Now, whenever someone writes about parking, you can generally guess that there's an aggrieved motorist venting some spleen, a grievance being aired, a problem being shared and embellished to prove one's innocence before the fine is grudgingly paid. But this one isn't about me. This is a little window into the London war on traffic.
Walking through Covent Garden today I watched a warden ticket a taxi. There's nothing really unusual in that nowadays, wardens will ticket anything that stays stationary long enough to slap a PCN on in order to meet their quotas. It's why I don't have a car. Taxis, buses, bikes, lorries unloading, ambulances, fire engines, gas board vans, vehicles for the disabled, small children and their trikes. All fair game.
You learn this after a while in London. The wardens don't care. They're not employed to care and they genuinely don't give a toss about you, the circumstances, anything. Just their quota of tickets for the day. End of.
But what was novel about this was that the taxi was on a taxi rank. I thought that's where they were supposed to be. But it still got a ticket. The driver appeared, a small stocky bloke from the same mould as Phil Collins in "Buster" and was, shall we say, a little put out.
The warden had already issued the ticket and was at the photographing stage. They have to do this because there are so many claims about so many badly issued tickets that the snapshots have become essential as evidence. Every appeal that I've made has been met with a flurry of photographic evidence, even a website with video.
The cabbie was annoyed. He'd been helping an elderly couple carry their bags. He wanted to know what he'd done wrong. The warden ignored him and carried on snapping.
Frustrated by the knowledge that an already written ticket cannot be taken back, (and the chances of winning on appeal are virtually zero) he was fired up and wanted an answer. "What" he demanded to know, "do you think I was doin???" The warden continued to ignore him.
Now, if you were that warden what might you have done? Explained the rules? Walked away? What? (I'm assuming that cabs mustn't be left unattended in ranks and that's what this was all about, but that's just a guess)
I tell you what I wouldn't have done. I wouldn't have walked up to the cabbie who was shouting at me and push my little digital camera into his face and take a close up snap. Because that might just send the cabbie over the edge.
Which it did.
He lost it. So the warden snapped him again. Right in his face. And this time, for good measure, he laughed at him. It was bizarre. The poor cabbie nearly imploded with rage. The warden, apart from his diligence with the camera, had his cap at a jaunty angle and looked as if he couldn't give a monkeys. Which rather made matters worse. He just slowly wandered around the cab, snapping away, getting some nice shots for the album, most of which seemed to include the cabbie.
As human fireballs go, it was pretty spectacular but good sense prevailed despite the provocation and it all ended quick enough, without any real violence, because there is no real point in shouting at a warden. They don't care, and this one especially had a degree in not caring. So Mr Justifiably Angry got back in his cab and made to drive off, still shouting at the warden.
So what does the warden do? Wave? Walk off? No. He goes up to the cabbie, laughs at him, points the camera into his face and takes another snap.
This time the cabbie turns bright red, jams on the anchors, leaps out the cab and wants to know if the warden is "enjoying himself" as he seems to be taking a lot of holiday snaps. He is right in the warden's face, backing him up against a lamppost. I would have put money on it coming to blows now.
Paradoxically, the warden seemed to be enjoying himself. You could tell by his laughter. He took more snaps. Of the cab. The restriction signs. The taxi rank lines. And, for good measure, just to be on the safe side, another one of the cabbie's purple face.
And then he laughed again and casually sauntered off.
The cabbie was defeated, humiliated, and facing a £60 fine for stopping his taxi. At a taxi rank. He got back behind the wheel, picked up a fare, (some poor innocent who was about to get his ear bent for the next ten minutes), and drove off. Wellington Street started to return to normal.
Funny old world. Innit?