Rosie Millard: Thrifty Living

I'm driving a hole in my budget with parking tickets
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The Independent Online

So here we go, as Rick Parfitt so famously sang. The run-up to Christmas, during which I usually either gain a stone or a £2,000 MasterCard bill, and I have achieved neither. I've been so good. No Christmas cake. Tick! Not (much) booze. Tick! All my cards home-made and posted in time for second-class deliveries. Tick! I even cancelled an outing to a panto because at £20 per ticket it was a treat too far for the Junior Millards. Tear-stained tick. And then, horror strikes.

I decide to drive to the Tube before a snazzy office party (rather than walk in 4in heels). And so I enter an endless search for a place to park. At last, I find a confusing place which appears to be both residents' parking (that's me) and Pay and Display. What shall I do? Better safe than sorry, I opt to pay. Hastening to my car in order to display, I bump into a traffic warden. "Is that your Volvo?" he asks. "Yes?" I answer aggressively, waving my ticket. "I am just about to put THIS TICKET on the windscreen." He laughs. "Oh, you don't need to. You are an 'E' resident." Now I have been caught out by this before. "When there is a Pay and Display I thought you always needed a ticket," I say. "Oh, no. Not where you are parked."

Oh, but it was a merry party. Full of the spirit of Christmasses Past, Present, and indeed, Future. So merry, that it segued into fully fledged carousing at the Groucho. So I caught a cab home, leaving the Volvo in the parking space. Mr Millard was dispatched to collect it the next morning. When he returned, he had a small gift for me, namely a PARKING TICKET, for £100, incurred at 08.48 thanks to Contravention No 06, parking without displaying a valid Pay and Display ticket.

"I do not believe it!" I yell. "I'm going to write to Islington Council! I'm going to complain. I'm going to say I can pick out that traffic warden in an identity parade!"

I am in such a grump that when I drive one of the Junior Millards to her piano lesson I decide to go shopping. I know. For me, shopping is almost a novelty (almost). For have I not scythed £26,000 from the albatross of personal debt by, broadly speaking, eschewing shops for what seems like 20,000 Years of Solitude?

I park the family Volvo, one of the biggest known cars in the Western world, in a smallish parking space. It looks a bit tight, but not madly so. It's OK. I leave the car for 20 minutes. I return. Oh, God. Another parking ticket. For Crime No 24 "Not parked correctly within the markings of the bay or space."

White-knuckled, I deliver the Junior Millard home. It's time for another party. Well, it is the Christmas season and most sections on the papers (although, I note, not Save and Spend) are going for it. This one is at the Design Museum. I'm not drinking, so I'll drive. I arrive at the Design Museum. I'm hit by lethargy. I'm tired. I simply cannot walk. And so I park, near the door to the Design Museum, on a yellow line. But that's OK, because it's 9pm. And there is a big sign saying parking after 6.30 is OK. All right, I have to put a couple of wheels on the pavement, but so has a car behind me, so that's also OK. As I totter away, I notice the other car is a mini cab. It drives off. Do I turn and repark my trusty Volvo? Dear reader, I think you know the answer. Two hours later and I am crying before Ticket Numero Trois, incurred for Contravention Numero 62, parking with one or more wheels on any part of an urban road other than a carriageway...

So, great. I have spent HOURS this week gluing on glitter and shiny stars for home-made cards and rolling out pastry for mince pies, and have saved (probably) about £14. And blown 20 times that amount thanks to my parking management skills.

Although, as I think desperately while driving home, the offending ticket still eyeing me through the windscreen because I simply cannot muster the spirit of Christmas Past, Present, Future or ANYTHING to take it off the wiper, there is yet hope. I'll pay two off early. Making a bill of £100. Only. For the other, I will write to Islington Council and present myself for a dust-up with the traffic warden, whose name, and number, I failed to note. Next time one tries to advise me, I'll know better. I'm bound to fail. But three tickets in 24 hours. Is this a record?

cashl@independent.co.uk

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