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Sunday, 7 February 2010

Bigmouth Strikes Again

I’ve had 200 quid’s worth of euros burning in my pocket since our participation in a wine lake trip to Calais was scuppered by our local council in April 2008.

The evening before we were scheduled to leave, my neighbour and would be travelling companion knocked on my front door to tell me that he thought my car had been clamped. Sure enough it had been. Much as I’d have liked to, I couldn’t leave it until we’d returned from France – if I didn’t pay the fine within 24 hours the Council’s henchmen would be around to winch the car away to the car pound, and a £60 fine would turn into something considerable nastier. 

I phoned the Council offices – closed – but the recorded message told me that the car pound would be open until 10 pm. Having no car – I wonder why? – I jumped on a bus, walked a mile or so and arrived at the car pound offices. Great, they were open and yes, I could pay the fine but it wouldn’t help as there was no one around to unclamp the car. There wouldn’t be anyone until 8 am in the morning. 

The man at the car pound helpfully told me that the first thing the car clampers did when they arrived at the office was to grab hold of all the clamping notices issued the previous day and chase round to each car to haul them off to the pound; increasing their revenue collecting efforts by a factor of 4. However, where a clamping notice was matched with a fine payment and authorisation from God, instead of hauling the car off they’d unclamp it.  But you had to get to the payment office first thing; around 8 am. 

You will realise where this is leading. Since I had to be in England, more specifically Walthamstow, in the morning I could not also be on my way to the fair port of Calais. My wife unselfishly stayed with me on this side of the English Channel.

I didn’t sleep at all well that night, what with the sense of utter humiliation, frustration and disappointment and I arose at sparrow’s fart to ensure that I got to the Council’s offices before they got to my car. I presented my driving licence, birth certificate, gas bill, deeds of the property and notification of a fine and clamping and my cash card.

 “We only take cash.” the high ranking Stasi officer informed me. “But you’ve got a cash card machine on the desk,” I pointed out. “That’s only for parking permits, we keep fine payments separate.” “You what!” I exclaimed.   Another Commandant joined in the conversation. “You could go to a cash point and draw out the money?” I retorted that I had the means of paying my fine and they had the means of processing it, why should I rush off to find a cash point? Luckily, another official overheard this conversation and decided to phone head office for a ruling on what was rapidly becoming a major policy issue.

 To my eternal gratitude the person on the other end of the phone asked to speak to me.  “It’s ok Mr Coidan; if you give me your card details I can process them at this end. Once that’s done we’ll notify the clamping unit that the fine’s been paid and they’ll unclamp your car.”

 Such was my relief that it wasn’t until I was going out the door that I asked when would my car be unclamped. “Within the next couple of hours,” was the reply. However, I didn’t have to sit in my car for that long before they arrived and I was released.  

It could have been worse. My neighbour might not have walked home up the road where my car was parked and clamped. In the morning we were going in their car and we would have driven past my clamped car. I dread to think how we all would have reacted to that sight.

Anyway, I have these euros in my pocket. Last week I asked my wife what she’d like to do for her birthday in late March. What about a trip to Paris, Brussels or Calais? We decided that a day trip in the car to Calais  would allow us to pootle around the countryside near the port: there are some lovely towns with easy travelling distance. Booking on line with Euro Tunnel was a doddle and I checked that my car insurance covered the EU and I made a note to get extended AA coverage for that day. It’s all in the diary and I made a mental note to look over the Majestic wine catalogue before we went.

This evening, as we were having dinner, my wife piped up, “I hope my passport’s still valid.” I charged upstairs and rummaged around the folders where we keep all our important documents. Settling down again to finish my interrupted meal, I reassured her, “Yours is valid to June 2013...mine ran out in August last year!!! 

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