Britannia may rule the seas but parking rules Britannia. In fact, I would venture to say that parking is responsible for 95% of the Gross National Product of the UK. And I find that most interesting because there is no parking. So basically, the UK is funded by an invisible, non-existent entity.

And this lack of decent parking spaces brings us to parking tickets. Unlike the USA, where you hope you can zip in and out of someplace quickly, before the cops come, in the UK, they catch you every time. Every time. They pay people to do nothing more than patrol the streets ready to pounce on the first unsuspecting car who either does not have a “resident permit” or is not parked precisely as instructed in the all important and infinitely valuable Highway Code manual, (which, we discovered too late, can be picked up at your local bookstore… if you can find a parking space.) And these meter men/maids people do not smile. Ever.

And how do I know this?? I will tell you my tale, sad but true.

Soon after we moved here, my husband and I were searching for a bank in which to open an account. We found a small branch near his work and decided it would be perfect. Please understand, we were new to London and foolishly assumed one could enter a banking establishment and open an account. Foolish us. Ah, so young and naïve! (Well, naïve, anyway)

Regardless, joy of joys there was a parallel parking space right in front of the bank. I was very proud of myself for maneuvering into the tight space. A garbage truck was behind us and its driver helped me navigate into the space. He even told me to “move back a bit” so I would be between the parking marks on the street. I did and my husband and I went into the bank. We were probably there for maybe 5 minutes.  However long it takes to be told you need to go to a different branch because…who knows why, just because.  Okay?

We come out of the bank to see a small, yellow transparent envelope on the window of our car. It was a parking ticket. And not just any parking ticket but a one hundred pound parking ticket. Now, I don’t know if you’ve heard it, or seen it, or felt it, but the British Pound Sterling is incredibly, horrendously, ridiculously strong compared to the itsy, bitsy, teeny, weenie greenish US dollar. Like, two American dollars equal one British pound. So what I am holding, in reality is a two hundred United States dollar parking ticket.

I was speechless. How did this happen?? I didn’t see any parking meters? And the nice garbage man didn’t say anything about it being a pay parking space. Then my husband pointed down the street. About half a block away was a parking meter box. Into which, presumably, if you know what the hell you’re doing in London, one places a pound coin and one is rewarded with a little parking ticket to be placed ‘clearly visible from the curb side, and in return you are allowed to park, for, oh, maybe, 10 minutes.  It was a half a block away!  And no signs anywhere.  You are just ‘sposed to know.

That same afternoon, we had a meeting with another banker. We were running late and rather than spend time looking for a parking space I told my husband I would drop him off, find a space and then meet him back at the bank. And you can believe I had my pound coin ready this time!

I dropped him off in front of the bank and I saw a blue sign with a large blue P on it, the universal sign for parking, in front of a nearby parking garage. How fortunate was I?? This I was familiar with! I followed the arrow and found myself descending into a dark, narrow passageway. Once in the tunnel, and my eyes became accustomed to the sinister situation, I was able make out these small “stalls” divided with cinder block floor to ceiling walls. Within these stalls were cars. Actual cars. With about maximum 8 inches of space on either side. This was a parking garage, UK style. Were they serious? I would have backed up but I had two or three cars behind me. I was forced to proceed, albeit cautiously.

As I drove deeper into this car barn I passed all manner of humanity. Was this a scene from Dante’s Inferno?? Was that wailing I heard from the inner bowels of this edifice?? No stairs, no elevator. The parking gods were apparently with me, though probably laughing their heads off, as I finally found the last available space. It was true. UK human beings actually are used to this manner of parking garage. After probably 45 minutes, I got into the space. Now it appeared I needed to get out of the car. Interesting, very interesting. Fortunately, my yoga came in handy. I contorted myself into a pretzel shape and only unwound upon my exit from the car.

I walked up the ramp and upon emerging from this so-called parking garage, and being enveloped in sunshine, well, actually, no, remember, this is London, no sunshine, I walked the short distance to the bank.  I met with my husband, who was sitting with the bank officer and the first thing he asked was,

“Find a parking space?”

“Oh yes, no problem! No problem at all. There was a parking garage right next to the bank”, I said cheerily, smiling in an inhuman manner, while immediately, surreptitiously glaring at the bank clerk to make sure that he didn’t give away this dungeon of horrors masquerading as a parking facility. And he didn’t. But upon reflection, I realized that to him, it was normal and the astonishing thing was, he probably thought it was a fine parking garage and was delighted that it was so nearby his work.

We opened our account and made idle chitchat with the banker.  I handed Gary the keys,

“I’ll let you go pick the car up and I’ll go over and buy us a newspaper.”

Yes, I am bad.  Very, very bad.

The next time I saw him he was sitting in the car.  He had this glazed look in his eye and his lips were moving, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying.  I had created a blithering idiot.

“Gary?  Are you alright?”  I asked, afraid maybe this time I had gone too far.

He was mumbling incoherently, something about yoga, I think.