It months ago that it happened but it feels like yesterday. The wounds are still fresh. I wonder if I will ever be free of the lingering sense of fear. The terror that it could so easily happen again.
I was in my flat. It was a sunny day - not summer sun, but spring sun. The sun of hope. I was on the internet when it happened. Checking my bank balance. Looking for work. Wondering how I was going to squeeze out what little money I had left until I got another acting job. My mobile phone rang.
"Hello." (pause) "Is that Mr. Barclay?"
-- A withheld number. The speaker mumbling deliberately so as to be unrecognisable. Vaguely accented. Who is this man?? --
"Are you the owner of vehicle registration number..."
-- Oh my God. My car. Where is it. It is on the street outside my flat. I parked it there last night. How does he know the number? How does he know my phone number?? --
"Yes... Where is it? It's outside my house."
-- A hint of smugness creeps in. He knows something I don't know --
"It is in Lots Road Car pound..."
The man turned out to be a kidnapper. Someone had put a yellow sign on a lamppost near my car, and although no skip or van or anything needed to use the bay in which it was parked for the entirety of the day, rather than move the car to any of the many vacant bays that were surrounding it, it had been stolen and hidden in a little car park near the train tracks on Lots Road. Okay I was a fool to have not checked the lamp-post. It was late and I was tired. I was willing to pay a fool tax - surely it couldn't be more than £80 pounds, I thought. Which is fine since I have £300 left of my overdraft limit.
"What's the ransom?"
"If you collect it today, it will be £260."
I almost fell over. Dear lord that is totally absurd. It is two fines for the same offence. £80 for a "serious parking offence" and £180 for recovering it from the pound. This, in my opinion, is disgusting. One or the other would be reasonable as an idiocy tax. Both not only totally destroyed my financial stability such as it can ever be in this profession, but has also left me deeply traumatised. I wake EVERY MORNING with a vague fear that I may have inadvertently left my car somewhere where they can ransom it. My first act is to check out the window, and if I can't see my car I run down the stairs with my heart in my mouth and some hastily thrown on clothes to check that it isn't about to be stolen. If a garbage van pulls up outside the flat at 7.15 I think it is the sound of the poundeteers getting in some early thefts. I have to check, recheck and check again all the lamp posts near the car. I don't dare leave town for more than a day in case they come in over night and stick up their yellow signs and run off with my car. Because if they steal it again I can't afford to get it back. And then they'll start removing wheels and windscreen wipers and sending them to me in the post. If they steal it again I will have to disown the car and all it's contents, as I would not make back the money that I have to spend on rescuing it by selling it. I am genuinely traumatised by the vast and crippling fine levied for the simple offense of leaving my car overnight near a yellow sign that had been speculatively put up in order to make room for work which never took place.
I know the arguments. Why do you need to have a car in London?
I'm just angry because I'm broke.