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     Volume 4 Issue 32 | February 4, 2005 |

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Straight Talk

On The Prowl The New Menace in London

Nadia Kabir Barb

John Smith, towering over his cronies at a staggering 6'4", tipping the scales at just over 200 lbs, is a powerhouse of pure muscle. Not many are foolish enough to cross his path and his demeanour is indicative of his confidence and arrogance. But today as he strides purposefully towards his flashy car, he spots something or someone looming over it. His steps falter and as he gets closer he is aware of an unfamiliar feeling of panic building up inside him. Soon he is a perspiring, nail biting quivering mass of nerves. But what could have transformed this person who prides himself on his fearlessness and daring to a blubbering mess? Those of you who have visited London or lived in London will have come across the species John Smith had the misfortune to come face to face with "The Traffic Warden". Okay at this point I would really have liked you to have had Beethoven's Fifth Symphony or the music to "Jaws" in the background to generate the right kind of feeling that Traffic Wardens inspire rather menacing and ominous. But I will have to make do with a pathetic "dan da da da" (not quite the effect I was hoping for)!

Well all I can say is that in the way we have our very own Bangladeshi traffic police whose sole aim seems to be to create more chaos than there already exists on the streets of Dhaka. Here in London we have the equivalent but they take on a slightly more sinister and scary aspect. In Dhaka, I have yet to understand the reasoning behind Bangladeshi traffic police stopping cars randomly at green lights and then holding them for minutes on end thereby producing a backlog of cars and a traffic jam wherever they can and then finally letting them go when the lights turn red!! Here the Traffic Police have a lot more power and use it and I would go further and say abuse it frequently. You have heard that the pen is mightier than the sword but let me tell you when these people take out their pens, the blow dealt by them definitely hurts the persons in their line of attack not so much physically as financially. It is one of the most irritating and annoying experiences to come back to your car and find a despicable ticket tucked away under your windscreen wiper or take that a step further, a clamp stuck firmly on your wheel. This entails calling the relevant authorities to pay for the removal of these metal menaces and then waiting for as long as it takes for one of the wheel clamping vans to drive around and do you the favour of removing it. And it gets worse, if you are really unlucky, you might even have the misfortune of having your car towed away. This would require you to first figure out whether your car had actually been stolen or towed away, then find out which car pound it had been lovingly taken to, find some means of getting there, and then finally paying through your nose to retrieve it from the pound!

A few years ago you used to find lone traffic wardens wandering the streets of London, giving out tickets to those who were parked illegally or those people who were obstructing traffic but these days they seem to have developed the habit of travelling in packs. Not only that but you are never safe from them as you are likely to come across them day or night. In fact they are everywhere and manage to creep up on unsuspecting people and pounce on their cars the minute they leave the vicinity and find some obscure reason to slap a ticket on their windscreen. In fact I have a theory that they probably hide in bushes and like any predator, lie in wait for their victim. Once they have spotted their prey, they keep themselves out of view and once the prey is lulled into a sense of being safe from the clutches of the Wardens, they jump out of their hiding place and write out a ticket for possessing a car that is in a shade of green offensive to the warden in question. Alright maybe I am exaggerating a tiny bit but sometimes the reasons are almost as tenuous to say the least.

What seems to be the case is that in many areas these traffic officials are paid on a commission basis. Therefore, the more tickets they give out the more profitable it is to them. In some cases the word is that they have a certain quota they have to meet and this culminates in tickets being given to not just those people who deserve the financial slap on the wrist but also encompass others who have not necessarily broken any traffic violation but have the misfortune of getting back to their car one minute after the meter runs out or something as inconsequential. However, every now and then you come across a warden who seems to have developed a conscience and puts away his electronic pen and ticket printing device and walks away from a potential victim thereby giving us hope that beneath the blue uniform and unsmiling face actually lies a relatively nice human being. But until we have more proof to this effect, my advice is beware of the "Traffic Warden"…


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