I had carefully parked my car, a smallish blue People Carrier, as near as I could to the framing shop on a Brixton sidestreet. Painted next to the pavement was a worn single yellow line. “No matter” I thought, “my Orange Badge entitles me to leave the car here: I won’t be long.”
With that, I used my stick to walk round to the passenger door and pull my life drawing from the seat, nudging the car door closed as I started round the corner. “Well this is a lovely piece of work if you don’t mind my saying so.” Anthea, the frame shop assistant said. “Well, she would say that wouldn’t she?”, I thought , privately proud of my work.
I had joined a group of local artists who had carried on painting despite having our teacher’s funding cut by the Local Authority, and hired our own models. Initially, people answering our advertisements had been too thin and skimpy for the group’s tastes, and so I agreed to ask my wife, who was well proportioned, well rounded “not looking as if she is starving like some of the professional models” I told the group as I thought fondly of my young wife Tio.
She had been quite uninhibited and generous with the positions the group had asked her to adopt, I remembered. After discussing suitable mounts and frames, agreeing a price and a completion date, I returned to my car. I was astonished to find a parking attendant fixing a notice to its screen.
“Hey!” I cried “can’t you see my orange badge?”. “You’re parking like a moron” replied the attendant.
“I’ll show you the rules for Orange Badge users”, I offered as the attendant started moving on to his next catch.
“Fuck off then!”, I said.
After indignantly relating the incident to my family, I returned to the spot the next Sunday. Not to my surprise, I found an intermittently worn yellow line. Even more indistinct were two lines, a van length apart, and a broken sign above the pavement saying Loading … and some rusty figures which might at one time have indicated the hours which loading was permitted. I took photographs of the position at which I had been parked when the alleged offence had been perpetrated, and then went home to await a parking fine notice. I was determined not to pay, and to explain to the Legal System the illegality of the fine and the rudeness of the parking official. Confident of the justice of my case, my own abuse of the wretched man had been quickly forgotten.
Several months later a Court Summons duly arrived. As a journalist in the disability field whose employers were quite used to the kind of incident that I had described, I took the day off work, found an appropriate parking bay and arrived in good time at the appointed South London Court. Somehow I felt at home with the assorted men and women, some of whom were hurriedly consulting their lawyers and waiting for their names to be called. After an hour or two engrossed in my Frank Bascombe novel, someone disappointingly not clothed in wig and robe, called out “Nicholas Lewis”. I stood up, to be told by someone who must have been a clerk that the case had had to be postponed because the chief witness, the parking attendant was unable to attend. I went home disappointed at not having had my day in court.
Weeks passed and I was summoned again. Same parking space, same waiting area, similar groups of people in conference. I had finished my novel though and replaced it, appropriately enough with Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. It was not long before it was indicated that somebody with my name (it was hard to believe that it was me) should present himself to Court Number One. Clutching my file containing photos and a written speech I clambered and clattered with my stick along a wooden bench and surveyed the magistrate and officials. “Mr Lewis”. I stood up again. “You have twice appeared here in a case brought by the Lambeth Borough Council. Their witness, a Parking Attendant has again failed to appear. I can see you, in contrast, have gone to some trouble to get here. Case dismissed!”
So I had won! I was pleased. I could tell my friends and even have a party on the strength of it. But I was denied my Rumpole day in court. I should have known it when that pathetic parking officer ran away from me on the day of the so-called offence.