When Irvine Welsh delivered Trainspotting to the world, afloat a bile yellow stream of consciousness all the way from the schemes of Edinburgh, verily a veritable volcano of vomit m'lud, it set the tone for a moment. Forget grammar. Forget sentences. Choose swearing. Choose shouting and screaming and ranting. Choose pain and torment and horror and evil thoughts and deeds and cold turkey and punishment and sweating, screaming dog's abuse.
Choose hell on earth, and threats of violence, and bloody glass wielding insanity. Choose arma-fucking-geddon.
Choose driving, and parking, in London.
Some of you may have heard that there's a war on, no no no not the war on terror, that's kids' stuff, the war being waged by greedy councils on the metropolitan motorist. A war in which I am enlisted which, given my non-car owning status, is a little ironic. Our car (ie mine went a while ago) is garaged and only brought out for special occasions and what shall now be called essential journeys.
You see, I like the Congestion Charge. I like the buses and I quite like the tubes. I like the late night black cabs being back and I like the idea that your stupid car will be towed away if you're stupid enough to clog up the streets while you enjoy a morning coffee. I want London to be busy and cosmopolitan and frenetic and charming and wild. I do not want to sit still in one vast permanent traffic jam, adjacent all the Surrey, Sussex, Berkshire Hunts who come up to town every day at 3 miles per hour nose to tail and return in the evening ditto.
But there is a limit to my Ken Livingstone-style militarism reached, oh, about the time I was sifting through the Penalty Charge Notices, warnings, threats, bailiffs notes etc. Here's what we're not talking about: park illegally, get ticket, pay fine. End of.
That's too simple. Soooo yesterday.
It's the procedure, it's the CCTV cameras which appear to have been filming me 24/7, it's the monotonous voices in call centres who have no idea, ever, what you're talking about but who know vaguely there's some process taking place (that's going to cost me a lot of money).
I'll give you a small sample, if you see what I mean doctor.
I'm driving down a road that I have driven down for years near David Beckham's old gaff. It's under reconstruction and there are lorries everywhere, dumper trucks, hand held signs, arrows, builders, navvies and feral cats. There's also a small (temporary) sign hidden somewhere which I never get to see (it's gone now) which says the road (50 yards long) is closed to motor vehicles. Apart, that is, from all the ones which are clearly driving down it. And the camera car. Filming me. £120! Kerrching!
I'm driving at 2am. There are no other cars. I do a U-turn. There is a new sign (which I haven't seen because it's at the other end of the road) which says No U-Turns. And a CCTV Camera. £120! Kerrrrrching!
I drop off my partner at work. 15 seconds max. I'm on a Red Route but am in the stopping- loading box where you are allowed to stop and load. But there's a camera. £120! Kerrrrrrching!!!!!!!!
Getting the picture? Well the local authorities sure are. So appeal, smartass, I can hear you say. OK, let's start with a parking ticket, the one outside the hospital where we were parked during a non-bed operation situation and as I ran towards the meter it changed to "zero" and the attendant, who was standing watching it with the towaway lorry, wrote the ticket and commented "count yourself lucky you're not being towed away". From outside a hospital. During an operation. With the meter showing "zero".
I appealed. To the council. To human nature. To the appeals procedure, to God, to the courts and to a variety of people outsourced around the country. And all the while I'm doing this talking, the procedure is advancing..... slowly.....towards its final stage....the bailiffs.
Have you ever met a bailiff? Seen the TV shows? The nice caring happy-go-lucky guys who're just doing a job? Well, pretend you're applying for a job as one. Here's your interview.
Hello. Are you of a pleasant disposition? Relaxed and charming? No? Good.
Do you like to threaten people and make small children cry?
Are you a thug? Do you have a background that involves intimidation, and/or physical violence?
Do you regard your terrible job as some kind of social service which is why you smile? Do you run a criminal ring to sell off people's cars when you take them away for non payment of a fine?
Are you a vile, reprehensible, disrespectful arsehole of a human being?
My fine was standing at nearly £700. I spoke to the bailiff who had been round while we were asleep and told him not to come back as I was discussing all of this with the council.
"wot time u payin?"
I told him that there was a long negotiation going on, too complex to discuss etc.
"wot time u payin?"
I told him to leave me alone.
"I'm avin a sandwich. I'll be round after that. If u don't pay I'm takin your car. I know where it is. (describes where car is. Exactly)"
He then describes the charges involved in actually taking the car away. About another £500.
I negotiate with the council for a very long time and at the end am let off with a fine of gentler proportions, paid over the phone, and freed temporarily from Bailiff Hell. Bailiff called back and told to, em, go away.
The key phrase in the negotiation, incidentally, was "essential journey" which in my view swung the whole thing.
What happened? When did it become a war? All I do is occasionally pootle down the street, drive normally, don't speed or cause accidents or take up much space or anything. I'm not Paris bloody Hilton roaring around pissed without a licence. And yet I've more or less shelled out a grand in the past few weeks under threat of violence.
It's not nice, is it, Irvine?