Monday, June 16, 2008

Transits, tribulations and traffic wardens

Some stereotypes are cruel and unfortunate. Others, it seems, are spot on...

I borrowed an interesting toy over the weekend. It came with a 3.2-litre turbocharged five-cylinder engine. It was rear wheel. It had a six-speed gearbox… It was a van. To be precise it was a Ford Transit 350 SWB and it was helping me move house. What's more it came with a substantial quantity of free diesel – handy on a weekend when the nation's entire quota of numpties decided to block petrol forecourts following a single oil company's pay dispute.

Having collected my workhorse on Friday evening, I headed back round the M25 to North London. I've been told before how well modern vans handled and this one is supposed to be the cream of the crop. It certainly has excellent steering which would put many cars to shame. It also has a flexible, torquey engine; a very gentle progressive clutch and suspension so stiff (when unladen) that it feels positively sporty. It's an impressive achievement for a vehicle designed purely as a utility, yet you still become acutely aware of being sat several yards off the ground by the time you reach the first corner and adverse cambers can be a buttock-clenching experience. But that's fine for the Transit – it's a van – and in that respect it performs beautifully.

The following day my girlfriend and I began loading our possessions into the Tranny. It swallowed an impressive quantity of household detritus, which was fortunate as there was about three times as much to move as we'd originally anticipated. All in all, we were impressed. One person who wasn't so impressed was the local traffic warden. Now, I'd always believed traffic wardens must get rather a bad press… It can't be an easy job at times and it's not one that anyone will ever thank you for. Maybe they were just misunderstood?

I saw the aforementioned parking officer eyeing up our van from across the road and went to ask if anything was wrong. We were busy loading on a single yellow line and not getting in anyone's way; I couldn't see a problem. I began with a cheery hello. "I'm giving you a ticket" she replied with all the warmth of an SS drill-sergeant. I calmly and politely protested my innocence and she eventually explained that pulling onto the pavement had been our undoing. Apparently obstructing the traffic on the road would have been perfectly legal, despite the gridlock that would have ensued. I didn't know this – or atleast I didn't expect them to put legality over common sense – and I explained we were very sorry and we'd be on our way.

This didn't please the traffic warden, who seemed to be morphing closer and closer to her comedic representation in Little Miss Jocelyn by the second. In a last minute effort to reason with her, I tried to adopt a karma-based approach. "You could let us move on and not ruin our day – it was a genuine mistake we're not going to do it again or…" I was going to continue to the effect that ruining our day wouldn't make her feel any better (meant purely as that) when she interrupted. "Is you threatening me? IS YOU THREATENING ME?!" Fat chance I thought – not only was she somewhat bigger than me, she seemed to have rather more facial hair too – I wouldn't stand a chance.

Miraculously, after considerably more pleading (and strategically positioning myself in front of the van), I managed to persuade her to let me move on without a ticket. Even more miraculously, having dropped the contents off at the new house (about a mile down the road) and collected my other half we were able to find a legitimate van-sized space in the adjacent pavement parking zone for the next two runs.

With the new garage acting as a temporary holding station, work commenced ferrying bits up to the house to create a TVR-sized gap for my S3 to fit into. I took a break from shifting boxes to return the van this morning and, teetering along with no weight in the back again, I had a new found respect for the driving skills of White-Van-Man. My opinion of traffic wardens on the other hand has taken a severe battering.

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