With a sense of weary inevitability, I discover that it is not possible to have a washing machine delivered in my street without paying £100 in washing machine delivery protection money to Brixton town hall.
Yes, indeed. I turned into my street the other day to find a lorry unloading outside my neighbour’s house in what ought to have been a boring, everyday scene of law-abiding folk going about their domestic business. That’s nice, I thought. My neighbour’s getting a new Zanussi. And I drove down an interconnecting road to get round the lorry thinking nothing awry.
Until I heard the shouting. And then it hit me. A lorry unloading a washing machine is not a problem for me, or indeed any other citizen of planet earth because my street is in the middle of a conservation estate and leads nowhere. But it’s a problem for Lambeth council. Sorry, did I say problem? I meant to say opportunity to embezzle money.
As if by magic the parking attendant appeared on his little moped. Soon he and the delivery man were locked in mortal combat, the yellow package of doom tucked beneath the windscreen wipers, the driver shouting about how the job had now cost him more money than he would earn from it, my neighbour promising through teary gulps that she would pay the charge.
So, I hereby enclose a transcript of another of my phonecalls with Lambeth council, which I hope to publish one day in a compendium volume entitled Conversations With People Who Think They Are God:
‘Hello, I’d like to find out how to get a washing machine delivered to my house without incurring a £60 parking ticket for double parking, please.’
‘If you are a resident in a controlled zone you can offer them one of your visitor permits.’
‘But there’s no space to park in the bays. They’re always full.’
‘We’ve got no power over that.’
‘So how do I get a washing machine delivered?’
‘You could suspend the bay. It’s £40 to do that; oh, and there’s an administration charge of £60, so actually it’s a minimum of £100.’
‘That’s a lot of money, isn’t it? That doubles the price of the washing machine.’
‘Yes. If it’s delivery of a household item it really isn’t worth it. Did you buy the washing machine from a reputable company?’
‘What difference does that make?’
‘The only other option I could actually suggest, if you know of anyone who parks in the immediate area you could have a word with them to move their vehicles when the delivery comes.’
‘But they’re not in. The bays are full because people go to work leaving their cars at home for reasons I’m sure you support. Even if they were in I would need to locate the owners of about five cars to make enough space for a lorry. And where would those cars park in the mean time?’
‘You see another “option” that occurs to me is that Lambeth council could not ticket delivery lorries as they unload things like washing machines to people’s houses.’
‘That would be a good idea.’
‘Well, can you suggest it? Can you make it happen?’
‘I’m not in a position to implement change.’
‘Is there anyone there who is?’
‘No. You would have to put it in writing.’
‘OK. I will. Just tell me who to. Because it is very unfair, don’t you think?’
‘If the lorry’s double parked it stops other road users.’
‘Well, it’s interesting you say that, because I was stuck behind a delivery lorry myself and I didn’t mind at all.’
‘Yeah but it could stop the emergency services.’
‘Couldn’t they just ask the lorry to move?’
‘With the emergency services it might be a matter of a few vital seconds.’
‘That is a good point. You’ve got me there. I could end up killing someone with my heartless washing machine delivery.’
‘I’ve found the name of someone you can write to. He’s called Nigel. He’s head of the sustainability team.’
‘What does sustainability mean?’
‘In regards to regeneration, it’s all about preserving resources. He would encourage people to use public transport and cycling.’
‘Why would he help me?’
‘What do you mean?’ (She’s getting a bit shouty and irritable now.)
‘I’m just not sure why he would want to help me get this washing machine unloading tax lifted. His system seems to work quite well in terms of preserving resources.’
‘He will want to help you because he’s a councillor.’ Now she’s speaking with playschool emphasis and a chilling tone which reminds me that my call is being recorded and may be used for ‘training’ purposes.
I decide I’d better do what I’m told. I’ve left a message on Nigel’s answerphone, so fingers crossed, eh.