It was a crisp, cold day in November, and I was in Borehamwood to pick up my car. Because my car, without me ever sitting in the driving seat, was in Borehamwood.
I woke up on Saturday with a skip in my step. I put porridge in the pan and set it cooking. I had a great class planned for my students at Theatre Peckham. Ros and I had planned a feast for the bonfire night party we were hosting that night.
In the distance I heard a car alarm that sounded like mine. Better check, I thought, just incase.
It definitely wasn’t my car’s alarm. Because my car was gone.
There, where my car normally sat, was an empty space. My mouth popped into a neat little O. I walked into the bedroom, looked out the window there.
“What’s wrong?” said Ros.
“The car’s gone,” I said.
“What?” said Ros.
And so began one of the most rollercoaster Saturdays I’ve ever experienced.
There was no glass where the car should have been. It looked like the car had just stood up and walked off. I rang my dad.
“The car’s gone,” I said, “I think it’s been stolen.”
“Oh that’s a bugger,” he said. “Ring the police.”
Ros and I came back inside. The porridge was burnt.
The police asked me if it’s a controlled parking area (it is) and if I definitely have permission to park there (I do). They took my details, name, date of birth, the registration plate number. They ran a check.
“Ah,” said the policeman, “I’ve found it. The bailiffs took it. Unpaid court fines.”
“What?” I said.
“I’ve got a number here, have you got a pen and paper?”
I rang the number they gave me – the number of the person who took away my precious car.
Please leave a message after the tone.
“Hello. Erm. You took my car? Could you ring me back please?”
Ros and I sat at our kitchen table. The bailiffs took our car. Why? We still get mail for the previous tenants of this address. Mail from HMRC for their business, Ria Ventures. We still have no idea what Ria Ventures does. Could the bailiffs have taken my car thinking I was the owner of Ria Ventures? I rang my dad.
“The bailiffs took the car.”
“For unpaid court fines.”
“I don’t have any unpaid court fines, dad!”
I explained our current working theory. Email the bailiffs, he said. Best to get something in writing.
I sat at my laptop, head in hands. My car was gone. What the hell. Normally I spent Saturday mornings watching Saturday Kitchen and eating porridge. I wasn’t prepared for this.
I sent the bailiffs an email with the subject, White Mini One – Reg. XXXXXX – Incorrectly Seized. I told them, as passive-aggressively as I could, our current working theory. Ros had made porridge in the mean time. We ate, and we laughed. What else could we do?
My phone rang.
“Hi, just got your voicemail. I took your car.”
“Yeah, it was for an unpaid trip over the Dartford Crossing. In March.”
“And they take your car for that?”
“I’m afraid so. I just live round the corner actually, are you at home now?”
I told Ros. Dartford Crossing, end of March. I checked my diary. What was I doing in March? And then I saw. My sister had borrowed the car for the Easter weekend, which fell at the end of March. The plot thickened.
In the car park where my car should have been, the man who took my car showed me his ID. He showed me the details of my forgotten crossing, 29th of March, I’d paid one way but not the other. And showed me the cost to get my car released.
He was a nice guy, which feels weird to say about the man who TOOK MY CAR. He said I should appeal. He seemed like he was on my side. He came out to my place on a Saturday morning. They must have sent the letters to my address in Norwich, as that was the address attached to the ticket. I didn’t get any letters through. If I had, I would have paid. I wouldn’t have let it get to the point where they TOOK MY CAR.
“I’ll have the office send a note to the place they’re holding your car first thing Monday morning, and text you to let you know. Did I tell you? It’s being held in Borehamwood.”
So, it came to pass that on a crisp cold day in November, I was in Borehamwood to pick up my car. Which had got there without my knowledge or consent thanks to the British driving authorities. Because I forgot to pay the Dartford Crossing Toll. It was me. The 29th was there in my diary; I went up to Norfolk. I remember it now. I remember trying to remind myself to remember to pay as I drove across the Dartford Crossing. Sorry Juliette for briefly suspecting you.
A few things I noticed about Borehamwood. The drivers are generous at letting pedestrians cross the roads. It happened at least five times for me. The high street had a lot of charity shops. There’s a lot of building work happening in Borehamwood. I couldn’t tell whether that was because it’s up and coming, or because it’s being torn down. The local school wear maroon blazers. There is a huge Jehovah’s Witness Watchtower, with an enormous warehouse. Seriously huge.
I saw one magpie. One… for sorrow…?
But then, later on on the walk I saw two other magpies. Two for joy. Or does that make a total of three for a girl?
After my walk through Borehamwood I found the car recovery centre. More a glorified car park with a few port-a-cabin offices. Smashed cars. Burnt out cars. My car. In the corner. My car.
I will always keep an eye on you, my car. I’ll never let you out of my sight again.
Overall, I highly recommend you pay the Dartford Crossing toll. Because if you don’t, THEY WILL TAKE YOUR CAR.