‘Cydney, we are not moving to Cobham!’ I told the spaniel in my best outraged Margot Leadbetter voice.
What a sad moment. All my adult life I have worshipped Cobham as a haven of everything good and right and well-functioning in the world. A place of old-fashioned values and comforting, staid right-wingery. A place of millionaires and lottery winners. A place where the streets are paved in Chelsea footballers, slightly drunk after a night out at the local steakhouse.
I have loved Cobham with all my heart, having one foot in it, by stabling my horses there, and one foot back in Balham, south London, where I live.
Recently, I moved the horses to Dorking but I was only there a few months when I realised my mistake. Dorking is not like Cobham. Dorking is all very well, if you like that sort of thing, but to my mind, there are way too many hills. Too many charming antique shops. Too many visitor centres. Too many cyclists. Too many Duke of Edinburgh Award teenagers with backpacks wandering around looking confused. Too many vegetarian cafés. Too many National Trust noticeboards. Too many reasonably priced houses.
No. It was no good. After a few months, my reactionary right-wing heart yearned for Cobham, with its £800,000 two-bedroom dormer bungalows and its pointless gift shops and clothing boutiques selling jumpers with sequins on for £500 a pop.
Cobham. Home of the brave, land of the free. Oh how I loved you. Past tense. Because now you’ve turned around and bitten me with the most ludicrous parking ticket I have ever had.
I had gone out for dinner with a friend who lives there and as I drove down Cobham High Street she suggested I use a little car park opposite the restaurant we were going to, which was round the back of a Boots chemist and looked for all the world like a council car park.
It never occurred to her, I suppose, that such a place would not be free at night. We pulled in and the car park was empty. We were the only ones parked there. We had a lovely dinner and thought no more of it until I got a letter a week later from Euro Car Parks.
The pay and display where I had left the Volvo for an hour was in fact charging the nominal sum of £1 at night and because I hadn’t paid it (according to their cameras), they were issuing me with a Parking Charge Notice (PCN) for £90.
Now, PCN sounds very much like an official fine. But upon further investigation I found out that if a private company demands payment for car parking, it has no right to insinuate it is a penalty of any kind, nor is it entitled to demand an exorbitant fee. Legally, the letter from Euro Car Parks calling itself a PCN is nothing more than an invoice.
So they can whistle for it. I have lodged a 1,300-word appeal, taking their demand to pieces because it appears to breach about ten laws and pretty much every kind of best practice. I can heartily recommend a site called penaltychargenotice.co.uk, which gives excellent advice on how to do this.
I intend to fight this all the way to, well, you know the drill. I will fight and fight and go blue in the face and steam will come out of my ears and if I have to go to the European Court of Human Rights, then so much the better. I thrive on this sort of thing. I’m addicted to challenging unfair parking tickets like some people are addicted to whisky or crack cocaine.
This one is so spurious it has adrenalised me to the point where I may as well be on crack. I couldn’t sleep at night before, you may remember, but now I lie in bed spitting tacks and every now and then, after drifting off into a fitful doze, I start upright screaming ‘Goddam them and their £90! I’ll see them in hell!’
But here is the really important thing. Cobham is no longer the wild west for me, although it clearly is for Euro Car Parks, who are behaving like carpetbaggers.
The frontier spirit illusion for this cowgirl, however, has been forever ruined. Never again will I be able to drive my XC90 up Oakdene Parade like John Wayne in True Grit. No more will I park up in the street to go get a Starbucks frappucino feeling like a gold prospector.
How on earth do I plot my escape from Lambeth, land of petty fines and left-wing bureaucracy, when I can’t even go to Cobham for a bite to eat in a Cote brasserie without incurring a ridiculous fine?