Beware of car parks bearing gifts.
In my five years of being behind the wheel, parking has always been the trickiest challenge. It's not the reversing into an unfeasibly small gap, but finding a space in the first place.
I approach the centre of an unknown town with a sense of dread and drive with fingers crossed. Even in Birmingham this can get challenging.
Last year there was the unexpected luxury of free parking in the Jewellery Quarter. I don't know why this happened, but for months all the council parking meters refused to take any money. My cash simply passed through unmolested. I got bored forever scribbling out notices to put on the windscreen, and passing on the information to other puzzled and cash-laden motorists. Things have now changed and how. Last week I found a new car park just off Warstone Lane. To call it a car park is somewhat of an exaggeration.
It was an empty, rubblestrewn building lot. But there were proper signs and a meter, and at 50p an hour it was not to be sniffed at.
I got back to the car park three minutes late; the clamp was already on. It was pointless remonstrating with the minder. For one thing he was bigger than me; for another the ironwork was all in his favour. "That's pounds 150," he said, and as I reached for my chequebook, he added "cash only," like some backstreet dealer. I had to march a quarter of a mile to the nearest cashpoint and back. Had I been a minute or two later, I imagine, the car would have gone to some far-off pound and cost me pounds 400.
It was the politest of muggings, and I know it was my imprecise time-keeping that was at fault. Nevertheless, I could see why the company that has rented this little mantrap has kept its prices so temptingly low. The big money is to be made once the clock has ticked past the appointed hour.
Beware, then, of car parks bearing gifts and find a council meter instead.
Unless the warden has got out on the wrong side of the bed, he or she will cut you a few minutes slack at least. Until they privatise the service, that is.
Dr Chris Upton is a poorer, but wiser man at Newman University College in Birmingham