It was Sunday, I was alone with the kids and I was feeling brave.
Despite putting it in the calendar weeks ago and reminding me every day this week, my wife spontaneously got up and went out to meet her friends without any advance warning whatsoever.
As I laid there thinking how sleep deprivation can make even the nicest of people terribly inconsiderate, I bounced out of bed, with the vigour of a man one and a half years younger and decided that I was going to give the kids the best day out of their lives.
My youngest, at 6 months old, is generally considered to be fairly uncouth. So any day where he can freely suck on his fingers can be classed as a success but also a very low benchmark to improve upon. Quickly discounting a trip to my local Co-Op I turned my attention to my daughter.
My eldest was where the problem was. I had to find something that coupled something new with quality dad-time. I popped open the Macbook and navigated to where my wife saves links to fun things for families. Again, very thoughtlessly called ‘Fun Stuff For Us To Do’.
A few pages of fun things later and despite my wife having researched previously and planned out the trip, I discovered it: Wonderlab at The London Science Museum.
As I congratulated myself for being the parental equivalent of Francis Drake or Christopher Columbus I gathered the supplies, roused the crew and set off on a voyage into central London.
With an infant child too lazy to learn to walk yet and a three-year-old with the comparable energy output of a small nation, I quickly decided that strapping them in and driving into town would be the best option.
The drive into Central was a breeze. Traffic was light and when we hit the City it was next to nothing. I wondered why I didn’t drive in more often. The kids were entertained by the playlist of nursery rhymes I’d put on that we all sang along to and it was a pure pleasure. I was the Dingle Dangle Scarecrow master.
As we cruised out of the City, I turned the music down and asked my absent wife to look on her phone for a car park near the museum.
Having concluded that my wife would again be no help whatsoever, I proceeded to have an argument with Siri that I eventually won and was rewarded with directions.
Half an hour later it was raining and the appeal of successive repeats of ‘Dingle Dangle Scarecrow’ was wearing thin. Nevertheless, I remained upbeat that the day would be a massive success: the kids would have a great time and I would return home to adulation and applause.
I turned into the underground carpark and seven tedious minutes later I discovered a space that not only permitted me to slot my car into it, but allowed me to get out.
I unloaded the buggy, the bags and the kids and looked up walking directions to the museum.
Regrettably like most people who have lived in and around London most of our lives, I can only navigate by the tube map, which means I have no actual grasp of true distances between places. (I still remember the delight I had when I found out Embankment was minutes from Covent Garden by foot rather than one lift, one change and two stops via the tube.)
Also rather regrettably was the other discovery that my map app had a fairly broad understanding for requests “Close to”. So it was slightly disappointing that my request to find a carpark near the Science Museum was in fact a relaxing twenty-two minutes’ stroll away. In the rain.
Ten minutes later, we had stopped in the street-side parking recommended by the museum itself. I got out, sheltered under my coat and went to check the meter.
It was only when I was suitably wet, did I discover the telephone number on a small sign I needed to ring to pay for the parking.
Not just fast, but quicker too!
“Hello. Welcome to Generic Parking Company. Did you know we now have a mobile app available on the Apple App & Google Play Stores?” said the monotone automaton.
I immediately sank inside, knowing that automated voice booking systems truly pave the road to hell.
“Did you also know,” the voice continued, “it’s faster and quicker to book your parking using the mobile app?”
Not just fast, but quicker too!
“Daddy?” asked a voice from the back.
“Alternatively, you can continue with your call to register with us and book your parking now.”
“Daddy?” it came again
“Yes?” I replied
“Please have your method of payment to hand.”
I stared at the American Express card ready in my hand
“DADDY!” my daughter yelled as if I were further than one meter away.
“Darling, I’m on the phone.”
“We accept all Visa & Mastercard Debit & Credit cards…”
I groaned, dropped the Amex and squeezed another credit card out of my trouser pocket.
“…and American Express at some sites. Please refer to signage and the app for more details.”
“Daddy I need to pee.”
“Using the numbers on your telephone, please key in your debit or credit number now”
“You need to pee?” I responded buying time so I could key in the card number
“Please enter the digits from your car registration and the location number located on the signage. This number begins with 9”
I groaned again, got out of the car, keyed in the code and headed back to car. I began to understand why the app was both quicker and faster.
Just as I got back in, I spied another car arrive and park behind me. The driver got out to look at the sign, shrugged and just left. He just left! Without even calling the number or downloading the app. Like some parking maverick. Scandalous!
“Please enter the number of minutes you wish to stay”
I suddenly panicked. Minutes? Minutes! Was I now expecting to remember my sixty times-table to be able to pay for parking. My mind went blank as I just held the phone to my ear staring at the windscreen.
I then realized I’d now left it too long and the automated voice would chase me any second or even just cut the call altogether. I’d come too far and been on too long to let that happen. I typed in 210 into the keypad simultaneously hoping it would be somewhere between enough and less than a month.
“DADDY, I NEED TO PEE!” she cried.
“Thank you. Did you know the cost for 210 minutes is the same as parking until 8am tomorrow?”
A Special Offer? Make this end.
“Do you wish to park until 8am tomorrow morning? Press one to accept.”
I pressed one.
“Daddy, I need to pee!”
“You need to pee sweetheart?”
“Thank you. We are now processing your payment.”
It was silent for a short while until a perfectly calm voice from behind me said “No, Daddy”.
I suddenly swiveled in my chair to see a smiling, relieved 3-year-old smile back at me.
“The total you have been charged is Zero pounds. There is no charge at weekends. Please refer to the app for more details.”
I phoned my wife.