Real life

Real life

27 May 2017

9:00 AM

27 May 2017

9:00 AM

After spending the day unblocking the gutters and drains in the pouring rain, he wasn’t in the mood for a parking dispute.

He rang me while I was at work to tell me he had been ‘firm but fair’ with the lady who told him to move my car from the space slightly to the side of my house. ‘Jeepers creepers,’ I thought, ‘the builder boyfriend’s only gone and blown a fuse with the locals in our second week.’

Look, we’ve come from Lambeth. We understand parking problems. I’m used to walking from Streatham, where I parked every day for 12 years to avoid charges of £300 a year to put my Volvo in the road where my flat in Balham was.

What could be more complicated and long-winded than that? Well, give things a chance.

In the Surrey countryside, living down a public track on a village green, a system of semi-private parking is in operation which is so unfathomable neither I nor the builder b can work it out, though heaven knows we’ve tried. Apologies to all if we’ve got it wrong but this is the best we can come up with.

Some people put cones in the space they want to park in, and some don’t. While the cones people passionately believe in individual space-saving, the non-cones people vehemently defend the freedom to park wheresoever the space is available. Or possibly the principle of invisible allocated parking. I’m not quite sure.

What is clear is that the track divides almost evenly between coners and non-coners, with both sides insisting it’s their way or the highway — literally, because I may end up parking on the hard shoulder of the A3.

If you had to pick, you might say that the non-coners, believing as they do in a world without borders, are probably the ones with the broadest vision.


But then again, is it vision or is it hopeless idealism? Part of me sympathises with the brutal dedication to reality of the coners, who get up every morning, see the world for what it is and place a cone, accordingly, in the space they are vacating.

Man’s inhumanity to man cannot be denied. There are non-residents who come and park here, to walk their dogs or visit the farmers’ market. And there are residents who try to park two cars. Or have visitors. In cars. You can see why one might take to coning.

That said, it’s by no means clear-cut. I want to hear the manifestos of both sides before I make my decision. Committing myself to coning or non-coning is a huge step, which will have repercussions for the rest of our lives here.

I must admit that when we first came home to find a cone in the nearest space to our house my reaction was more pragmatic.

‘Put the Virgin Mary out there tomorrow morning and be done with it,’ I told the builder b, pointing to the large white statue of the Madonna he rescued from a skip outside a church in south London after some godless renovator threw it out.

She’s been standing in my garden in Balham for two years and now hovers in the dining room of the cottage because the BB says he’s busy and will find her a place in the new back garden when he gets a chance.

When we arrived, he stood her in the front garden but I worried she would frighten the neighbours. Hands in prayer, she’s the size of a toddler and more scary than a garden gnome with a fishing rod to those concerned about house prices.

But it did occur to me, when we came home to a cone in the last parking space, that she might make a good space-saver for the Volvo.

I thought we could put a sign round her neck. ‘Thou shalt not park here.’ Or even ‘The power of Christ compels you.’

‘No way,’ said the BB, who is incredibly fond of Mary. ‘Someone might run her down and decapitate her.’ He’s more devout than me, despite my convent-school upbringing.

He’s also intellectually superior, I am coming to realise. He’s been sketching our renovation plans on the walls in pencil, very much in the style of Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind.

Frighteningly accurate architectural drawings are springing up all over the house. He scribbles them wherever he happens to be standing, or sitting, in the case of the makeshift bathroom.

‘These are amazing,’ I tell him, quite awestruck. I am worried he’s a genius and will have a nervous breakdown while redesigning the staircase.

His hair has begun standing on end, I notice, and his eyes have taken on a mad, staring quality. But that could be because he’s been arguing all day with the neighbours about parking.

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