Monday, August 20, 2012

Some wanker stole my keys

I was very fortunate this week to receive an unexpected offer of a ticket to V Festival in Staffordshire. Never being one to decline an opportunity to camp in a field and watch live music, I packed my one-man hiking tent, negotiated an early Friday finish, picked up the friend who'd so kindly made the offer and drove North.

Not a bad line up

Oh yeah, that's why I don't buy tickets to festivals...

It didn't take long following our arrival for me to be reminded of exactly why I hate going to festivals as a member of the public. We'd both packed light, the majority of our weight being attributed to cider and wine, so we were prepared for a hefty walk from the carpark to the campsite. However, we weren't prepared for an hour and a half of being bundled into a tight crowd of people waiting to have their bags searched in the pitch dark.

Wedged behind a man towing a sledge, which constantly fooled me by disguising itself as 'a place to stand', and alongside an animated man with a camping chair over one shoulder that swiped heavily across my face from time to time, I tried to use a luggage strap tied round my waist to support the weight of my booze-filled carrier bag, the handles of which had been cutting fiercly into my palms.

When we finally emerged on the other side and walked to the nearest campsite, I discovered to my horror that something was missing: my belt. Which sounds trivial until I point out that this is a belt with pockets. And in those pockets were half a packet of paracetamol, some tissues, a battered old iPod and my car key.

My car key.

We pitched our tents and headed straight to the site's Lost and Found to report the missing item, aware that it was unlikely to be spotted in the middle of the night, and finally retired to lie pitched between consciousness and sleep according to the frequency with which young drunkards would shout "ALAN!" as loudly as they could in close proximity to dark tents.

How I've learned to hate you all

I awoke in good spirits and took a walk back up to the carpark to retrace my steps of the previous night and look out for the missing items. The pocket belt should have been easy to spot by now but there was no sign of it.

Coming back in through security was a much more pleasant experience thanks to short queues and plenty of daylight - a female security guard tugged at my wristband, noticed I wasn't carrying any bags and allowed me through.

Unfortunatey Lost Property had no news so I bought a cheap waterproof poncho (my rain coat was locked in the car) and headed in to enjoy the festival.

By 5pm, with still no news at Lost Property, I started to get worried. I had to be back at work in Cardiff on Monday - there was no choice about that - so it was time to start thinking about Plan B. I went on another walk to the car park. Perhaps someone found the belt, extracted the iPod thinking it was more valuable than it actually is, and threw my keys into a bush. So this time I did the walk much more slowly, kicking tufts of long grass aside and peering under cars. Still no luck.

This time Security coming back in was completely empty. Knowing the routine, I held my wrist out and offered "give us a tug then!". The young man tugged, then fiddled, then pulled a bit and slid my entire wristband off. I was confused. "Um - don't I need that?", I asked with a frown, but he refused to speak to me, instead calling someone else over.
"We've got another one", he said.
"Excuse me? Another what? Are you trying to suggest that my wristband is anything other than genuine?"
"It's not genuine, darlin'", he sneered, "genuine ones don't do that. This is a fake - where'd you get it?"
"Excuse me" I laughed, shocked, "but genuine ones clearly do do that, because this one has just done it!"
The young chap was not willing to let me through and did not offer any appeals procedure. What could I do besides kick off? I was outraged and made this perfectly clear to him! I insisted on speaking to someone, which happened very quickly when the rest of the security team smelled trouble in my direction. I was grilled: when did I buy the tickets? Where did I get them? Online? "I didn't get them", I explained, "my friend did. But I know for a fact that the ticket was genuine because it's already been scanned and exchanged for a wristband, which I've used to come through security three times so far!".

What would us paying customers do without your assistance?
Eventually they handed me the pieces of my wristband back and said that I would have to visit the wristband exchange tent and find out whether they were willing to refit it. No apology, no verification of my validity or otherwise, just a wave into the festival site with, at that point, no access to the main arena.

I got my new wristband and called the RAC to ask about my car. They were next to useless, offering only to give me the phone number of a locksmith who wouldn't be able to help because my car has a built-in immobiliser and new keys can only be programmed by a main dealer. I checked lost property again. No news. I burst into tears.

