No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

landcruiser

Every November, the children’s school puts on an end of year concert. It is an enormous production in which each child has an equal role. It is a huge festival of music and dance which takes place, not in the school hall, but at a local nightclub about 5 miles away. The children do a matinee performance and an evening show. There is make-up, sparkly costumes and big hair (Katie was in her element last year, Matthew and Ben slightly less enamoured with the make-up and big hair!)The tickets are hot property, sold both to families, friends and the local community and the shows have such a reputation for musical and performance excellence that they attract a reasonable crowd of the locals, not just people associated with the school.

Of course, as with all things at Beauty Point Public School, the show could not go ahead without substantial input from a willing army of parent volunteers. Preparations for the production were already in full swing when we arrived at the school on 1st September last year and I was completely overwhelmed by its magnitude, given the numerous school concerts and plays I had attended at the children’s school and pre-school in the UK. As a new parent, I was generously excused from most of the pre-work but on the day of the show it was all hands to the pump and as I watched a couple of mums struggle to fit 60 music stands, 18 clarinets, 12 flutes, 8 trumpets, 6 trombones, 4 saxophones, 2 euphoniums, 1 piano, a drum kit and a partridge in a pear tree into the back of two Nissan Micras, my Landcruiser and I, could not, in all good conscience, continue to be just by-standers.

I uttered the fateful words, “Can I help?”

I was pounced upon like two hungry lions taking down a gazelle. They frog marched me into the music room, barked a steady stream of inaudible instructions using musical terms I had never heard before, told me to load my car with the contents of the music room until I couldn’t see out of the back window and then drive at break-neck speed to somewhere I had never heard of an had no idea where it was! They and their Mircras then disappeared without trace.

The equipment was heavy and my car was parked a couple of streets away so I decided to follow the example of the mums-in-Micras and drive my car into the school and park outside the music room to make loading easier and quicker. Zach had not yet started school so he was my trusty helper, struggling with instruments that were larger than he was. Pretty soon the car was packed.

We both climbed  in and I started to gingerly reverse the Landcruiser out of the school car park – it  had been fairly empty when I drove in but was now full of teachers’ cars. It was going to be a much tighter squeeze reversing out than driving in. It’s pretty easy to guess where this tale of woe goes next.

In a desperate bid to avoid the principle’s Mercedes on the left there was suddenly the unmistakable crunch of steel on steel as I reversed the Landcruiser into the side of a red Mazda 3. It was hardly a fair fight (think Bluto vs. Popeye before he downs a can of spinach!) and whilst the Landcruiser came off with barely a scratch, the boot and bumper of the Mazda were well and truly pranged.

“Oh blow!” I thought. (Or other four letter words conveying similar emotions, I like to think of this blog as a “U” rated).

To cut and long and fairly embarrassing story short, I found out which teacher the car belonged to (Mrs B) and continued on my way to the concert venue to drop off my load and to then seek out, very apologetically, Mrs B and proceed to completely ruin her day and evening by telling her I had just crashed into her car. When I got off my knees and finished apologising, the colour finally returned to her face she was very nice and understanding. We agreed that she would get some quotes for repairs and if possible we would not involve our insurance company as we had a $3000 excess so if the repairs came to less than $3000 we would pay her directly.

Shortly after Christmas we got a bill for $2850 which I paid immediately , only too happy to keep insurance companies at bay and put the whole sorry matter behind us as I had just found out that Mrs B would be Zach’s teacher when he started Kindergarten in January. In the weeks following the incident, Mrs B and I had exchanged several emails and had many conversations, all of which had been extremely pleasant and productive. Mrs B had been very reasonable and understanding and I had done my best to minimise any inconvenience that I had caused her. When the bill was paid I was relieved that the matter was closed and could hopefully be forgotten. She is a fantastic teacher whom Zach adores and, as the youngest (and apparently cheekiest!) boy in the class, he is progressing extremely well under her guidance.

Last May, about seven months after the accident,  I received another bill from Mrs B’s insurance company for $800 to cover the cost of the car she had hired whilst her car was being repaired. I called the insurance company and said there must have been a mistake as the accident happened over seven months ago and was all settled.

The response was fairly unequivocal,

“There has been no mistake, she is free to submit further bills if she wishes.”

“But what’s the limitation period on this matter? This accident happened over seven months ago and has all been settled.”

“It looks like her insurance company have only just got around to filing this part of the claim.”

