Dante’s Car Park

I am in the hospital car park, having had B weighed at the clinic and discussed the best way to un-bung a five month old who has started weaning but forgotten how to poo. I swear quietly but profusely at a 4×4 which has parked in the space next to me far too close to allow me to open the door fully. Sodding idiot, I think, as I stop the pram behind the car. Whoever had designed the car park had seen fit to only include three Parent and Child bays – after all, it’s only a busy hospital, there is bound to be no more than three kids at any one time. And just to add to the joy, they seemed to have cleverly shaved a foot off the width of each bay. Which was fine fifteen years ago, until everyone decided that a hulking great vehicle with tyres that come up to your waist and off-road capabilities was absolutely necessary in case they had to drive through a inordinately muddy puddle on the way to the post box.

In case it is not apparent at this juncture, I hate car parks. Particularly hospital car parks, as there is never a bloody space to park in. They must have severely underestimated the number of ill people, as there seems to be at least three cars for every space, and it took me a good ten minutes to find mine.

There are a few strategies when it comes to trying to find a space. There is the tried and tested Aimless Circles, whereby you simply do circuits of the car park over and over and over again until you either run out of petrol or go slightly insane. Then there is the Sit and Pounce, where you park up, engine idling, checking front, sides and rear view to see if you have stumbled upon the vicinity from which the next punter will depart. Personally, this involves  too little action and far too much being stationary for my liking. And finally, the stalker, where you loiter near the pedestrians departing the hospital buildings and slowly follow them to their car. This one strikes me as a little creepy and intimidating, particularly if the person you are following has just had their leg set in plaster and is still getting to grips with their crutches. Oh, there is another, which is to simply park illegally, but I have enough things to worry about in my life without wondering if I will return to a parking ticket, or to no car at all.

So today, I adopted the Aimless Circles approach. Round and round I went. I spied a lady opening her car. I slowed down even more, only to see her put a bag in her boot and leave again. There really should be a rule in car parks: if you return to your car, that’s it, game over: you must leave. None of this smug ‘oh, I am just dropping off my shopping, and now I am leaving the car in the space that I have and that you DON’T’ nonsense.  I continued to circle, navigating through what increasingly seems like Dante’s Inferno;  I passed through the first circle (limbo), some interminable time later, I pop out the other side of the fifth circle (wrath and sullenness) then cruise at three miles per hour through the seventh (violence).  Which mainly comprised me repeatedly banging my head against the steering wheel.

I was tootling up one of the lanes and another car, also executing the Aimless Circles manoeuvre, approached from the other direction. Almost perfectly in between us, a car reversed out of its space. it felt like I have entered a Western. I squinted my eyes, the other space seeker narrowed theirs. Fingers twitched. Who will be first on the indicator? Time slowed down, the car park fell silent, a small weed tumbled across the tarmac in the breeze. We both indicated: too close to call. I wondered if I should do the right thing and let them take the space? We both edged forward and I considered my options. Nice or nasty? Giver or grabber? And whilst I was deliberating thus, the other car sailed in and takes the space from under my nose. 

Then I was properly grumpy. I threw a few expletives around whilst checking my watch. There was now a back log of Aimless Circlers behind me, so I moved off, passing a Sit and Pounce who looked equally as glum.

I rounded the corner and there, like an automotive mirage bathed in shimmering sunlight, was a car pulling out of a space. There was no car approaching from the other direction and I was blocking the poor saps behind me. The man pulled out of his space and I raced in, heart pounding, sweat glistening on my brow. I have a space, I have a space. Victory was mine. I thanked the god of car park spaces and blessed that man: may the golden light of fortune forever shine on his perfect little Peugeot with the dented back wing.

I heave B out of the pram and somewhat unceremoniously plop him into the car seat. As the combined weight of B and the car seat is unliftable without the aid of a crane, I save ripping my arm muscles in two by leaving the car seat in situ at all times. But just the exertion of manhandling a baby whose thighs seem to be filled with concrete means that I am already building up quite an attractive sheen of sweat. The usual battle then begins as I try to extricate the straps from underneath B and retrieve the centre belt from deep under his bum. He seems remarkably calm as I root around his crotch and find the required elements to fasten him in. I grimace from bending over at an awkward angle, squashed against the door, whilst the sun fries my back through my black tee shirt. In principle, the seat clasp is a doddle: clip two straps together, push into centre clasp – job done. In reality, the effort required to actually get those sodding clips to click is almost Hurculean. I do appreciate that you cannot compromise on the safety of your beloved offspring, but really. I broke a fucking nail. I swear through gritted teeth as B looks on. It is marvellous having a baby around rather than a toddler, as swearing is right back on the agenda and this morning I am definitely making the most of it.

As I wipe my sweaty brow and take a few deep breaths, a voice calls out from behind me: “I presume this is your pram?” I look round to see an old lady pushing my pram toward me. “It rolled across the car park, dear.”

Oops. That’ll be the brake that I forgot to apply, then. I smile at her. How lovely of her, to bring the pram back. That’s the thing with retirees, they have lots of time on their hands to be nice. She sniffs. “It’s just as well your baby wasn’t in it.” Well, the supercilious old trout. That’s what happens when you spend your day watching re-runs of Miss Marple and Cash in the Attic, you turn into a miserable old bitch who likes nothing more than to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing and criticise already harassed mothers. I open my mouth to say this. Unfortunately, what comes out is: “Yes, isn’t it.” Damn that polite gene.

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