Elizabeth Wright
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Captive In The Car Park

“So,” said my daughter, “How was Aunty Vi when you visited her in hospital?”

“Oh, she’s doing fine now that they’ve extracted the tennis racket from her posterior. That’ll teach her to pick a fight with her opponent and then bend down to tie up one of her trainer laces. The bigger challenge, after attempting to identify her in the ward from a rear view, was trying to get out of that hospital car park. They’ve removed those easy-to-use “Pay and Display” machines and put in a whole new, infuriating payment system.

“You are now guided into a narrow road up to a square box on a post where you press a big green button and a ticket pops out. This is vitally important to your freedom when exiting. According to the instructions, when departing, you have to insert it into a check- out machine located in the hospital, pay the required amount, drive to the barrier, put said ticket into receptive orifice, wait for the arm to lift and drive away. Doesn’t sound too difficult, does it?

“After chatting to the back of Aunty Vi’s head, and eating her grapes, well, you don’t consume those through a feeding tube, I couldn’t find my ticket. I hunted through my overflowing bag, delved into various pockets and eventually found it scrunched up inside a tissue I’d used to wipe my drippy nose. I smoothed out the piece of card, said my goodbye’s to her rear end and went in search of a payment machine. It was lurking in a corner, a black box with blue and white flashing lights, which could have held its own in any amusement arcade. Having left my glasses at home, I couldn’t see any aperture where I could poke my crumpled ticket.

“So I stood back and waited for someone to come along who might know what to do. Eventually a couple who’d obviously done it all before, stuck their ticket in a slit, paid the requested amount and speedily departed out of the automatic doors. I noted that the ticket slot was at the end of a strip of winking blue lights. I shoved my card in and half expected to see 3 matching stethoscope symbols appear on the screen with, ‘You’ve won a free parking session,’ written underneath, but £1.10p popped up instead.

“I found a pound coin and posted it into the ‘coins’ slot. The machine burped, whined, clicked and viciously spat it out into the change tray. I picked it up and pushed it back in. Two burps and a clang and out it came again. I examined the coin, it looked fine, and so I banged it hard into the slot. A man waiting behind me shuffled impatiently and coughed a lot. Another clatter and my pound was again spewed out. Obviously one of those duds in circulation that this machine was primed to reject.

“I opened my purse. I had no more pound coins, just a varied selection of small change mixed in with a bundle of safety-pins, hairgrips and five year old receipts. I rooted around for as many 10p and 20p as I could find. There was more coughing from behind, plus a cacophony of mutterings from the other ten people who had now joined the queue. I frantically fished around for any coins, pushing them into the machine until I got to the £1.10 required. I grabbed my now certified ticket and made a hasty retreat.

“Once in the car, I headed for the barriered exit. I stopped at the first machine, only to find an ‘Out of Order’ label stuck on it. I nudged up a bit to put my ticket in the adjoining contraption. A car pulled up behind me. My tight seatbelt, which was always having a stand-off fight with my Wonderbra, had to be released, so I could reach out of the open window. But I was still too far away. I tried opening the door, but there wasn’t the clearance to get out. The car driver behind me hooted. “Oh, p*** off,” went through my mind.

“I was well and truly trapped. In front was the red barrier barring my exit, behind was Mr. Impatient Hooty getting more annoyed by the minute. There was a green button which stated “Press For Help,” but I couldn’t reach that either.

“As I got out my mobile to phone either you, the police or the fire brigade, a young Chinese nurse went by. I shouted and caught her attention. “Can you put this in the machine please,” I asked, waving the ticket in her direction. She didn’t appear to understand. I started to panic. Escaping through the sunroof seemed a possibility, but with my tubby frame you can appreciate this would have been physically tricky.

“I tried again - “Please, ticket, in machine.” To my intense relief, she smiled, nodded, took the ticket and pushed it into the slot. With a clank the barrier went up, I shoved the car into gear, mumbled “Thanks” and drove out. My blood pressure was probably so high that I was in danger of a hospital re-visit as a patient with a heart attack. So can you collect Aunty Vi next week, and you’d better take a comfy cushion to put on the passenger seat?”

An extract from my book “Two up, one down” - at present a ‘work in progress.’

© Elizabeth Wright