Guildford town centre multistorey carpark was the scene of the first incident… or was it The Meadows in Camberley? I visited them both on the same day, exactly 24 hours after collecting my rental car and before I’d once again got my head around the intricacies of parking a car in the UK.
The day started like this. On my way to meet a friend, I decided to make a quick stop in Camberley at a large retail park. This was the precise moment (it’s seared on my brain), that I discovered most car parks in the UK operate a one-way system. Being quite early on a wintry Saturday morning, it was too early for the vast majority of UK shoppers to be out and about. But not too early for one large 4×4 vehicle, who loudly made its irritation known when I mistakenly, and inevitably, drove the wrong way through the carpark.
Somewhat rattled, I beat a hasty retreat and headed for Guildford instead. Now, at this point, I need to remind you of my mental block when it comes to parking machines and the inexplicable fear they strike in my heart.
Remembering the earlier debacle, I carefully navigated my way the right way around the carpark and into a parking place, which then required extensive contortions to extricate myself from the vehicle, so small was the space on either side. Having succeeded, I next discovered I was required to purchase a ‘pay and display ticket’ or face a fine.
This time, when confronted with the machine, I was perplexed since the only thing to operate it seemed to be a large green button positioned next to a coin slot. There were no instructions either. On requesting assistance from the eye-rolling person behind me, he informed me that the machine allows you to park for just 2 hours in return for depositing a £2 coin.
“Well, what if I need to be here for longer than 2 hours?” I asked, puzzled.
Well, it seems this requires the driver (me!) to somehow remember to return from miles away, and in the middle of shopping, in sufficient time to replenish the soon-to-expire ticket. Then, followed by further contortions to stick the newly purchased ticket on the windscreen, avoid the threatened fine. “Is this for real?” I wondered. Seems it was.
Parking at Hawkshead in the Lake District required the equivalent of a Masters in interpretation to uncover its mysteries. This included, at the point of departure, inputting our vehicle registration number along with the required money. It had number plate recognition, it seems. A new one at the time for us, and which resulted in another 15 minutes wasted when, out of curiosity, we tried unsuccessfully to locate the position of the camera.
Bracknell newly offers a ‘pay by foot’ machine, announced on a big sign at the entrance. Interesting, but it means nothing of the sort, as it doesn’t accept feet. Simply inserting your ticket into the machine on return from shopping, it allows you to pay for the actual time used. Now, this makes sense!
But taking the biscuit is Henley-on-Thames, where an entire queue of around 10 people, mostly tourists, were unable to operate the digital offering in the riverside car park. This resulted in us trekking, en masse, some 500m to the other end of the car park to find a working machine. On finally arriving, our very last chance to park legally was realised by some slick manoeuvres at the keyboard, which rewarded us with the much sought after prize of a valid parking ticket. And this after over 30 minutes in the freezing cold!
I do sometimes wonder though, if there is perhaps an annual prize in the UK for coming up with the most complex or daft process with which to befuddle visitors, for the sole amusement of locals.