Column: October 19, 2011

IF CAR parking were a school playground sport – and, for the sake of our children, I am glad it is not – I would be the last one to be picked. I have poor spatial awareness and an ambivalent relationship with heavy machinery.

Nevertheless, I was, on the second attempt, adjudged to be sufficiently proficient at parking to be allowed onto society’s roads. Sometimes it makes me wonder just how low the bar was set – as I invariably park at an unsatisfactory angle – and I shiver.

Anyway, I recently drove to do my shopping in Warrington, mostly to give the exasperated shop assistants of Liverpool a rest. I didn’t crash, not even once, and I looked for the multi-storey car park I had been promised.

“You’ve gone past it,” said my travelling companion, inevitably. “What?” I said. “Was that it? That’s virtually a concealed entrance. Did Warrington council tell the developers they had to do that to make sure local people who know where the entrance is get preferential treatment?”

“Just turn around,” my companion sighed. “No need,” said I, “there’s another one down here.”

“There aren’t as many places in this one.”

“Doesn’t matter,” I replied. ”The sign says there are 53 free spaces. Even I can park in one of 53 free spaces.”

I turned into the second multi-storey car park and took my ticket at the barrier. It was dark. A sign informed me I was on Level 1. There were many cars and not many spaces, and so, as I would have done in IKEA, I followed the arrows. After all, when in Warrington . . .

The arrows took me past a coned-off area, where improvements were taking place. There was nobody implementing the improvements, but a sign said work was ongoing. It was at this point my faith in signs showed evidence of fraying, but I continued to follow the arrows and search for a space.

My hopes were raised, and then dashed, by a couple of Aitches of Disappointment, with which you will probably be familiar. If you are not, an Aitch of Disappointment occurs when one small car is parked between two longer cars, giving the impression that a space is available, an impression dispelled the second after the driver behind sees one’s indicator flashing.

And then I was back where I started. I had trawled all of Level 1 and found nothing. “They must be upstairs,” I said. I followed the arrows again, looking for the ramp for Level 2.

And then I was back where I started. Again. And I was suddenly aware that I was being followed by a number of cars, their drivers assuming I knew where I was going. This was the worst parade ever.

I couldn’t find the ramp, so I decided to go off piste to find it. I turned down an aisle. The cars followed me. I reached a dead end. So did the other cars. Somehow, I was able to turn my car around and I drove back, passing the other drivers. They did not look especially impressed. I was so desperate, I found myself wondering if my occasional “policeman’s heel” qualified me for disabled parking.

I dismissed the notion, and rejoined the path of the arrows, driving past the coned-off area for a third time.

And suddenly everything became horribly, mercilessly clear. The coned-off area was roughly the size of 50 free spaces. Possibly even 53 free spaces. And while this was incontestably Level 1, it could have been more accurately labelled Level 1 And Only.

Worse. I had spent so long trying to find a parking space, I was now trapped in the car park. I had to pay to get out. And I had nowhere to park so I could go to the station and pay. This wasn’t a car park, it was a paradox.

I suggested to my travelling companion that she jump out and pay, while I led the parade once more around the now-familiar car park, my second home.

She did so, and ten minutes later, my car was parked in a virtually empty car park, at an unsatisfactory angle.

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