In June 1981 I received a letter addressed to The Occupier of 5 Beech Terrace. Written on behalf of the Head Postmaster, it read: ‘ Dear Sir, It has been reported that Mr D Hutchinson a Postman attached to the Bradford Head Post Office while on duty at Beech terrace at about 0930 on 15 May 1981, was attacked and bitten by a dog, of which you are understood to be the owner. I must ask you to have the dog kept under control to ensure that it cannot menace or attack Post Office staff at times when postal deliveries are being made. I am to add that unless the dog is kept under control it will not be possible to continue delivery at your premises. Yours faithfully, D Martin.’
I’d two dogs, Sinbad and Scraps, but knew that the latter was the guilty party. He’d an abiding and pathological hatred of anyone pushing anything through our letterbox. Thereafter, I made sure he wasn’t allowed out before 10 a.m. In retrospect, it might have been better to have given up receiving mail, most of which seemed to consist of demands for money.
My very first driving offence occurred just five months later in October 1981. It began when I received a letter from the West Yorkshire Metropolitan Police informing me that I had to pay a fixed penalty.
I wrote to them contesting their decision and pleading my case and was greatly relieved when, on 11 November, I received a letter from Superintendent N Bestington of the Fixed Penalty Office, writing on behalf of the Chief Superintendent.
It read: ‘Dear Sir, FIXED PENALTY NOTICE NUMBER 81013 BR. I refer to your letter of the 15th October 1981 regarding the above fixed penalty notice which was issued to you on the 6th October 1981. After considering your representations, it has been decided on this occasion to take no further action and to excuse payment. Yours faithfully, Neil Bestington.’
So what was it that had persuaded them to drop the case against me? I’d simply written to inform them that (a) I didn’t have and had never had a driving licence, (b) I didn’t own and had never owned a car.
A few years later, having passed my driving test, I bought a car and began notching up an impressive array of speeding and parking offences. Here’s one of them…
On 28 February 1996 I did a local radio interview at The Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. It lasted slightly longer than I expected. As a consequence, I got back to my car, which I’d parked in the nearby Quarry Hill car park, exactly three minutes after the expiry of the two hour parking ticket I’d bought.
Tucked under one of my windscreen wipers was a parking ticket. I was to pay £35.25, reduced to £17.62 if I paid within fourteen days. Times were tough. I simply didn’t have that money. Five months later I finally had the funds.
On 3 July I sent off a cheque for £35.25. Two weeks later I received a letter, dated 15 July 1996, from J. McArthur, BSc, CEng, FICE, FIHT, Director of Highways & Transportation, Car Parking Section, Leeds City Council, Department of Highways and Transportation. Here, judging by his impressive list of initials, was a man grossly over-qualified for his task of writing to the likes of me.
His letter read: ‘Dear Sir, EXCESS CHARGE TICKET NO XS 95533 – DATED 28 FEBRUARY 1996 I refer to your cheque which I enclose. As the bank will not accept the wording of your cheque please amend it to read correctly. Please return the cheque within 7 days of the date of this letter. If this payment is not received within 14 days I shall have no alternative but to refer the matter to our Solicitors who will pursue it through the Leeds Magistrates Court. Yours faithfully (illegible scribble) Car Park Officer.’
It saddened me that during the writing of this letter the poor man had clearly been demoted from his directorship of the entire highways and transportation department to the humble role of a mere car park officer. Whatever he’d done must have been much worse than my minor parking offence.
Horrified by the prospect Solicitors (with an undeserved capital ‘s’) demanding my appearance at Leeds Magistrates Court, I replied immediately.
My letter, dated 18 July 1996, read as follows: ‘Dear sirs, I’m sorry to learn that the bank wouldn’t accept the wording of the cheque I sent. I wrote ’Pay Leeds City Council Thirty Five F***ing Quid and Twenty Five Bloody Pence (Parking Fine)’. When you returned the cheque, you asked me to amend it, but failed to point out which words were unacceptable to the bank. I find the words ‘Pay”, ‘Leeds City Council’ and ‘Thirty Five Quid’ extremely objectionable and therefore assume that the bank shares my feelings. On the other hand, given the public standing of traffic wardens and their fellow conspirators (meaning you), the whole country shares my dislike of the words ‘parking fine’. A simple process of deduction leaves us with ‘f***ing’… which everyone enjoys, ‘and twenty five bloody pence’ which is more than you deserve. However, because you’re the f***ing car parking section of bloody Leeds City Council, none of the above applies and the enclosed cheque should therefore bring to an end our delightful correspondence. I remain your faithful f***ing servant, Nick Bloody Toczek.’
I received no reply and my second cheque was cashed.