I know prejudice is more often than not an error of reasoning, but I have to confess that I am inclined to harbour the occasional preconceived idea about certain types of jobs and the people who do them. The obvious example of this is the way I feel about anyone whose daily bread is earned by imposing and enforcing parking fines. I DO understand that we probably need some rules about where not to park – if we didn’t we’d probably end up with ambulances full of heart attack victims gridlocked in a sea of static hatchbacks like imaginative ideas in a democracy. And if we have rules, we probably need someone to go around and remind people what those rules are. But humans are nothing if not hypocritical, so while accepting that the system should probably exist, I still secretly think that people who work in it are inflexible, blindly obedient, bureaucratic types without a critical faculty between them.
So when, a few years ago, we received a parking ticket, I responded in my usual manner – which is to make like an ostrich and pretend it wasn’t happening. Here is the exact letter, with bits blurred out for privacy purposes:
You can tell this was some time ago because parking fines are considerably more than £40 now. But the tone of these letters hasn’t changed – all shouty and officious. You can almost imagined the stiff, grey, purse-mouthed bureaucrat who came up with that gem. Nothing here to challenge any prejudices.
Spouse was going through one of his phases at the time we received this uptight little letter (he goes through phases a lot – there’s been the Nationalist phase, the conspiracy phase, the Hindu phase and the Fungiculture phase, for example – and he has asked to have ‘Death: It’s a phase I’m going through‘ carved on his gravestone). The phase he was in at the time of the letter was his Discordian phase (if you know what that means, you will see where this is going). So he wrote the parking department a letter. Here it is (in two parts because I am rubbish at I.T.)
This letter entertained us immensely. It may have been juvenile and unlikely to achieve anything, but I particularly enjoyed the little dig, ‘those investors in people’. So we sent it off expecting no real response apart from the next computer generated demand. But this is where the story gets wonderful. I absolutely love having my worldview jiggled about occasionally, and when the next letter arrived from the council it did just that. When I opened the envelope I had to read the contents three times before I could believe what I was seeing. And when I did, it just filled me with joy. It still does, years later. Proper happiness. Somewhere in what I thought were those dusty grey corridors of blandness, there was a man who could do this:
The moral of this story is probably something to do with diamonds in lumps of coal or pearls inside oysters and books and covers and all that whatever. I just read the letter again, and it’s rendered me incoherent with pleasure. You’ll have to draw your own conclusion.Like