I’m a car-park attendant. My proper title is ‘Patrol Officer’, a much more grandiose name. The ‘Patrol’ part of the title is clear enough. I patrol the car park, several times a day. As for ‘Officer’: well, I don’t have men under my command, nor do I issue orders, nor am I a government official. But I do issue tickets, and this is the source of my power, of my office. I have the power to fine people. The fine is £25, £15 if paid within 14 days.
I can fine people if they stay in the car park for more time than they are allowed, or park in a disabled bay without an orange badge, or park in the parent and toddler bays without an infant in the car. I can fine people for bad parking, for parking at an angle, or parking in the staff car park without an official permit. Occasionally, I’ve fined people for not shopping in the supermarket. I can whip out my ticket-book with a flourish whenever I catch someone up to no good, flip up the cover and, licking my pen (a dramatic rather than a functional gesture), write out a ticket in bold, emphatic letters. People may wheedle. They may beg forgiveness, promising never, ever to do it again. But nothing can deter me. I am Patrol Officer Dredd of Mega Car Park One, judge, jury and executioner, coldly dispensing car park justice.
Well, not entirely. I’m quite a civil car-park attendant. Anyone can get round me if they try hard enough. The old ladies really like me. It must be the uniform. I’ve never worn a uniform before.
I have a crisp, white shirt with epaulettes, a navy-blue, police-style pullover with epaulettes, an electric blue tie with diagonal darts of yellow script, a fluorescent yellow waistcoat with the name of the car-park company emblazoned across the back, a fluorescent yellow all-weather jacket (also with epaulettes) and a pair of navy-blue Sta-pressed polyester trousers with creases like the neat edges of a piece of plastic casing, sharp and precise. The creases are fixed into the material of the trousers, as if they came out of a mould. No need to iron. They were made like this. My only regret is that I don’t have a peaked cap. I would have liked to have worn a peaked cap. I would have saluted myself every time I saw myself in the mirror.
I work for a well-known car-park company in the car park of a well-known supermarket chain. I won’t tell you the names, in case it gets me into trouble. But it could be in Muswell Hill, or Lewisham, or Greenwich or Hackney. Or it could be in Belfast or Birmingham or Burton-on-Trent, for that matter. It makes no difference. The same set of car-park companies, and the same supermarket chains, dominate the landscape everywhere you go. The same set of car-park attendants wearing the same uniforms. The same supermarket assistants in the same livery. At least the accents vary.