‘Cydney,’ I have just told the spaniel, ‘you had better enjoy this tin of dog food because it cost me £67.50.’ I hear you ask, ‘How on earth is this possible? Are you feeding foie gras to your cocker?’ I might as well be. It would be cheaper than buying pet food in Streatham after Transport for London has run amok with a red line painter in a deserted street.
I had pulled up as normal outside this sleepy little pet shop on the corner of a quiet residential street to get the dog a consignment of Lily’s Kitchen. I parked in the large empty bay outside, which still looked for all the world like the dedicated customer parking it has always been. Yes, I suppose if I had scoured the tarmac beneath my feet I might have seen lines. Yes, I suppose if I had looked up I might have seen cameras. But I wasn’t expecting them, was I? No one ever does. No one expects the Red Route inquisition. Its chief weapon is surprise…
And so I pootled inside to buy the Lily’s, not suspecting anything might be different. I selected her favourites, Goose and Duck, Beef and Potato — are dogs meant to eat potato? — and paid for them at the till. Then I put the carrier bag in the passenger side of the Fiat Panda and drove off.
The fine came through a week later. Contravention 46: stopped where prohibited on a red route or clearway.
Now, according to TfL’s website, red routes are ‘London’s main roads and carry 30 per cent of the city’s traffic’. Strange, then, that this red route is in a very quiet street where I have almost never encountered a single passing car.
But stranger things were to come when I rang the number on the fine to inquire about my transgression. ‘I’m a bit confused,’ I told the operator, ‘about why I’m being fined £65 for parking outside a pet shop in what looks like a free parking bay.’
After calling up my details he said: ‘Ah, yes, well, you were parked in a loading bay, madam. That space is for people to load things into their cars.’
‘Well, then, it’s even stranger,’ I said, ‘because I was loading something into my car. Dog food.’
‘Yes but the camera will have filmed you. If you were loading heavy items you would not have been fined.’
‘Oh, I see. So it’s not for loading just anything?’
‘No. Only heavy or bulky items,’ said the man, who I ascertained was called Sunny. ‘Like, I don’t know, a crate of beer or something.’
‘You see, Sunny, now I’m completely confused. It’s pretty difficult to buy a crate of beer in a pet shop. What you get there is dog food. And I bought dog food. And then I loaded it into my car.’
‘You’re not allowed to just load something that’s in a plastic bag.’
‘Oh. So it’s about what the pet food is being carried in now? Would it have been all right if I had the pet food in a box? Or a crate? I could make it look like beer, if that helped.’
Sunny gasped with exasperation. ‘Look. You can load heavy items but not just carry some cat food out in a bag and put that in your car. It has to be heavy, you know, like a TV.’
‘I’m pretty sure the pet shop doesn’t stock TVs. I suppose I could ask if they could start stocking them, so I could nip in for some dog food and a 40-inch flat screen in order to get parking, but I’m guessing the cost of the TV would be more than the fine.’
‘You’re going to have to write in about this!’ gasped Sunny, whose patience was wearing thin.
‘Oo! I know! Suppose next time I pretend to struggle with the weight of the dog food. Would that work? Or, how about I take a crate of beer or a TV with me to the pet shop and then when I’ve loaded the dog food, I walk in and out of the shop with the TV and put it back in my car?
‘Also, this question of weight is very subjective. I mean, unless you weigh my bag, you can’t say for sure I wasn’t carrying something heavy I would have struggled with unless I could pull up outside. Can I produce the bag to be weighed in evidence? And another thing, what about if I bought a rabbit? What size of rabbit would be all right to load? What would be the cut-off weight for a hamster?
‘How about a sign saying Loading Bay: Minimum load 15 tins of Lily’s Kitchen, Large Sack of Eukanuba, Medium to Large Rabbit or Obese Hamster.
‘Sunny, are you there?’
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