The guys at Lost Property, which at V Festival doubles as a welfare tent, took pity on me, giving me tissues and water and listening to my woes. I soon calmed down enough to think rationally about Plan B and to put it into action:

I called the RAC back and proposed that they find a main Mercedes-Smart dealer in the local area and tow my car there the next day when somebody would be there to let them in. They duly found a dealer in Wolverhampton that was 13 miles away and therefore 3 miles outside my membership allowance, so they were happy to do it for a charge of £21. Great. Perfect. No problem. I would meet the towage truck by the carpark entrance at 2pm on Sunday, accompany the car to Wolverhampton, catch a train home and deal with the rest afterwards. I would miss a lot of the festival but by then I didn't care very much.


Sunday morning arrived and I decided not to risk leaving the site, just in case Security got overexcited again. I packed up my tent before the rain started, checked at Lost Property (no news) and headed into an on-site internet cafe to shelter for a couple of hours.

At 13:30, to ensure I was there in plenty of time, I took my tent back up to the main car park entrance and hung out with a parking steward.

At 14:05, I phoned the RAC to ask what was going on. "Oh", she said, "well you haven't paid the £21 charge so it hasn't actually been booked."
"What do you mean it hasn't been booked? Can you take the payment now and get someone here now? We're on a deadline - we have to be at the Wolverhampton dealers before they close at four o'clock!"
"I need you to calm down Miss, and when you're ready I can take your card details."
Much as I resented the 'calm down' I played her game and read out my financial information.
"Okay so I'll schedule in a pickup for you and the recovery team will be in touch."
"Do you have any idea about timing? Will they come quickly?"
"I don't have any of that information Miss, as I say you'll get a phonecall..."

To cut a long and frustrating part of the story short, the recovery truck finally arrived at 15:50, otherwise known as 'too late'. I jumped in the passenger side and directed him to my poor little car. The dealership in Wolverhampton tried to call me but the mobile signal was in and out so I'm not sure how much they understood of what went on.

We walked round to the car and pulled off its waterproof cover. Stuck to the windscreen was a Staffordshire Police card with the following message:


I fell to my knees in the wet grass, much to the shock and dismay of the recovery driver who pulled me up by the elbow. He offered to drive me to the 'Police post' but we only got a limited distance before it was a purely pedestrian route, so I sent him on his way.

I arrived at the on-site Police caravan and presented my new message card with an excited grin. There was a new shift of officers there who started sifting their desk for keys. "No", they said, "none like that here... we're supposed to take everything to Lost and Found anyway".
"Are you sure?", I asked, "they were in a black pocket belt when they were lost - maybe someone found the whole thing? Could it be under those bags in the corner, or hanging under these coats?". The Police gave both a cursory prod and shook their heads.

I checked at Lost and Found. No news.

The Police gave a 'shout out' across their radio network and I went back into the festival to see Tim Minchin. I was glad of the opportunity to do that - he's a genuinely incredibly talented man and his show was extraordinarily good.
"Praise be to magic Woody Allen Jesus"
I came back, still jovial, stating that I was ready to collect my key and go home. One of the police officers was approaching the end of her shift and did not like my attitude one bit. She told me that they had nothing, no keys, and that they wouldn't keep someone's keys anyway. She said that the morning shift had all gone home now and no-one had replied to the shout out. She said that the message on my car probably wasn't even from the Police, that someone must have just found the card somewhere and then stuck it on the car as a joke, and that it was pure coincident that they'd done it to a car for which keys had actually been lost.

I stumbled out of the caravan and fell to my knees again, this time sobbing uncontrollably for the complete incompetence of everyone around me and for pure emotional exhaustion. I just wanted to go home. I just wanted to get back to Cardiff for my last week of work. And it wasn't happening.

