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Real life

Driving me crazy

Melissa Kite leads a Real Life

23 April 2008

12:00 AM

23 April 2008

12:00 AM

If television bosses ever get really desperate for cheap viewing, they could always follow me with a hand-held camera as I pigheadedly attempt to drive my car around London. This once simple act now generates an unfeasibly high number of dramatic incidents which would make for excellent prime-time entertainment.

I’ve thought long and hard about why this should be so and it seems to me that my enmeshment in chav-esque motoring dramas bears a direct correlation to Labour assuming power in the capital. I can only conclude that, as a subversive who has defied massive financial penalties to continue driving, I have been singled out by agents of the state to suffer more radical punishments designed to extinguish my desire to move myself about.

For example, last week I was sitting in a queue of traffic on a quiet road in Balham, gateway to the housing slump, when suddenly the car in front started to reverse into me. It was clear that he was attempting to park in a space to the right of me, a manoeuvre which involved him hitting my car first in order to get into it. Now, I know parking is at a premium in London but I thought this a bit excessive.

I could not go backwards to avoid him as there was a car behind me. And so I was forced to sit and watch the black BMW five series crunch my little Peugeot’s bumper into an ugly mess in order to get itself into the gap outside a house. And as it did so I noticed that it had Polish number plates.

To be truthful, I think I may at that point have made a few measured comments to myself about Eastern European migration putting pressure on public services. Nevertheless, I decided that I must extend the hand of British courtesy as the driver emerged from his car. I stopped debating, fixed him with an EU-approved smile, which could not be said to violate his human rights, and said firmly, ‘Insurance?’ To which he replied, ‘Don’t worry. I got real good insurance. Is good for me, is good for you…’

Oh Christ, I thought. I turned to the car behind and asked if the driver saw the accident. Slowly, he rolled down the window: ‘Si, si, signora, I see eeeeeverything!’

OK, then. Let’s just say that my expectations of recompense were hardly sky-high at the start of the process, but I did expect something from my insurance company, which had promised me in its promotional material that its car insurance deals were ‘bonza’, which I took to mean good. So I rang in all the details, including some fiendishly unpronounceable Polish and Italian names, a process that took most of an afternoon.

Three days later I received the following call from my friendly northern call centre:

‘Hello, is that Melinda?’

‘Yes, I suppose so.’

‘Oh, hello, Miranda, and how are you today?…Now, we’ve had a little looook at your insurance claim and I’m afraid to say we’ve discovered some rather unusual things about it.’


‘Well, our investigations department has done a lot of work on this and I’m afraid they’ve discovered that the car that hit you is, in fact, Polish. Also, the insurance company is Polish. And we rang the driver and he’s…’


‘Oo, how did you know?!’

One incident would be explainable. But there are so many more. Just this month I received notice from the owners of the car park I use in town to say that they had decided, against all legal precedent, to rewrite my contract midway through its term and hike up the charges. ‘It’s the retail price index, you see.’ Of course, it is.

And what am I to make of driving to Sainsbury’s yesterday to buy a bag of rabbit food and emerging to find a parking ticket for £50 on my windscreen? I had parked in the supermarket’s own car park but had failed to display a ‘valid free parking ticket’ which I should have obtained by pushing a button on a machine which wasn’t working. So, having bought a small sack of rabbit food for £2.50 I must now pay Sainsbury’s/ Euro parks £50 for my insolence. That’s some expensive rabbit food.

Fine. I accept what you’re trying to tell me, Ken. It’s no use persisting. I will end up impoverished, uninsurable and mentally deranged. But you know what? I’m going to do it anyway. Because it’s not about driving any more. It’s about everything. If you want me to let go of my car keys you will have to pry them out of my cold, dead hands. ‘The right of the people to keep and drive cars’ just became my Second Amendment.

Melissa Kite is deputy political editor of the Sunday Telegraph.

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