I mentioned that I had been up to the Big City (Brizzle in this case) to see daughter no. 2 recently. While I was there I got a parking ticket. The circumstances were a bit difficult: D2 was not well when I got there and I had to take her to the medical centre for an emergency appointment. The nearest parking space was on-street, about 200 yards away. The instructions on the ticket machine weren't clear, and mistakenly I got a 'free' 15-minute ticket, rather than the 2-hour one I thought I had purchased. All to do with the precise method of inputting one's car registration number into the machine, which is rather counter-intuitive. Of course, when I went back to the car and hour later there was a big yellow sticker on the windscreen - and, curiously, my two pound coins still in the machine's exit slot where I had overlooked them earlier.
I phoned the helpline (hah!) number on the machine and got instructions on how to use it correctly, and then I re-fed my £2 into it and got a proper ticket. On the advice of the admittedly helpful man on the phone line, I got a note from the surgery to confirm that I had been there for the relevant times. When I got home, I sent this off with the tickets and a polite letter explaining the circumstances, humbly requesting that the penalty be cancelled. Humble and polite, because I wanted a result, not to beat my chest over my individual rights as a free citizen. In the words of my late mother-in-law, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. However, in bash-the-middle-class Britain, I expected a brusque reply along the lines of "you've done the crime, now pay the fine". Zero tolerance of community crimes, punishment for daring to want to park a - yeugh - car in the middle of a city, shock horror, who-the-hell-do-you-think-you-are-little-man, we-hold-all-the-cards stuff.
This morning I received a reply. In the light of the representations I made, and in full consideration of the circumstances of the case, my penalty has been cancelled. In a way, I am satisfied that this was the right outcome. It was a genuine mistake, it was rectified as soon as I was able to, Bristol City Council lost nothing (my total stay, even including the 'free' period, was less than the two hours I paid for), and the instructions on the machine were far from clear, especially to someone in a bit of a panic with poorly offspring to look after. In less totalitarian times, I would have expected a response that recognised a genuine mistake, and realised that I was hardly a major criminal to be pursued to the utmost length of the law.
What is slightly disturbing is that this is exactly what I got. My surprise at the outcome (pleasant though it is) is the thing that disturbs me. We've got so used to the strict-liability, zero-tolerance culture (applied only to the law-abiding, of course) that an outcome like this is a shock to the system.
And it shouldn't be.
Well done to the worthy burghers of Bristol City Council Parking Enforcement Team, anyway. Your humanity and compassion are not unappreciated.