I stumbled back to Welfare where I laughed and cried together with the staff I'd come to know so well about the latest stage of the saga. We had a pretty good view of Noel Gallagher's latest band and the Stone Roses so we drank black tea out of polystyrene cups and watched it happen. I called the RAC intermittently to hear their full range of amusing excuses:

- the AA are on site covering anyone who needs assistance (yes but only if you pay them to become a member - as an RAC member I need to call you)
- the AA are actually stopping any other recovery vehicle from coming on site (no they're not, in fact your guy was here with me earlier)
- if the Police have your keys then they count as 'found' so we can't come out to you (there's no way you can call my keys 'found' until I have, er, found them)
- the job has been closed so we have to open a new one (what the hell significance is that to me?)
- we have to recover your car tonight otherwise if you want it to tomorrow you'll have to call again and open a new job (again, so what?)
- you need to pay £21 for the extra three miles of towage (I've already paid it - can you not just use the same money again?)
- (in answer to "so you're proposing to leave my unlocked car in a public carpark overnight and leave me in a strange town after the trains have stopped running?") Our responsibility is to recover your vehicle, how you get home is up to you"
- no, we can't recover it when the dealership is actually open because you'll be at work in Cardiff and we can only recover a vehicle if the member is present with it

I finally gave up and sloped back up the hill to the Police caravan. I offered a hopeful smile and got a sad shake of the head in return, so I slumped and casually relayed how useless the RAC were being. Bless them, the officers then set to work to help me - one had a friend who works for RAC so she started a text conversation to get the inside scoop while another got onto good old Google. I stared blankly into space while they discussed options including taking the car to their Police compound to keep it secure until I could get back.

As I leaned my weary head and stared my eye was caught... inside the Police caravan was a desk. One of the officers was sat behind the desk and behind her... in the corner... don't I recognise those buttons?

I lept up and interrupted the three of them mid-sentence, "excuse me but what is that? There, in the corner, behind you."
"What, this thing? Dunno, it's been here since Friday night..."

She lifted my pocket belt up and handed it over. I grabbed the pockets and felt that they were full. I unzipped one to see my iPod and earphones. I unzipped another and pulled out my car key.

My car key.

There was stunned silence in the caravan. What was there to say? I thanked them and left. My next stop was Lost and Found to show them, which caused much joy amongst the staff who'd watched me go slowly insane over the course of the weekend. But they were also extremely upset on my behalf with whichever policeman had chucked it in the corner there without telling anyone, so they gave me a contact card to submit a complaint. I didn't really care, I was still stroking and kissing my car key.
Have you ever seen a more beautiful thing?
I picked up my tent yet again and strode on up to the carpark, keen to escape before the Stone Roses finished playing. I drove home.

That was my V Festival experience.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Resisting the Lure of Cats

This girl says it all really. Except the bit about bow ties. That's a bit weird.

But what is this obsession with cats? It seems to run in the family - certainly my sister and I have both ended up with it. Grandad was always a cat's best friend, our Aunt Tracy has had at least seven feline furballs at a time and Uncle Frank describes himself as 'dotty about cats'. I grew up with a fat moggy called, er, Moggy whose eventual demise upset my mother so much that she refused to ever form another feline bond.

I so enjoyed living with Tufter, the daft old cat who shared my home until his disappearence early in this blog. I was perfectly happy to just provide him with a warm spot on the sofa and sit next to his sleeping (occasionally snoring) little body. And now that he's gone, I leave the back door open whenever I'm home just in case the neighbours' cats fancy popping round.

Tufter in his usual repose
Cats are like the cuckoos of the mammal world. They simulate human babies by mimicking the pitch of their cry and by using their body language to suggest dependence, love and affection. And they've evolved to do this because, falling for it every time, we soppy old humans will provide them with free food and shelter for the whole of their lives. It's manipulation pure and simple, a drain on our resources, a parasite.

And you'd have thought that the modern astute person armed with this knowledge would kick the cuckoo out of the nest, but no. We still fall for it. I am not broody, I have no desire to partner up and have babies (and a good job too - it would put quite a kink in my travel plans), but I do feel that little tugging need to settle down somewhere comfortable and acquire cats.

Who can explain how to get over this?