They’re clamping down on the car tax in Ballymena, hi

A trip to pick up tiles ends up with more than Fabien bargained for

Fabien McQuillan

Fabien McQuillan

Fabien McQuillan writes a weekly diary about getting to grips with his new life in rural Tyrone

Car wheel-clamped
There's few sights motorists fear more than returning to their car to the sight of a clamp (georgeclerk/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

I had to go to Ballymena last week to pick up some tiles (Fionnuala wanted to improve the splashback situation at the hob) and decided to treat myself to a mini-breakfast in the town. But when I returned to the car, I was stopped dead in my tracks: it was clamped.

I had paid for my parking so the shock was palpable, but when I saw a large yellow UNTAXED VEHICLE sticker on the window, I racked my brains – how could this have happened? I checked online and realised I had forgotten to tax the car after it’s recent MOT – and the galling thing is that it’s even free to tax, due to a quirk with its omissions.

I rang the number on the notice and a Geordie fella answered, but he was struggling with my accent so he transferred me to a second guy.

“Stop talking, man. What is your accent, man?”

“How can you not understand?” I was affronted. “T for tango, R for Romeo and Z for zebra.”

He was from London and when he practically shouted where the hell are you from, I changed tack.

“I’m from Belfast, man. Are you making fun of my accent?”

“I just can’t make out what you is saying, man. Slow down please.”

“Are you being racist?” I was going for the throat. “Because I’ll report you if you are.”

“How can I be racist, man. I’m Asian.”

“Does that make you exempt? I don’t take kindly to being made fun of.”

He laughed and said that if I wanted the car released, it would be £100. I gave him my bank details through gritted teeth and he laughed again. “Have you taxed it yet?”


“I can’t take the release payment ‘till you ‘ave your car taxed.”

Clamping on private property is regulated by the British Parking Authority
Forgetting to tax your car can be a costly mistake

I sat on the kerb, muttering to myself. Just take it on the chin. Tax the car, pay the stupid release fee and go home. Breathe in, breathe out. I had finally got the first part done when a builder with a strong Ballymena accent approached.

“Awright sham? De you wont me te grab the angle grinder an choap thone clamp aff?”


“I saw the wee git stackin it oan. I’ll mak it disappear in twa tacks sham.”

“God, no.” I was getting the drift now. “Sure I’d be in an even bigger mess.”

“Noat at all. Sure them b*****ds hay nay jurisdiction. You drive aff there’s nathin’ they can do but cry themselves to sleep. We do this all the time sham.”

I declined his good Samaritan offer and phoned to pay up.

“What if I couldn’t have got internet to tax my car?” I asked, as I waited for my bank details to clear.

“Then the vehicle would be impounded.”

Each ticket can cost drivers up to £100
(Alamy Stock Photo)

This time it was a girl with that nauseating Estuary English accent, the “impounded” all drawn out.

“And how much does it cost to release the car then?”

“Seven hundred powwwwwnds.”

I mulled over this as I waited for Godot to come and unclamp me, as those walking or driving past stared sympathetically at the car. What if this happened to an elderly person who wasn’t able to sort it out? £700? For a genuine oversight? I began to see my builder buddy’s logic.

Balzac said law is a silvery web that lets the big flies pass and catches all the little ones. A deep, deep anger bubbled, and almost two hours later, still no sign of the clamper.

I took a walk around the town and was calmed by its friendly faces and quirky accents and returned to see the clamp gone. I had decided to accept my punishment as a deposit to karma and let my anger float away, but when I turned the key, I noticed something under the wiper.

I got out and with a sense of dread looked up at the parking sign – max stay 1 hour – and lifted the yellow Penalty Charge Notice from the windscreen. Life’s just not fair, man.