It must be the effect of making my new TV series 'The Complainers', but lately I've become much more vocal in expressing my disapproval of things.
A case in point is the perennial nightmare of the parking ticket. I recently read about Kelvin MacKenzie's Red Mist Party. He decided to stand as a councillor after the parking fee at his local railway station went up by £1.50. It sounds trivial, but things like this really start to get to you.
When I first started taking the train into London rather than the car, it was a difficult decision. Sure, I avoided the traffic as I approached London and missed the horrible congestion charge, but I had to put up with the UK's worst train company, First Great Western, and pay a quite extraordinary fare to boot. But that's not my beef today.
My problem, like Kelvin's, is the station car park. I leave from Kemble, a quiet little rural station just before Swindon. When I began to take the train, you didn't have to pay for parking, but then suddenly a company called APCOA Parking (UK) Ltd (catchy name) took the place over and installed bays and machines and a "civil enforcement officer", just for this desolate car park. Nobody, as far as I know, complained or refused to pay. We all just caved in and accepted that yet another money-making scheme had been imposed on us.
Then I got ill with pneumonia and had to go to hospital in Swindon and was unable to pick up my car from the station for four days. When I was discharged, Stacey gave me a lift there, only to find not one but two tickets on the thing. I wrote to the company asking them whether they wouldn't mind cancelling them, as these were circumstances beyond my control. I even gave them my hospital admission number. should they wish to check. It never crossed my mind they would refuse. But they did.
I got one of those horrible, impersonal letters telling me that my appeal had been "considered' and "rejected". There was no reason given, no human element – there never is with parking Nazis. I sent them another letter threatening to take the matter all the way to court and I also sent a (mildly abusive) email to their press office informing them that I was going to write about this as an example of what was going wrong with the UK right now.
I got an email back from the office manager. After chastising me for the "bullying tone and vulgar language contained within your email", she announced that "given your public profile, and the fact that we do not believe that anything we say to you will be reflected fairly by you, we are cancelling both of your parking tickets".
I was thrilled, although it was unfortunate that you had to be in the public eye to get this kind of reprieve. But she wasn't finished. She told me I should have signed up to their telephone payment service so that I could have topped up my parking from the hospital.
I wrote back, noting that you are asked not to use your mobile in hospitals as it could interfere with medical equipment and, besides, I was under the influence of some quite fabulous morphine. Did she think I should have risked it anyway? Sadly, I got no answer and it seemed our brief correspondence was at an end.
So that's that. I complained – and it worked. Still, at least they have avoided my writing about it and highlighting the nightmare of dealing with these sorts of companies, and how they are simply allowed to levy money out of us willy-nilly. Hope they're happy. I certainly am.
Dom Joly's 'The Complainers' is at 10pm on Mondays, on FiveReuse content