Yesterday morning had a sudden urge to leave England. I think of myself (reluctantly sometimes) as a fairly responsible person, generally honest and law-abiding, but as I opened an official looking letter from Gloucester City Council and saw the photographs, I had a sudden urge to drive up the M5 at 100mph and put a brick through the window of the council offices.
Last week, as already reported by Jo of the high pitched ‘hello’ and ‘slummysinglemummy‘ fame, she and I pitched to do some work for the charity Gloucester Carers. Neither of us know Gloucester and had no idea of the road system. So I downloaded all the necessary instructions (or so I thought) from Multimap and with Jo as my trusty navigator we set off up the motorway. All went well. Little traffic on a road that is often jammed from Bristol to Birmingham and we were at the city outskirts in just over an hour. That is when the trouble started. As so often happens with instructions purporting to be incredibly straightforward they were anything but, and for what is a small city, Gloucester seems to be terribly difficult to wriggle your way into. We can’t work out where we went wrong, but suddenly we were in the Docks area. It is not a useful working port of any description, more a tourist destination cum shopping experience and we quickly realised the map (not our navigational skills of course) had let us down. We came to a single lane bridge, crawled over it and were glad to find ourselves back on dry land so to speak and a main road which eventually took us into the town centre.
I can safely say both Jo and I had forgotten the route we had taken in the blur of a very challenging presentation and interview and long journey home (by a different road). That is until yesterday. A letter demanding a £60 fine for travelling 10 yards in a bus lane, with photographs of my poor little Fiat Panda, registration number magnified in case I tried to claim I had never seen it before in my life.
Now I have once been caught speeding and to that I held up my hands as a fair cop. Very few of us can say we have never exceeded a speed limit, and most of us know that speeding, particularly in built up areas, kills so there is a very good reason why we should be held to account for doing it, even though speed cameras were the invention of the devil. It is also frustrating to get a parking ticket, but we know the score if we park on a yellow line. But I accidentally strayed into a lane reserved for buses, although at the time there were none to be seen. I was doing about 10mph and once on what is apparently the Llanthony Bridge I couldn’t turn round (the bus lane is the only lane), and if I had done, it seems the camera would have caught me twice. I wasn’t a danger to anyone (the photo shows an empty road), and if there had been a human being there to take me to task I would have explained what had happened and hoped for mercy. It wasn’t a reckless short cut, it was an honest mistake which wouldn’t be repeated. Sorry your honour.
But there was a camera, lurking unseen, ready to catch out the unwary. The photos make me feel very uneasy, especially as from that photo they can obtain all the details they want about me from the DVLA. I once heard that there are more CCTV cameras within 5 miles of UK ports than in the whole of France. Urban myth maybe, but I for one might be looking for a gite.
In the middle of writing this post I have spoken to my sister on the phone. Following my rant, which she instantly empathised with as an avid reader of the Daily Mail (a paper she knows I loathe..), she quite rightly pointed out the flaw in my liberal minded, civil liberties argument. How could I complain that so much of my personal information was available to the authorities at the touch of a button when I happily advertise pictures of my breasts on the internet? (If you are coming to this blog for the first time, I must refer you quickly to my posts on breast reconstruction and my article on www.sofeminine.co.uk, or I may be in violation of some internet bylaw too..) Why do I freely share my mental health issues and thoughts on my blog if I then complain about Big Brother controlling our lives?
This is a good point and I have taken some time to work out a response. I feel that whatever I post on here, or write in articles for magazines, is within my control. I may say too much, I may occasionally regret my openness and fear I have alienated people. But ultimately I have chosen to share it. I expect there is some small print on some document I have signed at some point in my life that gives Gloucester City Council the right to know all my personal details and charge me £60 for 10 yards in an empty bus lane but as far as I know I cannot now opt out, as I can of this blog, should I change my mind.
Anyway, I have to pay, there is no alternative. Sorry is not good enough. Local Authorities need my cash, even the ones I don’t live within the boundaries of. But I can’t help feeling a little ‘spooked’ by the whole thing, and rather reluctant now to visit Gloucester for a while. Herewith the end of the rant. Now I need chocolate.
(By the way, in case you are interested, I was apparently in contravention of The Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 Sections 1,2,4 and ( (as amended) The Transport Act 2000 Section 144 (1) (2) and (9) (as amended) and The Bus Lane Contraventions (Penalty Charges, Adjudication and Enforcement) (England) Regulations 2005. I am lucky to get away with £60..)