Philip Hensher: Let's hear it for the traffic warden


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Heartening photograph of the week was of two sports cars, clamped outside Harrods department store in Knightsbridge, London.

The shop has recently been bought by the Qatari royal family, and it is thought that two family members decided to pay a visit to their new acquisition. With royal insouciance, they left their cars, in a slightly nauseating shade of cerulean, outside the front door of the department store. At this point, a lowly traffic warden from the Kensington and Chelsea local authority descended, ticketed and rudely clamped them.

The cars, I understand, were a Lamborghini, which must have cost £350,000, and something even more extravagant, a Koenigsegg CCXR, which is said to have cost £1.2m, and is one of only six ever made. Anyway, forking out millions for an A to B machine is not going to help you when there are double yellow lines and a beady-eyed traffic warden hovering at point B, as the Qataris have just discovered.

Few people have time for the jobsworthery to which traffic wardens are prone, but I take my hat off to this one. In fact, I like to imagine a small scene between the immovable jobs-worths at the doors of Harrods, employed to tell tourists to take off their rucksacks, and the unimpressable ones dispensing parking fines outside. "You can't put a ticket on that, it's the car of the Emir of Qatar." "I don't care if it's the car of the Queen of bleeding Sheba, it's not parking here." "I'm only doing my job." "And I don't make the rules round here."

The bolshy traffic warden, gleefully immobilising and impounding the illegally parked cars of billionaires, was acting in a noble English tradition. I don't care for parking schemes, fines and clamping, but if there have to be such things, then they should be applied with equal assiduity to the super-rich as to the rest of us.

Any sign that laws or governance are applied with different force to those with means is repugnant, and opposed to the whole tradition of English institutions. Whenever I come through Heathrow, I shudder at the fast-track line at passport control, available to those who have flown first class. I can see why an extra £2,000, or whatever, can legitimately get them a comfier seat and more obsequious service. I don't see why the British Government acquiesces in a scheme that allows the rich superior access to a government service, and they should queue like the rest of us.

So hurrah for the nameless traffic warden who clamped the million-quid sports car, and I hope the borough of Kensington and Chelsea awards him a bonus for carrying out his job without fear of threat or favour. I would have paid good money to have seen the faces of the Qatari princes when, like so many of us, they came out from their afternoon's shopping to see that the wardens, once again, had done their worst.

Katie Price is better than Dickens

In the week of the announcement of the Booker longlist, Miss Katie Price's new novel topped the bestseller charts. She seems to be making a habit of this, and the journalist's piece comparing her effusions to the contemporary literary novel has become a summer staple. But why stop there? Comparing her work to the modern literary novel is setting the bar altogether too low, I feel. Here are some ways in which Miss Price's books are demonstrably better than Dickens's.

1. Dickens only wrote 15 novels. Katie Price has now written 33 books. She is therefore twice as good as him. 2. Katie last week sold 25,000 copies of Paradise. Dickens last week sold only a few thousand of all his books combined. 3. In the past, Katie promoted her novels by being carried on by muscle marys, appearing in a giant crystal (for Crystal, 2007) and other title-related pranks. Dickens never appeared at Harrods dressed in rags to promote Hard Times. He is therefore not as good. 4. When Dickens got divorced, he did not ask ITV3 to film it and his new relationship. He is therefore not as interesting. 5. Dickens was so poor that he could not even afford to get anyone else to write his books, but had to do it himself. That shows he was not as clever or rich as Katie. 6. The 19th-century novelist never thought to recommend the appeal of one of his male characters with the single word "dickalicious". I trust that settles the matter, once and for all.

Why pink is no longer quite so shocking

Our sister paper, The Independent on Sunday, has for 10 years now been running an annual "Pink List" of the most influential gay men and lesbians in Britain. These days, it runs to 101 names, plus a few permanent "national treasures" and a dozen who the paper wouldn't be seen dead citing. To look back a mere 10 years, at the first list, is to see how much things have changed. For a start, in 2000 the paper could only realistically stretch to 50 names. The professional fields were much more limited, and, clearly, a number of those approached rebuffed the suggestion, sometimes rudely. These days, there are a huge number of figures to choose from, and some distinguished names from crowded fields have been left off for the moment.

As it turns out, you can state the importance of coming out and making yourself public all you like, but one of the most effective ways to create a conspicuous class of gay people is to appeal to their vanity. I'm sure that the moment the 2000 list was published, large numbers of gay people, eminent in their fields, started wondering: "Why am I not there? Am I not important enough? Do they not know?" Joe McElderry, the X Factor singer who came out only on Saturday, in time to make number 100, is just discovering that it's better to be on the list than not. Probably, in the past 10 years, any number of people have found out, too, that it's altogether better to make things clear to the world around you.

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