I have my four year old daughter with me, so rather than walk I take my car to the old Gasworks development, where I am going to renew my driving licence. It is drizzling, grey March weather. I drive into the car park at the back of the DVLA building. It is convenient, no yellow lines. As I line up the car in one of the bays, I notice a flash of red in the corner of my eye. There is a ferret-faced, unhealthy-looking man watching me park. He is in jeans, a thin waterproof jacket and a baseball cap. As I switch off the engine, he turns away and goes into the architect’s office next door. We hurry through the damp and into the agency. My business is concluded unexpectedly quickly and smoothly; we queue for around ten minutes and are out of the building within fifteen.
I help my daughter into the child seat in the back, drops of rain falling on my neck as I fumble with the clips. It is only when I go round to my side of the car that I see it. I have been clamped. I experience simultaneous dismay, guilt, fear, rage, powerlessness. The ugly yellow boot gives me two fingers: Fuck You. There is a notice which calmly informs me that I will have to pay £80 to be released. There is nothing to be done; I ring the number, explain where I am, and in a couple of minutes the men arrive. The first one to appear is a thug; he is tall, brawny, bearded, tattooed, wearing a black jacket and jeans. Arms folded, he takes up position within striking distance, and glares at me as if I have just spat on his boots. He wants me to start something. I instantly recognise the second man in his red waterproof.
He is ignorant from the outset, goading me. He explains to me that I must pay now or I don’t get released. I have no money on me and my cards are at home. It is not his problem; no payment, no car. And if I don’t get back before 5.30 he will keep the car overnight and the release fee will go up to £120. I ask why he clamped me, and why he didn’t warn me when he saw me parking there. It is not his job. The car park is reserved for clients of the architects. He points to a notice up on the wall. Can I not read? I hadn’t seen it. I am ripping, but remain outwardly calm. I fantasize clever remarks, retribution, summary justice, the guillotine. It is 4.45 and we need to get moving; I need the car for work tomorrow. I take the wee girl out of the car again, zip up her raincoat. I explain the situation to her as best I can, and we walk off up the Ormeau Road in the gathering gloom; it is raining harder now. She is soon tired and I carry her most of the way. When we reach home I find my wallet, and ring a cab. On the way back down the road the driver tells me a story about the clamper; he is infamous.
We get back to the car in time. I put my daughter back into her seat and ring the number again. The clamper returns and takes my payment, gives me a receipt. He is alone this time; obviously I pose no threat. I ask him about the incident the taxi driver had related to me, and the clamper laughs. He’s had the lot. Been threatened with screwdrivers, knives, told he was going to get his knees done, his house burned down. He loves his job, finds this stuff amusing. When the punters get violent, he just calls the peelers and they sort it out. He is impervious to threats and insults, unmoved by pleading or hard luck stories.
I try to imagine what will happen when he gets home tonight. Will he phone his ma for a chat, smoke a fag and watch the snooker, maybe dandle a baby on his knee, or go out with his mates and return home blocked to torture his wife? I have no idea. I cannot think of the possibility of his existence outside the Gasworks, and suddenly realise that we have been in another world, where humanity does not exist. It is monochrome. There is no god, no karma, no bad luck, only the cold steeliness of rules and procedures. His life is simple, unfettered by human complexities. Unclamped.