Friday, 20 September 2013

Space: The Only Frontier

"Never, in the field of human travelling, has so much cheering been done over such a small victory, by somebody so insignificant."
Churchill (the Dog), (probably), 15th September 2013

I had been invited for coffee in Cirencester with a friend that I hadn't seen for a jolly long time. Too long in fact; he now lives in Hong Kong, and visits since his departure have been brief and rare. Too rare, in fact.

The plans for our latest rendez-vous were a little sketchy, even at 45 minutes to launch, so he does the decent thing and ring me to finalise the more vital details, like when and where shall we meet. To protect his identity, the voice in your head will be playing the role of the second speaker:

"Hi James, It's your friend"
"Ah, hello there! How are you doing?"
"Yeah, good thanks, are we still good for a coffee this afternoon?"
"Yeah, definitely, are we still on for in about half an hour?"
"That's fine, I'm already in Cirencester doing a couple of things"
This is bad. I live 8 miles from Cirencester, and I'm currently 8 miles from Cirencester. My friend lives in Hong Kong, and he's beaten me there. 
"Okay cool, well I'm just walking out the door now" I blurt, quickly frisking my sock drawer and dumping my towel on the floor.
"Brilliant, where shall we meet?"
"Oh, erm, I'm not quite sure, where would you like to go?"
"I don't know, you're the local here! Where's a good place to get a coffee in Cirencester? I'll let you decide."
"Okay, erm, shall we meet at Starbucks?"
"... Okay, Starbucks it is."
"Okay, cool! See you there"
"Yep, bye"

I put down my phone, and stand still for a second. Naked, except for one sock hooked onto my big toe. 


This man is a dear friend, not just to me, but to my entire family! He has travelled 6,039 miles to see me, and not only have I not travelled the 8 miles required of me, I have directed him to a faceless, soulless coffee chain, which, unless there have been some extraordinary circumstances in his life, he has probably been to before! I did not ask him to do this, he is taking time out of his whistle-stop tour of England to see me because he's a good man and a wonderful friend! He has probably travelled more this week than I have in my entire adult life for this coffee! What's worse, he is already there, which means I won't even be able to make him amends and buy him a coffee!

I scramble to the door, barely dressed, leap into the car and sprint off to town. This morning, which looked so promising roughly 6 minutes ago, is turning into a disaster. How could I have been so stupid to suggest a Starbucks?! My friend almost certainly woke up this morning, fresh faced, and said to his wife, "Darling, don't worry about making me one of your delicious coffees this morning, for I am off to Cirencester! A fine friend of mine will be showing me the delights of this fair town, and treating me to one of their sumptuous local caf├ęs! I simply cannot wait!"

I have let him down in a very big way. 

Racing (legally) into Cirencester, I face a big dilemma: where am I going to park? It's Saturday afternoon, which isn't exactly notorious for being an 'off-peak' time when it comes to town centres. Do I park in a large one close to town, or a small one which would require a bit of a walk and make me even more late than I already am? I hedge my bet on one of the larger, but more popular, car parks. It should be alright to find a spot here, as, although it is more popular, as I have said, it is also quite large, as I have also said.

Good God. It is packed. 

One car leaving is replaced by two cars arriving. The queue is ridiculously long. Too long, in fact. It's hideously busy! It's quite possibly the busiest I have ever seen a car park in Cirencester. Why is it so busy today of all days? I need a space NOW! 

Faced with the absolute certainty that I will now be 4 hours late for this coffee, my eyes narrow as I hunt an elusive space.

Then, I see it, straight away.

Haha! Incredible! How has nobody else seen this?! I dash up to it before anyone can take it and- FUCK it's a Smart Car hiding behind one of those stupid 4x4s. The mirage of the parking desert. My oh my, that was embarrassing. Cursing my luck, and more so the owner of the other car who, despite my never meeting him, I'm pretty certain is an inconsiderate bastard, I plough on. 

Three whole laps of the car park later, nobody has budged. I contemplate moving on, trying a new car park, further letting down my friend even further to the point of effectively destroying our friendship, when suddenly a man and a woman emerge laden with shopping bags. They must be on their way to a car! Who else would walk to a car park with a load of shopping bags in tow? A space is about to open up and then it's a mad dash to fill it. Or is it?

