The Ghost Clamp of Old Dublin Town by Ruby Barnes

The last couple of Fridays have been very eventful. Two weeks ago we had a book launch in Stone House Books, Kilkenny, of Marble City Publishing’s latest collection By the Light of the Moon. It was the culmination of a lot of work by fourteen Kilkenny writers who had continued to meet up since completing the NUI Creative Writing for Publication course, and the follow-up Two Roads course, a good few moons ago. There was wine, there were readings, smiley faces and happy memories. Our book was dedicated to one of us who had left this Earth for the great creative writing workshop in the sky – Jane Avril de Montmorency-Wright 1936 – 2014. Jane was a power to behold, loved by all (and coincidentally had been Barack Obama’s oldest living Irish relative although she kept that light under a bushel and simply said, ‘He’s more than welcome to come here for some tea.’)
The following Friday, when the dust had settled, I returned to Stone House Books to hoover up the spondoolicks from the launch sales of By the Light of the Moon. Mrs R, meanwhile, drove up to Dublin in her snazzy new outfit to attend the Family Court which was hearing her care representative application (the outlaws have become rather infirm and we have to make decisions on their behalf).
I was halfway through a good chat with Stone House Books owner Liz Walsh when my phone rang (buzzed actually – I always keep it on silent). It was Mrs R on the line and I knew she was having a busy time up in the capital so I figured I should take the call.
‘The bloody bastards!’ She was crying and shouting at the same time. ‘They took my money and I’m here at the Red Cow and I’m clamped and what am I going to do? The bastards!’
It sounded serious. I was seventy-five miles away but my hand was twitching for my samurai sword. If she could somehow keep the villains on the spot for an hour then I might be able to get there and dish out some ninja justice.
Those pesky clampers are at it again.
‘The lady on the phone says I need to stay here until the man with a van arrives to remove the clamp, and I have to pay him, cash or credit card! I’m not allowed to move! And I’m already half an hour late for seeing Mum at the nursing home.’
I had a mental image of Mrs R in her finery, rooted to the spot in the howling wind and rain. Purse stolen, no money, stressed out about her mother, getting increasingly desperate. I didn’t rate the man with the van’s chances of survival very highly.
So I did the best I could under the circumstances. ‘Don’t move. I have to go. I’ll call you back.’
And I continued to collect the bags of swag from Liz. Then I wandered out into the medieval alleys of Kilkenny city and phoned Mrs R back. She had calmed down considerably and the facts came out, one by one.
She had paid the two euro parking fee (and very reasonable indeed for four hours, she added) at the machine in the Red Cow Luas Park & Ride, had entered the bay number where her car was parked, but had (quite possibly, she couldn’t quite remember) forgotten to press the green button to register the payment and hadn’t received a receipt. On return from the trip to the Family Court (which went very well, yes, thanks for asking), Mrs R found her car swathed in stickers and notes that said she had been clamped due to non-payment of the parking fee. No one had stolen her purse. The “taking of the money” had been the unsuccessful earlier spending of €2 at the machine. The fine was €80.

The Luas tram in Dublin city centre, pronounced locally as "de loo-ass".
While I was mentally calculating how many sales of By the Light of the Moon would be necessary to cover the €80 fine, Mrs R divulged further interesting facts.
‘I phoned the number on the clamping fine notice and spoke to some woman,’ she said. ‘I explained the situation but she wasn’t having any of it. Even though I said I’d just come up from the country and didn’t know how things work.’ (Bearing in mind that Mrs R is from Dublin with an unmistakeable accent, I could see why that tactic didn’t succeed.)
‘So you’re stuck?’
‘I have to wait for the man with the van. She said if I move the car the immobiliser could damage it. I asked her what the immobiliser looked like and she thought I was crazy. I guess it’s some sort of electronic thing that will blow up the engine with a movement sensor.’
This was sounding more confused than one of my novels. ‘You mean there isn’t a big yellow metal clamp around one of the wheels?’ I asked.
‘That’s right. She said they’ll study the CCTV to see if I removed it and, if I did, I’m in big trouble, because their computer says a car with my registration has been clamped. I said while they were doing that they could study the CCTV to see me paying the €2 at the machine. But I still can’t move the car in case the immobiliser explodes it or something.’
I tried to make sense of this. ‘So there’s no clamp.’
‘I didn’t take it off. They’ll see that from the CCTV. That’s what I’ll tell the man with the van.’
‘The guy who is coming to remove the clamp that isn’t there? The ghost clamp?’
At this point I started to smell a scam. The ghost clamp scam. ‘So there’s no clamp on the car. Don’t give them your credit card details. You haven’t given your credit card details to the woman on the phone, have you?’
Slight pause. ‘No. No, I haven’t. I’m pretty sure I haven’t, no.’
‘And the man with the van, he isn’t there yet?’
‘No man with a van yet, no.’
‘And there are other cars in the Park & Ride that are clamped with big yellow metal things on their wheels but yours isn’t?’
‘That’s right.’
‘Okay. This is what I want you to do. Get in the car and slowly drive it out of the space. Then go and see your mother in the nursing home.’
‘But what if the car is damaged from the immobiliser?’
‘There isn’t an immobiliser. Trust me, I’m an engineer.’ I am, actually, it’s one of my dark secrets. ‘And keep all the paperwork. I think it’s a scam.’
That evening we studied the stickers and notes from my wife’s car. I searched the internet for “Park & Ride clamping scam” and checked out the parking management on the Luas website. The papers from the car looked legitimate. But what had really happened? We will never know … cue scary music … the secret of the Ghost Clamp! (And hopefully we won’t get a fine in the post either!)

People doing a "John Stonehouse" to avoid parking fines.


Susan Price said…
We trust Mrs B and the outlaws are okay, Ruby? And we hope no fine turns up - but if it does,draw your samurai sword.
Chris Longmuir said…
Brilliant title for a story 'The Secret of the Ghost Clamp' cue scary music again!
Bill Kirton said…
A gripping wee tale, Ruby. Sinister, though. I loved the surrealism of the invisible immobiliser.
@Ruby_Barnes said…
Thanks, guys. No fine received yet and all alive and kicking. I keep practising with that sword though, just in case.

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