WHEN it came to being quick out of the blocks you had to admire his blistering speed, grim determination and sheer breakneck desperation to hit me with that parking ticket as swiftly as possible.
Usain Bolt could hardly have reacted quicker. Within 30 seconds – 45 max – of removing a bulky plastic bagful of clothes from the boot of my car and conveying it into a Swindon charity shop he had nailed with me with a £35 fine – £70 if I am not a good boy and cough-up soon.
But it poses an important question, and one that is very much in the public interest, to wit: has Swindon Borough Council instructed its traffic wardens to hang around charity shops in order to pinch motorists who have momentarily parked on double-yellow lines in order to donate goods to a worthy cause?
Or was it a case of a lone warden, fired with fervour and enthusiasm, using his own vulture-like instincts, complete lack of fair play and any semblance of common decency, to chalk up a brisk hit?
Flashback to Thursday, at exactly 11.19am and I am easing my car into a space a couple of feet from the Sue Ryder charity shop in Victoria Road, just opposite the Advertiser offices.
Over the years we have donated a lot of decent stuff – clothes, books, CDs – to Sue Ryder in Old Town.
It is an outstanding charity that largely exists on donations in order to provide vital nursing care for thousands of elderly and disabled people, and it is always nice to contribute.
As anyone who has ever dropped off donations to this particular shop will know, there is nowhere convenient to park. You could, of course, shove some money into a Swindon council meter at the Prospect Place car park around the corner and spend some time lugging your boxes and bags to Sue Ryder from there.
But we are only human and it just takes a minute or so – often less – to despatch a bagful of items into the storeroom behind the counter while leaving your car on yellow lines. Pretty much everyone does it.
Having done exactly this, I immediately returned to the car to find a traffic warden was hovering over it.
I assumed he had just approached the said vehicle and I was about to say something along the lines of: “Hold on mate, I’ve only been here a few seconds and I’m off right now.”
And then it dawned that during the fleeting moments I had left the vehicle, he had already typed my car registration, make and model into his hand-held device, checked my tax disc, printed out a parking ticket and sealed it in his plastic ‘penalty charge notice’ envelope.
Speedy Gonzales was then placing it on the windscreen when I grabbed the thing and stuffed it into my pocket.
I was trying to explain that I had made a charity donation and was not attempting to park the car while I did the shopping or even pop into the Post Office. I wasn’t blocking anything in either.
But he would have none of it. Technically, he was right. But have you ever heard of such mean-spirited behaviour? At this juncture I have to confess that in a state of disbelief, anger and exasperation, an expletive or two may have fallen from my lips.
As I was about to drive off he knocked on the window, gave me a smug nod and grinned “Have a nice day.” It was reassuring to meet someone with such enormous job satisfaction. And at least he had a sense of humour. The parking ticket – printed on the left – pretty much speaks for itself, saying my car had been “observed from 11.20 to 11.20.” That’s right, less than a minute.
The obvious conclusion was that he was waiting for me to take the bag into the charity shop and swooped with lightning speed before I could get out seconds later. Perhaps he was lurking in a nearby shop doorway, eager to pounce on a supporter of charity?
I was keen to discover the identity of this redoubtable employee of Swindon Borough Council. But his ‘signature’ is an unintelligible scrawl. About an hour later I rang the Sue Ryder shop and informed assistant manager Debbie Bradley what had happened.
“Oh yes, you were the man with the black plastic bag – you were only in here a few seconds,” she said. Debbie, who has worked at the shop more than four years was alarmed and concerned at the incident.
“No that’s never happened before as far as I am aware,” she said. “I spoke to a traffic warden once and they said they usually gave people five minutes while they dropped off donations to us.”
She added: “This is wrong. If traffic wardens are targeting motorists outside our shop then people won’t make donations anymore.”
A Swindon Borough Council spokesman said: “The driver in question was issued with a ticket because he illegally parked at a bus stop, despite the fact there are signs warning drivers not to park in that area.
“If he had parked on normal double yellow lines he would have been entitled to park and unload, however, this was not the case.
“The council’s civil enforcement officers are neither told to prey on people in certain parking hotspots nor set targets for the number of tickets they should issue. Penalty Charge Notices are only issued to drivers who park illegally, as in this particular case. Our enforcement officer was not waiting for vehicles to park in this area, in fact our computer logs show that he moved from the square near the Locarno and along Wood Street to Victoria Road as part of his beat, where he then took a picture of the illegally parked vehicle and issued a ticket.
“Once a ticket has been issued it cannot be withdrawn by the enforcement officer. A well-established and independent appeals process, as laid out by the Traffic Management Act, is available if anyone wants to challenge why they were ticketed.”