“But I settled this myself without going through the insurance company because it was marginally less than my insurance excess. Had this $800 been added initially then I would have made a claim through my insurance company.”

“Yes, that would have been the right thing to do. It’s a real shame it happened this way but what can you do?”

This dance went on for a little while, leaving me feeling completely irate and exasperated that insurance company could do this but the upshot of the conversation was I either had to pay the bill or face Mrs B and tell her I thought this was unreasonable after such a long time had elapsed, especially as she knew that I had chosen to settle the matter personally.

If I had been dealing with a complete stranger who I had reversed into in the supermarket (alas a story for another day!) then I would certainly have given it a go and refused to pay. But as Mrs B is a very nice lady and Zach’s teacher who I see every day and who I really don’t want to fall out with, I felt I had no choice but to suck it up and pay; Al Bradshaw, the gift that just keeps on giving!

Two months ago we moved house. We were so excited to be finally free of the cave and to move to a fantastic north facing two storey house, full of windows and natural light. It gets sun all day and has a balcony with a stunning view over Quaker’s Hat Bay. In order to manage the rent increase we are reduced to a diet of toast (with the occasional baked bean if we really feel like celebrating) but it is more than worth it to wake up every morning and watch the sunrise over the ocean from the deck.

In preparation for the move we had a big clean out. Considering we arrived in Sydney sixteen months ago with only one suitcase each, it has been amazing how much unnecessary clutter we have already managed to accumulate. I think I have become known as the charity case of the school and whenever anyone moves house or cleans out, they bring sack loads of children’s clothes and toys to our door! I guess, however, if you are going to be on the receiving end of other people’s unwanted items then Mosman is a pretty good postcode to live. Rich was particularly gratified when one set of friends moved to a temporary house whilst their stunning cliff top home was being renovated. The temporary house had a much smaller wine cellar than the old house so they came over with several cases of wine that they hoped we could drink as they had no room in their new cellar. What kind of friends would we have been if we had refused?!

In the week prior to the move, one afternoon on my way to school pick up, I put a couple of bags of clothes and toys that we had inherited but couldn’t use into the car to drop off at the local church for a charity collection they we having. I pulled the ill-fated Landcruiser into the kerb, grabbed the bags, ran to the drop off point about 3 metres away and ran back to the car, just in time to see a blue police car with lights flashing pulling in behind me.

“Oh blow!” I thought for the second time in recent months.

If you think the UK councils are obsessive about erecting signs and that British traffic wardens are vigilant, it is nothing compared to the signage and keenness of the rangers, parking attendants and police of Sydney. There are so many signs telling you where to park, how to park (angle to kerb and direction of vehicle) and how long you can stay (a long time on some days between certain times, never on other days or at certain times) that you could be forgiven for unintentionally breaching a law. Lamentably, forgiveness is not high on the agenda of the Mosman police at 2:45pm on Wednesday afternoons.

Outside the church, where I had parked, is one such road where signage is plentiful and thereby open to possible misinterpretation. Immediately outside the church door, for the convenience of worshippers and charity givers alike, is a “five minute business with the church or wedding” parking zone. Initially, I had pulled in here but (and here is my costly mistake) in order to be a neat and considerate parker, I had driven forward to what I thought was the end of the zone to allow other users easy access in behind me. The road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions and I had just, unwittingly, driven onto the start of that very road by seamlessly shifting from the “five minute drop off zone” to the “absolutely no parking ever between 2:45pm and 4:15pm Monday to Friday NSW term time only, (excepting Public Holidays) school zone”. Seriously, it was hard to know! Unfortunately it was Wednesday, it was 2:46pm and it was term time in NSW and not a public holiday. I know this because I was on my way to school to collect the children.

The first policeman got out of the car and paced eagerly towards me with an evil glint in his eye.

Policeman: “Good afternoon madam, you realise you have parked in a no stopping zone?”

Moi: “Good afternoon officer. No, no of course I didn’t realise. I do apologise, I’ll move right away. Goodbye.”

Policeman, pointing: “Can you read the sign?”

Me: “Ah, yes, I can now you are pointing to it. I have made a mistake; I thought I was in the “five minute church business and wedding drop off zone” and I am here on church business. I’ll be right on my way.”

Policeman: “’Fraid not. You are in the “absolutely no parking ever between 2:45pm and 4:15pm Monday to Friday NSW term time only, excepting Public Holidays school zone”. It is 2:47, Wednesday, term time in NSW, not a Public Holiday. GOTCHA!!!!!!”

