As a useful rule of thumb, I tend to think that if Joan Bakewell can’t handle something then I oughtn’t to try. So I’ve given those pay-by-phone parking meters a wide berth since the BBC presenter ended up in court for failing to operate one properly.
Last week, however, I found myself in need of parking in Harley Street, the very place where Ms Bakewell came to grief. With nowhere in sight to dock the Peugeot other than the dreaded pay-by-phone spaces and with time running out for me to present myself for a blood test, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that the hour had come for me to face my fears.
‘Come on, Melissa. Gather. Gather.’ (I have been practising Kate Winslet-style self-mustering techniques.)
Naturally, the building opposite was swathed in scaffolding and swarming with builders drilling, concrete mixing and hammering. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to hear. Joan couldn’t hear. That was part of the deal. I was prepared for it.
I dialled the number on the sign and a very polite man at Westminster council’s parking service answered. My spirits lifted a little. Maybe, just maybe it was going to be all right.
Casting pride aside, and to the great amusement of passers-by, I shouted the registration of my car like I was an extra on The Bill — bravo! kilo! zero! three! foxtrot! mike! victor! — no less than five times and with an urgency that suggested I had just rumbled the Brinks Mat bullion robbers. I then requested he read it back to me in the same mode twice. I paid for two hours at a cost of £6. He told me my card had been debited, and I quote, ‘That’s all gone through now, madam, thank you.’