Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Day of Judgement

The day of judgement in the Magistrates Court duly arrived. Our son drove over from Birmingham to support me.

BBM having promised to be in attendance, was of course frantically busy with constituency affairs. 'Frantically busy' means zapping like a demented bumblebee from one party worker to the next. Each is issued with personalised instructions on how to complete the "Election Address" which is still floating in the ether between and staff on the ground. Everybody now knows the password for the website. Everybody has a go at altering it in an attempt to please BBM. The results are disastrous. "Labour has taken one million children out of poverty.."begins one paragraph under a screaming headline "Labour has cut overall crime by 30 per cent" Everyone is blaming everyone else.

Made miserable by all this, we left for court much too early. I was terrified that we might get caught up in a jam on the motorway. The court papers promised possible imprisonment if I didn't show up, and on time.

It turned out to be a concrete monstrosity of a building in the town centre. A disabled citizen in a motorized tricycle, with a lit cigarette leaking from the side of his mouth was doing high speed figures of eight in the foyer. The female security guard, somewhat frightened by this aggressive performance, kept lifting security barriers and waving him towards the outside world. He kept missing the turnoff because of his speed, and setting off on yet another circuit. Eventually he shot past us out the front door.

I went off to the toilet and she asked my son what we were doing there. He explained about my speeding charge and told her he had come to support me. "Well, that's a surprise" she said "It's usually the other way round."

The ladies toilet was something else. Four stalls, four wash basins in gleaming stainless steel and all bathed in the most wonderful blue light. I had never seen anything like it in my life before and wondered if it was a special form of soothing lighting to calm people down before their court appearance. My heart was beating very fast so I stood in front of the miror and tried a few slow calming breaths.

When I got outside I asked the security guard about the blue lighting. Was it to relax the defendants I asked nervously? She looked at me as if I was bonkers as well as completely out of touch with the real world.

"Nah, it's ta stop yer shootin up in there, of course. It stops ya seein your veins. Go back in and take a look." I did, and she was right.

My name was on a long list for the afternoon session. I had visions of hours spent listening to other people's petty crimes and misdemeanours, but no one else except me turned up for court nine. An usher took my details and asked me to fill in a form about my financial circumstances. Spouse occupation and salary were amongst the first few questions, so I duly filled in BBM's name and the parliamentary salary. Oh my god, did the parliamentary allowances count as part of the income? I hadn't the faintest idea, but I felt quite dizzy when I saw the next page. They wanted to know how much we paid for gas, electricity, mortgage etc. As quietly as I could I explained that I was married to an MP and that we lived in more than one place, well more than two places actually, soI actually get three gas bills and I was wondering.....she looked at me with amazement and said just to put down a sort of lump sum for income and we'd see what happened.

For the whole awful hour in court I felt I was in a television programme. A really cheap one with bad actors, weak casting and not much plot.

There were three magistrates in navy gowns from Whipples or Ede and Ravenscroft in a sort of top row across the back. I understand now why they are called "the bench". A ferocious young woman with tied back blonde hair and one of those black NEXT machinewashable trouser suits which are such a boon to us all, was in charge of proceedings. And then there was a lone bloke representing the other side. Tweed suit with waistcoat, shiny red polyester tie which did a good job of highlighting some angry red spots on his face. 80 percent bald. The kind of solid respectable law enforcing citizen whose role in life is to demolish opinionated noisy women like me.

Ferocious blonde read out the facts and announced that I was here to explain to the court that a driving ban would cause me severe hardship.

Severe hardship? Oh my God, now I understood whyI had been given the papers about my income. Were they only going to consider financial hardship? I was a gonner then.

I didn't need to remember my instructions to be humble. I felt terrible. My heart was beating so fast and so loudly I could hardly hear my own voice. I mumbled my apology to the court for my total wickedness in travelling at forty six miles and hour in a forty mile an hour zone. I launched into a diatribe about me being a great believer in public transport but needing the car to get me to the train to go to work and to play my part as wife to an MP driving BBM back and forth to the station.

They all listened politely to this, and Ferocious Blonde then asked me to step into the witness box and take the oath as Spotty wanted to cross examine me.

"You say you are a great believer in public transport" he sneered.
"If that's the case why can't you get the train all the way to work instead of driving to the main line station?"
Good lord, had he tried to catch a regional train lately?
"You can get a train all the way from your residence to London without having to come here" he demanded.
"Yes" I whispered.
"Then there's your husband "he said, encouraged by my total failure to counter his argument. "Can he drive?"
"Then he can drive himself if you are banned"
My god I had turned into a mouse.
His moment of triumph had arrived
"So if you are banned and lose your job he will be able to pay the bills?"

Well, that's it then. If BBM is left in charge of the utitility bills it will be approximately six weeks before total chaos reigns and they start cuutting us off for non payment. BBM doesn't understand that everything is computerised these days and forgetting is no excuse.

Suddenly realise where all this is leading. I'm going to lose my drivers license , my job and my marriage will be on the skids, if Spotty gets his way.

Somehow I begin a mumbled speech to the court about my long life of supporting myself and driving myself and working for myself and only relying on BBM for the er er more spiritual aspects of our long life together. Without my license I will experience severe hardship because....because.... There are other kinds of hardship than not being able to pay the gas bill!

Jesus did I really say that? I try hard not to think of all the poor bloody women out there who can't pay their gas bills, and realise what a phoney middleclass creep I am to put up an argument like that.

The magistates shuffle out to consider their verdict. They are gone for an unbelivably long time. Ferocious blonde goes out to join them. Spotty stares straight ahead. Ferocious Blonde comes back and says they need another ten minutes. I can't believe this. I can't believe that it is happening to me. I just keep running Twelve Angry Men on a projector in my head and wonder which magistrate is arguing for me against all the odds.

They come back.The Boss Man delivers a speech.

I am, he says, a very foolish woman, to go speeding round the countryside, when there is so much at stake. I must try to control myself in future. The Magistrates have decided,because my job obviously means a lot to me, and because I will probably lose contracts if I cannot drive to locations, not to ban me. ButI must realise that the excuses I have given will only work once and I must never never come back to court and try to use them again. Fined seven hundred and fifty pounds.

I shuffle out of court without looking at Spotty. I imagine he's furious. I head straight for the Ladies and in the cool blue light I manage to calm down a bit. I scrabble in the bottom of my bag and find a couple of Neurofen and swallow them without water.

My legs are still shaking as we walk back to the car. I ring BBM. When he answers I shout "I didn't lose my license" "Sorry" he says. "I'm in the middle of a meeting" and hangs up.



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