AK47 gunfire every day in some war-ravaged country is a far worse fate than sitting in a comfy chair, in complete safety reading a good book – and I try a bit of deep-breathing for good measure. There’s nothing more likely to make you feel stressed than long periods of holding your breath while imagining that fate has conspired against you – again.
After what seemed an eternity and was in fact about an hour my number is called and I hurry over to the appropriate desk where a friendly looking, fresh-faced girl of West Indian origin greets me. I explain the situation and my heart sinks again as she looks at me rather sceptically, waiting for me to finish. Well, I don’t think we can help you, she starts….. but in desperation I pull out all the stops and all the bits of paper I have – passport, hire car papers for 6 weeks, accommodation rental papers for 6 weeks and as I shower her desk with these I sense a slight softening of her features. ‘Oh yes, this will help’, she says, ‘and this’.
I hardly dare breathe or look her in the face as she comes to a decision. I don’t want her to feel that I’m putting pressure on her at all and it seems, finally, that I’ve read her correctly. ‘Yes, that should be fine’, she says, ‘I’ll just have to photocopy these’, and she walks away to a copier. Thank you God, thank you – and I almost burst into tears as I know this will make a huge difference to my stay.
Unbeknownst to me, all this time I was parked in a pay and display zone – I am not used to them where I live and hadn’t spotted any signs. To make life especially easy for the uninitiated the pay and display machine was thoughtfully painted black and half hidden amongst the shrubbery.
Yes, you guessed it. While I was queuing for a parking permit they stuck a parking fine for £30 on my car.
It didn’t end too badly though (she said bravely putting a positive spin on this turn of events) as they did give me the permit for £5 so that’s a total of £35 for 4 weeks parking – not too bad by London standards I can tell you.
Then…at last… I allowed myself to look forward to some rest. I got back home about 3 o’clock and, 42 hours after I’d last been snuggled up under my bed covers at home, I fell totally exhausted on the bed in London and within minutes I was sound asleep.