I position myself right behind them, and follow them along the car park, like a camp, shy lion stalking quite a portly gazelle and his wife through the savanah. The man stops momentarily to find his keys. I lightly come to a stop just behind them. Come on. Find your keys... There they are, now let's go! He pulls them out of his pocket, and gestures to his wife to move in front of him so that I can drive past as they walk single file. No chance, my good sir. You're about to give me your spot. 

They are definitely walking towards a car. Along they shuffle between two cars, one of which must be theirs. 

I move in for the kill.


For whatever heathen reason unbeknownst to man, the couple go between two parked cars, and into a completely different section of the car park. Oh Jesus, I am completely screwed! What the hell did they do that for?! What kind of sick sociopath does that?! It's not as if they're going through the car park- or are they?! This is bad, this is really bad. Not only have I sent a good friend (though he may be quickly reconsidering his relationship with me) to a gutless tax-evading chain store for a cup of shit coffee, I haven't got the capacity to arrive even remotely on time. 

I implore you, who changes lanes in a car park? This is not a game of Frogger, where you can just change lanes willy nilly to reach your destination. This is society! 

I panic and suddenly burst into life. "YOU SON OF A BITCH!" I bellow, thrusting my fist at them. Not giving up on them, I spur the car onwards at a ferocious speed, smashing through the 5mph barrier with no concern for my safety or that of those around me- I have to have their space! My whole friendship depends on it!

They are just about to get into their car when I see another driver at the end of the other lane. Still a good 30 yards away, I flick on my indicator, which is like sticking a flag on the moon, or urinating on a lampost. It's mine, you cretin. I've earned this spot legitimately- now go and stalk your own shopper. 

I drift in uneventfully, take a deep breathe, and then (and I don't think there is another word for it), I bloody explode. 

"GET THE FUCK IN! THAT WAS INCREDIBLE! WOOHOO! Oh my god, that's the greatest achievement of my LIFE! Unbelievable... UNBELIEVABLE! How did I manage to get this spot? SHEER GENIUS, that's what! I am the parking king! Lord James Brittain of the Car Parks of Great Britain and Northern Ireland! What a FUCKING GREAT SPOT! "

"Can we go and see your friend now?" wails a very shocked and terrified missus.

I had completely failed to register her existence for the last half an hour. Normally, that would mean a severe telling off, but she remains silent, stunned by my screaming. Never mind, she hasn't comprehended the full scale of what I have achieved. Bless her. I smile, give her a peck on the cheek to let her know that I'm glad that she is here to witness this moment of pure parking majesty, and we both venture into town. As we walk along I bask in the glory of my achievement. I imagine fireworks, a marching band, a Red Arrows fly over, and a booming voice declaring I'm so, I don't even know it. But I do. By George, I know it. 

We see my friend, already in Starbucks and halfway through a coffee. My bumbling an apology is quickly waved away with an "I've only just got here myself", though both empty cups next to the one he is drinking says otherwise, "Have a seat! It's been too long!". I sit myself down with a cup of [note to self: insert a manly coffee, not a vanilla latte with extra cream and sprinkles] and we simply pick up where we left off, as all great friends do, all discrepancies aside.

As we depart and go our separate ways, I must admit the ridiculously manly coffee I ordered had done nothing to diminish my euphoria. I wondered if I was ever going to come down from this magnificent crest I was riding on. Maybe this is it. Could it be that such a small thing like a parking space has changed my entire outlook on life? I feel strange. I feel... happy. Happy! Happy... What is this strange, evocative word?!

'Maybe the twat who parked his Audi A3 within about an inch of my door can tell me what happiness is', I think to myself as I wriggle into my car to drive home. If they knew how I'd managed to get my spot, maybe they'd show me a little more respect. Now I can't even see out of the spot- look, man in a Volvo, I'm sorry I nearly cut you off, but I can't see a bloody thing! Jesus, this space is so tight, it's taking ages to get out! How close did that wanker park?! And look at that traffic! Where has that just come from?

I think next time a friend suggests we meet up for coffee may recommend Skype. If he ever wants to see me again. I mean, it's a lot of effort for someone who lives 8 miles away, let along in Hong Kong.

Too much, in fact.