If you want to understand what an autocracy feels like, try your local car pound. Mine, which is typical, owes its architectural inheritance to an open prison, wasteland premises, high gates, ubiquitous security cameras. Inside the prefab reception, the tax collector, I mean clerk, sits behind an enforced window. The decoration on the walls consists of an epic, almost poetic, list of parking heresies. Otherwise, there is a jaunty warning of the consequences of a false claim of damage. Only once is the word "welcome" used, in relation to types of credit cards.
I try a sympathetic "we are all in this together" wince at the man in front of me in the queue, but he looks hurriedly away. Who knows if the cameras trained on us can pick up irony as well as physical violence. We offenders who complete our odyssey here have made a decision: No point in self-righteousness, or pity. Nobody cares whether life is fair. Just pay the fine and make sure your papers are in order.
The man before me grips his briefcase tighter and breathes jaggedly; yes his insurance, tax, utility bill, birth certificate are beyond reproach but bureaucracy is full of unknown unknowns. He is permitted (one at a time) through the first of two doors which lead to the car pound. The exit security gate does not lift at first and I see him in the cameras hunched passively in the driver's seat as if at a border crossing, pre-1989 Berlin.
Then it is my turn. The fine is £250, which goes instantly up to £320. I try to humanise my situation. I chuckle into the chilly silence my dyslexia about the registration number. I demonstrate my car ownership by holding up the car key. I start and stop a confidence that I have found a parking place in my street less than a dozen times in the past year.
I refrain from mentioning the invisibility of the parking suspended sign, for this is no forum for mitigation. And it would spoil my husband's pleasure in his letter of appeal, beginning in the intemperate manner of a Jeremy Paxman email, and gradually refined until it has all the majestic restraint fitting for the European Court of human rights.
Any relationship is a balance between pain and pleasure, but when it is all punishment and no reward, it is time to walk away. I am reaching this moment with my car. The greatest fallacy of cars is that they represent freedom. In London, ownership of cars is pure oppression. Unless you are a Qatari zooming round the Eaton Square race track at night in your souped up Ferrari then your car is, by far, the slowest form of transport in a city.
The moment you turn on the ignition, your car's value plunges. Plus it is more economical to go shopping with Fergie than fill up with petrol. And you are a sitting target for taxes. My annual bill for insurance and a tax disc and a parking permit and congestion charges could free whole villages in Botswana from malaria.
My 18-year-old son dreams of a Top Gear life having recently passed his driving test. I have patiently explained that university fees are a drop in the ocean compared to insuring and equipping a young man to drive. A progressive North London couple explained to me at supper the other evening how they only rented cars. I smiled and inwardly dismissed them as mentalists. But now I realise they were right. Car ownership: it is just not worth it, not the money, not the misery. I am packing it in.
Sarah Sands is deputy editor of the 'London Evening Standard'Reuse content