Monday, September 12, 2011

The mayor of London and I

(Prefatory note to US readers: in case you didn’t know, Boris Johnson is the mayor of London. He’s an overweight guy with a shock of blonde hair with (admittedly) a good sense of humour, a big personality, and he plays up to the image of being a bumbling but enthusiastic old Etonian. I loathe most of his political stances and many of the policies he’s pursued in London. But I’m 600 miles away from him so his effect on me is negligible – except for making me angry at a distance. But I must make it clear that he’s not appearing in a blog called ‘Murderous Musings’ because I’m plotting against him. In this instance, I’m the criminal. I just want to moan about it and he’s a handy target.)

So, I didn’t really need a reason to dislike Boris even more but, some while back, I got one in the post. I’d been staying in London with my son and, on the day in question, I drove home to Aberdeen and was well pleased with myself for taking all the correct turns, following the signs and weaving my way through Battersea and such places to get to the M4 and relative safety. I have a friend as well as a daughter who drive about London with panache, creativity and a bewildering lack of concern. They even manage to talk calmly as they twist their way past buses, kamikaze cyclists, taxis driven by people who obviously feel they own the streets they’re in and buses which do their bit for the environment by making it clear that it’s far safer to be inside than outside them. For me, driving there is a nightmare.

Anyway, it was a bright, sunny day and I was soon clear of the mayhem and on my way north listening to an R J Ellory novel. When I eventually got home, I’d driven a total of 1500 miles on the trip and only had to answer a few million emails before I could get back to normal. Then came the letter. It seems that some of those 1500 miles had been inside the congestion zone. The letter included two grainy pictures of my car to prove it and demanded sixty pounds, adding that, if ‘they’ didn’t get it within a couple of weeks, it would be upped to one hundred and eighty. Now, before you say ‘Serve you right. Cars are a blot on civilization and shouldn’t have free access wherever they like’, I agree with you. The experience of being a pedestrian in central London has been immeasurably enhanced by thinning out the herds of vehicles  in areas such as Trafalgar Square and making the air close to breathable. Yes, I did mean ‘herds’ – before they brought in congestion charges it used to be like the Serengeti in the migration season. But I had no idea I’d strayed into the forbidden zone so giving the mayoral buffoon sixty pounds hurt. It transpired that my transgression occurred when I missed one turn, realised it and retraced my steps. I had travelled about 80 yards into the zone and 80 yards to get back out.

No, there’s no moral to the story – just the usual vengeful, woe-is-me simmering and perhaps a mental note to make sure one of the corpses in my next novel is fat and has untidy blonde hair.


Jaden Terrell said...

Bill, I feel for you. Driving in an unfamiliar place can be a pain and a half. A couple of times, I've found myself briefly going the wrong way on a one-way street, but like you, I was able to realize my mistake and get out of it quickly.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I can certainly sympathize, Bill. It sounds like driving in Los Angeles or Washington D.C. with all its streets running off the center circles. Following our last trip to Texas, we received a bill for $38 for driving on a Colorado toll road. We were gone long enough that the time limit had expired for payment, so the fee had doubled.

Bill Kirton said...

Yes Beth and Jean, we've all been there and done it, probably several times. Your remarks, though, reminded me of last year when my US publisher (and good friend) was here on a visit. She'd hired a car and we did a lot of sightseeing. She's an excellent driver and coped very well with being on the wrong side of the road, except for one time, at a roundabout. We were talking so much that she forgot, briefly, that traffic on the roundabout had right of way and would be coming from her right, so she drove straight across. Cue blaring horn and an irate Scot in a 4 x 4. But, ever the diplomat, I simply wound down my window and called 'It's OK. She's American'.