Wednesday, January 17, 2007


No, this is not art - though there is something rather decorative about it - nor is it without meaning. It is, my friends, evidence.

Picture the scene: Saturday afternoon. Albert Embankment, London. The Houses of Parliament just a stone's throw across the water, splendidly gilding the horizon.

It's six o'clock, the witching hour, and we're emerging happy and the toddler equivalent of drunk from my god-daughter's sixth birthday party which her mother, my oldest friend, has held rather imaginatively on a boat on the River Thames. That is, we've eaten alot of cocktail sausages, Hula Hoops and satsumas and been given an enormous goody bag of extremely interesting things to take away with us and dress up with in the morning. A pair of wings, a crown and a whole tray of plastic costume jewelry. Rich pickings to a two year old interested in role play. I am also sporting a rucksack to which are attached at least eight large, purple balloons. Oh, and it's blowing a gale.

I carry toddler and party swag in balloon-trailing rucksack across the road. I feel like a one-man band without the music. We reach the side road where I parked the car. Only it isn't there. Six o'clock, with child, miles from home, in the eye of a mini hurricane.

Oh no, Anna-mouse, I say. I can't see our car.

What happen, Mummy? What happen?

I can't see our car, Anna. I think our car's not there.

There it is Mummy! There!

I see a car very similar to ours across the street from where I know I parked. I will myself to believe that it is, indeed, our car and that somehow I have got confused. It's amazing how fast the brain works. I begin to make up scenarios as to how our car moved miraculously by itself from one side of the street to the other.

No, I say at last, desperately trying to make the number plate letters resemble our own, No Anna, I don't think that is our car.

It takes me very little time to realise that our jolly little Peugeot has been either stolen or towed away. I look more closely at the road signs. They are utterly confusing. There are two, within 5 yards of each other, each with conflicting information. So I wasn't completely stupid, I mutter to myself.

I call the Bim. I've forgotten to charge the 'phone so the fact that it's about to conk out adds piquancy to the drama. I can see the headline: DEATH BY BALLOON as I'm pummelled furiously in the wind. I put Anna-mouse behind a wall and crouch down to make the call. I note that she is still clutching a cocktail stick with a rather bedraggled looking sausage on it. God I love this child, I think absently.

A couple of calls confirms it. The car has been towed away to the nearest Pound. The only time I lose my calm exterior, scrupulously maintained for Anna-mouse's benefit, is when they say it will cost us £200 to retrieve. I turn away from Anna-m and weep a few quick tears of frustration.

We rush back to the Embankment, where my friend and party helper are luckily still waiting for their taxi. The owner of the party boat, The English Maid, is a very English gent who rushes to our aid. He sees my problem with the balloons and suggests I cut them free. Are you mad? says my look. Cutting loose the balloons would create a far greater crisis than losing the car... But he does bound across the road and take a look at the offending parking space for me. Apparently there's nothing he likes more than doing battle with Lambeth Council, with no small success on several occasions. And yes, he comes back triumphant, talking very fast about road markings and previous overturned convictions and so on. He instructs me to 'tell my husband to come back tomorrow and take some pictures'.

In fact it is I who returns. I am calmer, and alone. Wonderful Dee, my partner in crime at the Ritz, comes with me to the Pound - a kind of dismal prison for cars - loans us the money and sets our car free. I drive to the side road and take my photographs.

I pause at the wall to remember Anna-mouse and her sausage, which she carried throughout this little drama, determinedly saving it once she knew we were headed home via Victoria Station, for a 'picwic on the train'. The sausage didn't make it. She dropped it on the platform minutes before boarding our train back to Kent Town and the Bim's welcoming arms. It was the worst moment of her night.


Anonymous said...

Poor mouse! Poor YOU! I've no idea what 200 equals in American dollars, but I know we wouldn't have it if it were me in your shoes. Good Luck!


Anonymous said...

"picwic" -- love it... kids are so amazing, they can make through all of our stress, then completely lose it over a balloon or a sausage. They keep us centered and balanced.