Dashing onto the runway at Manchester Airport in pouring rain and a furious early-morning gale was a sheer pleasure for me on my return to Spain – because I was swopping the cold and miserable British weather for the Costa Blanca sunshine I so adore.
Apart from the shivering, soggy climate, my four weeks back in the UK also brought home some of the reasons why living in England today is more of a penance than a joy.
Yes, the beautiful countryside, unique historic buildings and ironic British sense of humour are still intact. But the breakdown of law and order and increasingly large sub-culture of yobbism, alcoholism and drug addiction is frightening.
I won’t go into the most controversial subject of all – the massive over-immigration which is polarising rather than uniting the country. That would be politically incorrect, even if my personal viewpoint is considerably less extreme than that of many native Brits.
However, one subject that really does make my blood boil is the unnecessary traffic chaos – and the incompetence of the faceless bureaucrats responsible for the massive disruption on motorways and trunk roads.
Everywhere I drove, I seemed to be held up - from an enforced 30-mile motorway detour to accommodate a bridge-building exercise, to temporary traffic lights causing hold-ups on virtually every main road. The general philosophy of the transport bureaucrats seemed to be, ‘‘Cause maximum disruption to as many motorists as possible at the time the traffic is heaviest’’.
OK, I don’t tend to drive in busy areas in Spain, but I have never even seen a proper traffic jam in the Costa Blanca. I get the impression that the roads are kept as clear as possible in the daytime with most maintenance work done at night, when fewer vehicles are on the roads. Yet in England, I rarely go out without being stuck in a queue of crawling cars.
I also had the dubious pleasure of clashing with the council jobsworth who monitors minor traffic offenders in Bury, Lancashire, where my UK home is. I lost the battle, of course, because being fair did not tally with his mission to fill the town coffers with as much cash as possible from the softest touches of all – law-abiding motorists.
|Pay up or else: But was this justice?|
My 'crime' was that I went on a lunchtime shopping trip on a quiet weekday and, at 12.38pm, moved my little Kia Picanto into the empty bus lane momentarily to allow the only other car on the road to pass me. It hadn’t crossed my mind to check the hours of prohibition first – I naturally assumed the rules were the same as everywhere else.
Gotcha! The council spiders had set up a camera to trap heinous criminals like myself in their devious web. And three days later I received photographic evidence of my car tootling along in the bus lane at 25mph, plus a demand for £60 – reduced to £30 if I paid within 14 days.
How kind of them to penalise an unknowing pensioner for merely being courteous to another driver and clearly having no intention of using the bus lane to jump a queue or for any dubious reason.
I duly wrote to the council very sweetly explaining the situation and asking that they reconsider, enclosing a £30 debit-card payment to avoid the possibility of being stung for double that amount while I was awaiting a response.
A few days later I received a written reply from Bury’s Parking Services Manager John Foudy in which good grammar and accuracy were given particularly low priority.
(Sic) ‘’I have noted your comments, however, upon further investigation of your case it is apparent that full payment of the Notice has been made,’’ he wrote, as if that was a reason the fine could not be reversed.
‘‘I can confirm that there is ample signage at the entrance to the bus lane specifying the relevant start and end times. The onus is on the motorist to check the information before making the judgement to enter a bus lane.
‘’Thank you for your prompt payment, however, I would like to inform you that any further right to appeal is lost and the case is now closed.’’
That’s it, then. Guilty as charged, and no reference whatsoever to my explanation.
I’m not the first person to suffer in this way at the hands of Bury Council, whose greediness for fleecing soft-touch motorists at every chance is regularly highlighted in the local press.
So I’ve decided to repay Mr Dowdy, sorry Foudy, in my own way. I’m boycotting Bury on my future visits to the area and will do my shopping in Bolton, Rochdale and Oldham.
My thinking is that if disgruntled local motorists hit local traders in the pocket by boycotting the town, the business community might press Bury Council to stop ostracising decent citizens with greedy forms of entrapment.
Of course, my plan is unlikely to work – and in any case you may believe I did cross the line, both literally and metaphorically. But I bet you 30 quid that councils like Bury are persecuting motorists in order to maximise council funding.
Make your losing cheques payable to John Foudy at Bury Parking Services signage department.
First published in Female Focus magazine, December 2010