Ten days ago I came across a couple of signs that modern life is leaving me behind.
I first received a communication from DVLA in Swansea announcing that my car tax disc was due to be renewed at the end of the month. Actually, hold the phone, that isn’t quite true. My tax disc wasn’t due for renewal at all, because a while back the law has changed and tax discs are now obsolete, so really I should have written ‘My car annual tax licence was due for renewal’.
These things are now dealt with differently. As far as I understand it – and please forgive me if I had got this wrong – a new system has been devised whereby, although we all still have to pay our annual vehicle licence fee, this now all done online, or digitally, or somehow (I suspect that computerisation and, as importantly, the Government’s drive to save costs both have something to do with it).
Presumably, by doing away with physical tax discs, Britain’s few remaining traffic policemen are enabled to check upon the ‘up to date-ness’ of our vehicles via the computers they have on their police car dashboards … which within seconds can inform them whether the vehicle that they are following, or have just noticed has a voluptuous blonde at the wheel, is fully taxed, insured and possessed of a valid MOT certificate.
I find this rather regrettable to be honest. I liked having a tax disc on my car window, beside my resident’s car parking permit. [Mind you, my hunch is that perhaps our local council’s car parking permit scheme will be next thing to go fully automatic].
The tax disc was easy to look at as you walked to your car, so you could gauge whether it might need renewing, simply by the colour in which it had been issued – if it was different to most other cars around yours, you’d look to check the ‘expiry date’ on the disc.
Still, things can change from time to time, can’t they?
Anyway. Having received my DLVA notification, I booked my car in for its latest MOT last Wednesday, which of course is a pre-condition (if your car is over three years of age) of being able to renew your annual car licence.
Much later in the day – in the interim having returned to my home to await the call – I collected it, fortunately with a clean bill of health, although Frank the garage proprietor did shock me somewhat with his aside as he took my payment “You’ve done quite a bit of mileage in the past year”.
Asked what he meant, he replied that my car had done nearly 18,000 miles in the past twelve months. Although it seemed a lot (I normally reckon I do the average motorist’s 10,000 to 12,000 per annum), thinking about it, I could see how I might have used it that much.
(I’m beginning to sense that I’m writing this tale rather in the manner that Ronnie Corbett used to tell his little stories to camera, sitting in a leather chair in front of the audience on the classic The Two Ronnies sketch shows of yesterday – i.e. as a complete shaggy dog story …)
However. What was most fascinating about my whole MOT episode was my journey going home after dropping my car off for its test.
My normal practice upon leaving my car with said garage is to walk back into the nearest town (lets us call it ‘A’), a stroll of about half a mile, from there to catch a bus to my home town (let us call that ‘B’) a further two or so miles away.
Last Wednesday, however, things were very different. Having reached the relevant bus stop in A, I had a short (8 to 10 minutes) wait for the next bus to come along. So far so good.
As it approached, I reached into my pocket and found that I had left my ‘One Size Fits All’ Freedom pass – entitling me to free use of public transport because of my seniority – at home.
No problem, I thought, I’ll simply pay cash – expecting this to cost no more than £2 or £3, as it had in the past.
It was then I had another brush with modern life.
When it was my turn to pay, having watched three people in front of me simply climb to the driver’s cabin and ‘swipe’ their bus passes before moving along inside the bus, I made myself known to the driver, announced the bus stop at which I wished to alight in town B, and thrust a £5 note forwards.
Two things then caused my intended scheme to hit the buffers.
Firstly, he announced that his (and other) buses on this route were today being diverted on a route that no longer took them past said bus stop.
Secondly, he announced that his bus didn’t take cash.
With that I was obliged to turn around and descend back to street level.
Didn’t take cash!
I began to build up a head of steam. The fact that all buses were on a diversion that day was the first bummer.
But the second was that – because I’d simply forgotten to take my Freedom pass along, and the council or transport company had instigated a ‘no cash’ policy since I last travelled by bus – I was now facing a trek on foot of some two or so miles in order to get home and continue writing my first great novel of the 21st Century.
I then walked about half a mile towards my home town of B, before reaching the next bus stop, as best my various physical ailments would allow. There was a well-to-do ginger-haired chap aged about thirty waiting at it. Aha! There must be buses of some description coming this way (I concluded).
I asked him what the hell was going on. The ‘no cash’ rule must catch out all sorts of people – the old, the disabled, tourists to this country being three examples who might have need of public transport – had the authorities gone mad?
He admitted that the new policy might indeed sound counter-intuitive, but did I possess a ‘wifi’ credit or debit card?
I didn’t know, so brought my versions of those items out for scrutiny.
With an air of mini-triumph, he pointed to my debit card. “See that little ‘wifi’ symbol?” he said, pointing to a blob with three quarter-Moon shaped lines above it.
“You can just ‘swipe’ that against the yellow circle Freedom pass ‘swiping’ facility … and the bus will take your cash off you to the tune of your journey distance automatically …”
Dear reader – when the next bus came along, that’s exactly what happened!
My only issue with all this is that for the past three days I have been panicking that I have no means of confirming how much of my hard-earned loot has just winged its way to the coffers of the bus company. Did they relieve me of the correct amount … or has someone up the bus company food chain turned the automatic paying system dial up by a factor of 100 times and taken tens (or even hundreds) of pounds off me?
How will I ever know?