(This isn’t an exact paraphrase of the conversation but it is close enough!

Me: (still naively thinking he would send me on my way with nothing more than a stern look and a warning to be more careful about where I parked in future) “I’m very sorry but I have only been here for less than a minute, I am going now. I was just dropping a few bags of clothes and toys at the church to help raise money for …..”

Policeman: “You can’t park here. “

Me: “Yes, I see that now but it was an honest mistake, I only intended to be here one minute and I’m going now and I was just trying to do the right thing by bringing these bags here to help those less fortunate than I.”

Policeman (now joined by other policeman from his car):”Is this your vehicle madam and have you had a drink today?”

Me: (slightly less confident of my chances of driving away anytime soon, thinking I would have to call Mrs B at the school and tell her to hold on to Zach for a while longer as I had been detained by the police for a traffic infringement and could be sometime). “Yes it’s my car and I have had two cups of tea and a bottle of water so far.”

Policeman, very straight-faced. “Any alcohol today?”

Me: “It’s three o’clock in the afternoon and I am just going to collect my children from school. No alcohol today so far.” (I like to wait until the children are home before I start on the wine at about 3:30pm, I have my standards!)

Policeman producing breathalyser: “Blow here and count to ten!”

Me: “One two three…”

Luckily, a count of three was enough to clear me of any likely drink-driving charges but we were far from done here.
Policeman: “I need to check your licence and registration.”

Again, here I am confident. He disappeared back into his car for about ten minutes and played around on his computer, finally emerging when he was satisfied that the car’s tax and rego (as they annoyingly call it here) was up to date.

Policeman (who I have discovered is called Shane and whose officiousness and slowness I am starting to despise as I am now very late for school): “Can I see your driving licence?”

Me: “Yes, of course, it’s in my bag. I’ll just get it.”

Here comes the second woeful part of the story which confirms my strong belief that no good deed ever goes unpunished:

On Wednesday mornings I work at the school as the Ethics teacher. It is a voluntary position which has not turned out to be the provider of chicken soup for the soul that I had hoped it might have been but I signed up for the job and will stick at it despite the overwhelming workload and responsibility for little to no reward. As a result of VOLUNTEERING (Shane please take note, I am the sort of person who volunteers her time to teach children and donates good quality unwanted items to charity), I had taken my briefcase to school, not my handbag so my I had put my wallet (with licence) in the briefcase and had forgotten to put in back in my handbag before I rushed out to school. Ergo, I did not have my licence with me but was blissfully unaware this too is a crime in NSW!

Me: “Ah, would you believe it. My wallet is not here but I only live in the next street, I can run home and get it and be back in two minutes.”

Shane rolled his eyes, in a “Well fancy you breaking another law” kind of way and, at this point filled in the glaring gap in my Australian Highway code knowledge. It is not enough simply to have a licence to drive; you must carry it about your person or vehicle every time you drive.
“You must have your licence on you at all times. I am afraid I am going to have to issue a penalty for two violations today – a parking infringement and failing to produce your licence when required.”

I have no pride so I was happy to apologise profusely and tell him what a terrible, ignorant human being I am who doesn’t deserve to live but it made no difference.

Shane: “The penalty notices will be in the post tonight. Have a nice day.”

The dreaded envelope with NSW police logo arrived the following day.

For parking in a no stopping zone: $304
For failure to produce a valid driving licence when require: $304
Failure to pay this fine within 30 days could incur further penalties up to an including incarceration.

$608 for parking in a no stopping zone for less than one minute.  I thought the police were there to prevent daylight robbery, not to perpetrate it!

I wrote an appeal letter, acknowledging the error of my ways, advising it was a genuine mistake, grovelling and saying I was trying to do the right thing by taking bags to charity and doing voluntary work etc. etc. but it didn’t make any difference. The fines still stood.
I chose to take the moral high ground in my letter, prudently I believe, and did not point out that, had the policeman simply advised that I had parked in a school zone and told me to move on and not do it again, I would have been gone from the zone in under two minutes, causing no real danger or hazard to any school children. As it was, both my car and the police car blocked the zone for almost half an hour by which time school children were spilling out all over the place and were potentially put in harm’s way for a protracted period of time by our two vehicles.

So we’ll be having toast (no beans) for a few more weeks and I shall simply go everywhere on my bicycle from now on because it seems every time I drive the car it costs me hundreds of dollars in fines and repair bills!

Oh well, at least these days I can enjoy a view of the ocean whilst I nibble on my toast!