29 JULY 1989, Page 42

Home life

Tenderly towed away

Alice Thomas Ellis

Afriend having negligently parked his car in a stretch of the Brompton Road returned to find it gone: taken away to the police pound. On retrieving it he was outraged to discover a number of recent scratches and dents along its hitherto un- sullied side and, breathing deeply, he telephoned to demand an explanation. The man at the pound said that their lifting gear didn't damage cars, it just lifted them, but as he had asked so nicely he could go along and they would give him a demonstration.

I went for the ride in order to get out of the home for a while, and also because I was interested to meet some of the most hated people in the country. They were perfectly charming and passed around cups of coffee as we waited in a Portakabin. All the poor cars looked lost and forlorn like the creatures in the Battersea Dogs' Home and I was glad they didn't whine or gaze at us with brimming headlamps, but apart from the overall atmosphere of sorrow and abandonment there was a rather pleasant leisureliness about the proceedings. With- out hurry a monster was led out to be put through its paces and it oh so delicately clasped its claws around the wheels of the car, and ever so gently lifted it up in the air. Had it been drinking tea it would have crooked its little finger, and it was perfectly evident that it wouldn't harm a fly.

'See?' said the policeman, and our friend had to admit that he saw. It was explained to us that the people in charge of the monster were very jealous of its reputation and meticulously checked all cars for signs of damage before it was permitted to go into action. A lot of people tried it on, said the policeman resignedly. Already hopping mad at the confiscation of their car, they longed only for someone to blame for something and threw wild accusations around. Our friend, he said, was an un- usually pleasant person, and this accounted for our privileged treatment.

We all parted on the best of terms. The policemen seemed happy with their lot, but it was a baking-hot day and I couldn't help but feel that carting cars about from hither to yon was a daft way to spend it. If it hadn't been for the invention of the inter- nal combustion engine they might have been growing wheat or milking cows. But then a UFO might have made circles in the crops or frightened the kine, and I daresay they'd have got the blame for that too.