Friday 4 January 2008

You've got my number

Weight 15st 3lbs, alcohol zero, 1,491 days to go.

I drove to the local garage yesterday morning, in an attempt to stock up with bread and other essentials in case the promised snowfall resulted in the dog and me being cut off from what passes for civilization for weeks. In the days of my childhood, when we regularly had serious snowfalls, I’d sit glued to the news on the flickering black and white TV, watching the RAF and mountain rescue teams battling their way through to isolated cottages with emergency deliveries of sacks of coal, loaves of bread and tins of formula baby milk. Thinking, even in my youthful innocence, “If you’re going to live in a hut halfway up a mountain, wouldn’t it have been an idea to do a bit of stocking up before the winter?” Clearly this made a powerful and lasting impression on me.

As I pulled into the garage forecourt, I noticed an attractive blonde at the petrol pumps giving me That Look. She was clearly gagging to speak to me. "You've still got it, then," I thought to myself, imagining her saying something along the lines of, “Excuse me, but aren’t you the noted newspaper columnist and wit? You’re much better looking in real life, aren’t you?” I gave her an enigmatic but friendly smile and went about my business, hoping that by the time I came out again she’d have plucked up the courage to introduce herself and tell me about the two sets of lingerie she got from Anne Summers for Christmas, and her need for an independent arbiter to determine which one suited her better. But in fact, as I returned to my car, I spotted that what she actually wanted to say was “Do you know you haven’t got a front number plate?”

Knackers. It must have been washed off in the ford through the swollen River Aln en route.

I’ve already replaced this number plate twice in the last 12 months. The first time was when I changed to a naff personalized plate to disguise the fact that I could no longer afford to buy a new car every three years. The second, shortly afterwards, was when some fun-loving student or similar ne’er-do-well pinched the original plate when I had parked outside West Jesmond Metro station to go to the Theatre Royal (well, your ticket entitles you to free Metro travel, so it would be churlish not to).

My sensible aunt, who was with me at the time, told me that I must report it to the police. Otherwise I’d have no excuse if someone stuck my plate on their car and used it to wind up speed cameras or go ram-raiding. It seemed like a lot of hassle to me but, after thinking about it for 36 hours, I conceded that she might have a point. So I rang up the marvellous new 101 number for non-urgent calls, and was told that they couldn’t handle thefts. I needed to ring the police. I said that, in that case, I wouldn’t bother, but they told me I really should. So I did. Not, I hasten to add, by dialling 999.

A bored-sounding woman noted the details and I thought that was that. Shortly afterwards someone rang back and said that, actually, I couldn’t report a theft over the phone. I needed to speak to a police officer in person. I asked whether I could un-report it and they said that wouldn’t be advisable. I muttered something about maybe being able to get to a police station in a few days’ time, but they told me not even to think about it. Someone would call on me the next day.

So a policeman came to my home for only the second time ever, the first being when my late Border terrier accidentally sank his teeth into a postman’s sack (and I don’t mean the one full of letters). I was a bit exhausted after 24 solid hours clearing the house of hardcore pornography, smuggled whisky, S&M gear, illegal immigrants, handguns, Pit Bull terriers and Class A drugs, but I think I put up a pretty good show. He noted down all the details and gave me a crime number. Shortly afterwards I received a helpful letter from the victim support people offering me counselling, then a multi-page survey asking how satisfied I was with the handling of my crime. Then, when I chucked that in the bin, a remarkably similar multi-page survey explaining that I must have inadvertently overlooked the first one.

The total amount of paperwork generated by a mindless act of minor vandalism that cost all of £7.50 to rectify truly doesn’t bear thinking about.

As luck would have it, I had to call the garage anyway to arrange a service, so I mentioned the missing number plate and ordered a replacement. (For reasons best known to themselves, my garage can only supply number plates bearing the hated symbol of the EU, except by special order.) They said that would be fine, and they’d have the plate ready to stick on when I brought the car in for its service in a couple of weeks’ time.

“Er, actually I’d like it replaced a bit quicker than that.”

“Really?” said the surprised young lady at the other end of the phone.

“Well, it is illegal to drive around without a number plate, you know.”

She clearly thought I was making a great fuss about nothing; a reassuringly robust Northumbrian reaction. I could picture her telling her colleagues about it when I finally put down the phone. “Whatever next? Giving up drink driving?”

1 comment:

Gone said...

Perhaps the sfaest weight loss plan at the moment is the Norovirus diet. You should be able to pick this up fairly easily by hanging around the local hospital or doctors. Good luck.