Sue Arnold: My bout of Post-Vacation Stress Disorder

'£466.40 for a parking ticket? Where were you parked, on the Woolsack in the House of Lords?'


"Haven't you heard?" said another neighbour. "Bertie died last week. It will be a terrible shock to his mother." I doubt it. Bertie's mother is 104 and, from what he used to tell me about her when we passed on the stairs, pretty much unshockable. But that makes us the last sitting tenants in the block (the one in Flat 2 died in January), which leaves me feeling sad, because I shall miss Bertie, and slightly nervous because, if we weren't occupying the fourth floor, our landlord could redevelop the whole building, turn it into posh offices and rent it for seriously big bucks.

The first thing I should do is check to see that there are no loose banister rails on the stairs outside our landing. I should hate to end up like poor Amy Robsart, wife of the Earl of Dudley, who stood in the way of his ambition to marry Elizabeth I and was found at the bottom of the stairs with her neck broken at Cumnor Place, their manor house in Berkshire, in 1560. If in the next few weeks you hear that I have died in mysterious circumstances, do me a favour. Check that it was natural causes or drink, and not foul play.

Then again, I may have totally misjudged our landlord, who will probably make us a handsome offer to relocate in the same way that Bertie relocated here several years ago. On second thoughts, Bertie, unlike us, was the last tenant in an enormous redevelopment scheme which now houses one of London's smartest department stores on the ground floor and several million pied-a-terres with staff accommodation for Saudi sheiks and American bankers above it. I'm not greedy. I'd settle for a modest four-bedroom flat with a roof terrace within walking distance of Chelsea Library, the Coopers Arms and the number 11 bus.

The next attack of Post-Vacation Stress Disorder came with a tearful telephone call from daughter number three, who has also been out of London for the whole summer doing the rounds of the music festivals. I thought she might have contracted trench foot at Glastonbury like everyone else and, having heard the cause of her problem, I rather wish she had.

In between Kimberley and The Big Chill she'd dropped by the flat to pick up her mail and found a bailiff's letter, the third one he'd delivered, apparently, stating that if she didn't pay the £466.40 she owed for a parking ticket he'd be back within the week, doubtless with a couple of heavies, to relieve us of goods and chattels to the value of that amount.

"£466.40 for a parking ticket?" I said surprised. "Where on earth were you parked, on the woolsack in the House of Lords?"

"No, she said, in Fulham, in a pay-and-display bay, which had been recategorised without warning as a residents-only parking area on Saturday afternoon when Fulham were playing at home. She had appealed the £50 ticket and heard nothing more about it until the bailiff's letter, the third of his hand-delivered missives, each one costing £120.

Not being a driver, I'm spared the stress of trying to park in London. I had an enterprising friend who managed to get hold of one of those yellow plastic hoods traffic wardens used to put over meters saying "out of order", which he used regularly until some other enterprising person nicked it. Another friend acquired a temporary bus stop, one of those little ones that look like lollipops that the council put out whenever there are road works. He'd carry it around in a bag (it came to pieces quite easily), and, whenever he saw a bus he wanted to catch, he just put it up and stuck his hand out.

Even my phlegmatic husband is having a taste of PVSD. His September bank statement shows that he has been paying someone else's insurance for at least two years. When he rang to ask whose insurance he had been paying, they said they weren't at liberty to say. So, would he get his money back? The fellow in the call centre in Kuala Lumpur said the matter would have to be referred to a different office. We all know what that means. Nothing. And, after a year of writing letters, it'll be time to go on holiday again. Roll on July.

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