Tuesday, 14 February 2012


Oh yeah, I remembered what I meant to write about in my last post, before I got sidetracked by dull domestic trivia anecdotes. If you can call a pointless whinge about nothing much at all an "anecdote," I suppose.


When I went to see my friend in hospital last week, I was a bit nervous.  Partly because I was apprehensive about seeing her after such a catastrophic event, and partly because I was dreading doing or saying the wrong thing and somehow making her feel bad.  I know that's not entirely rational, but it was in the back of my mind nonetheless.

I was also a little bit anxious...maybe that's too strong a term....apprehensive, maybe, about the actual logistics of the journey.  It struck me that since giving up my hellish 6 hour round-trip commute last May, I have made far fewer long journeys than I probably ever have in  my adult life.  I've been down to visit my lovely Mum a few times, been up to Ragdale Hall a couple of times, and travelled extensively* around and about the local area, but it was the first time I was driving myself somewhere unfamiliar in a while.

I have actually driven around Southampton quite a lot, but not recently, and the last time I went to the hospital there was about 20 years ago, to visit Father-in-law WithaY after HIS catastrophic life-changing event.  So, it was pretty likely that the road layout would have changed.

I did all the usual stuff, like looking on Google maps and whatnot, and I have my trusty satnav now, following the Watford Gap Incident last summer.


I'd arranged to get to the hospital at about 4pm, both to avoid the worst of the rush-hour traffic, and to be there at the same time as a couple of other people that I wanted to see, so I set off from home at 3.15.  It only takes 45 minutes to get to Southampton, and with my satnav glowing at me reassuringly, it was all going to be plain sailing.

Aha, well, yes.  It would have been, had I checked that the postcode I entered for the hospital was for the correct bloody place.   I got right into the heart of the city, driving all the way across it in fairly heavy traffic, arriving at the selected destination at 4pm on the dot.  Perfect.

But wait.  What's this?  No Accident and Emergency facility here?  Large signs in the carpark for the diabetic resources centre?  No ambulances? No people, come to that.

It turns out that there are TWO large hospitals in Southampton.  One is the Royal, which is pretty big, but not quite as big as the General, which is where I should have been.  So, thanking the powers that be for iPhones and 3G coverage, I found the postcode for Southampton General hospital, and made my shamefaced way there, arriving 25 minutes later than I had intended.

When you get to their carpark (much, much bigger than the one at the Royal, I must say.  And more ambulances) you take a ticket and the barrier opens and lets you drive into the multi-storey bit.  You park your car, go to the hospital, pay your visit or whatever, and then, on your way out of the building, you put the ticket into the machine to find out how much you have to pay for the parking.  Fairly straightforward really.


If it's dark, and you're a bit on the emotional side after visiting your very dear friend, and there is a huddle of dodgy-looking people hanging around in the shadowy periphery of the entrance area, it's easy to get flustered.

And if the ticket machine is badly-lit, to the extent that several of the electronic screens are unreadable, and the only bit that is brightly lit looks like a ticket slot, but it's dislodged and broken, it's easy to get a bit confused.  And, then, it's a simple matter of poking your carpark ticket into the slot, and realising the instant you do it that you have probably just fed your ticket down the side of the broken slot bay, and therefore into the bowels of the machine.

I muttered profanities, and then pressed the "Call the Assistant" button.

A crackly voice came through the intercom.

Carpark assistant:  Yerrrrrs?

Me:  I'm very sorry, but I can't get the machine to read my ticket.

Carpark assistant:  Just press the Cancel button, love, and try again.

(Note:  all of the buttons were shrouded in gloom, and impossible to identify.  I pressed a few anyway, just for the look of it.)

Me:  I think it's eaten my ticket.

Carpark assistant: (wearily)  Ok.  I'll come out.

A large, burly man in a reflective jacket** walked out of the hospital, causing the huddle of dodgy-looking people to scatter and melt into the darkness, much in the manner of a feral gang in an apocalyptic film set in a City Of The Future.

He looked at me.  I looked at him. He sighed.  I made a sad face, trying to look like I wasn't an idiot, whilst acknowledging that he would be within his rights to consider me thus. It was a tough expression to pull off, but I managed it.

Me:  I'm really sorry. I just realised what I did, I think I poked the ticket through this hole, and it got lost in the machine.

Carpark assistant:  Aaaah.

Me:  Can you recover the ticket, do you think?

Carpark assistant:  Hmmmm.  (He frowned, scratching his chin thoughtfully with the aerial of his walkie-talkie.)  I could, yeah.  But it's a right old hassle.  Tell you what, when you get to the exit, press the Call button on the ticket machine and I'll let you out.  What's your name?

Me:  That's very kind!  So...should I pay you?  (I had the right money in my sweaty paw, ready to pay my debt to the Southampton Hospital car-parking authorities.)

Carpark assistant:  Nah, that's alright, love.

He grinned at me, and his previously intimidating face lit up.

I scarpered back to my car, found the exit, pressed the Call button as instructed, and was released back into the mainstream traffic of Southampton on a dark cold night.

*I've been to Frome.  And Shaftesbury.

**It reflected light.  It wasn't asking itself thoughtful questions about the nature of causality.


rachel said...

At least you had money with you. Unlike some, who drive to Bristol airport for an hour and a half, and only when through the car park barrier realise that their handbag, phone, cards, money are still at home. Thankfully indoors, not dropped in the public highway when getting into the car. It would have been much worse if there had been a sick friend to visit; you did well not to weep all over the reflective jacket....

Anonymous said...

That is surely exactly what would've happened to me. So, don't feel alone. :) B.

Mary Ann said...

I don't drive which is a good thing as I have absolutely no sense of direction. What a lovely parking attendant....how kind he was:)

livesbythewoods said...

Rachel, that truly is the stuff of nightmares. What did you do?? And yes, I was fighting the urge to sit on the filthy pavement and weep like a three-year-old who's lost his blankie.

Anonymous B, hello! And thank you, support of fellow idiots always welcome!

Mary Ann, he was lovely. I imagine he has to deal with emotionally-fragile people on a very regular basis, sadly.