EVERYONE CAN REMEMBER where they were when Diana died. Everyone can also remember where they were when they did the perfect parallel park, when they got into a space with 10cm to spare at either end, first time and flush with the kerb. If you ever wanted to commit a perfect crime, right after your perfect parallel parking would be good because there are never any witnesses. Instead it’s an iron rule of nature that the tightest spaces come complete with four witnesses in your car, bent on personal humiliation.
Judging the space you need is very easy: if you’re by yourself in a quiet street, no gap’s too narrow; if your partner is in the passenger seat, you need enough room to park a mobile home and trailer; if you’re in a crowded shopping centre and a crowd gathers as soon as you select reverse, the gap is far, far too small, and you’d be much better off parking somewhere else.
Once you’ve started your manoeuvre you soon get into the jimmying back-and-forth phase, where you do a full lock and then move forward five centimetres. You can be what you think is millimetres away from the car in front, when a family of four with a twin buggy crosses between you. The fail-safe way of making sure you don’t hit other cars is to move slowly until you hit something solid. You then know for certain it’s time to move in the other direction.
When you’re parking near shops, a useful thing to remember is that you can see exactly how much room you have to play by checking the reflection in the window. Be careful with this, especially if you’re outside a shoe shop where you can be so transfixed by the strappy little number in the window that you take the plates of a vintage Mercedes behind you.
Everyone knows that you can’t parallel park head first – everyone, that is, who doesn’t have a four-wheel-drive vehicle that can mount a kerb a foot high and drop back into position with a satisfying wump. So what if you mow down a group of passing pedestrians and their dog. If you drive an off-road vehicle it’s obvious that you’re going to be driving off road from time-to-time and they should bear that in mind.
In Hollywood movies, you’ll see all sorts of fancy driving and car chases but you’ll never see parallel parking. That’s because stunt drivers, like everyone else in the world, can’t do it. The other reason is that America has decided that one of the constitutional rights of its citizens should be freedom from parallel parking, use of mirrors and reverse gear.
When you’re getting into a tight spot you need every spare inch. Don’t be shy of nudging the car in front of you. After all, that’s what bumpers are for. Just be sure that your bumpers are at the same level. You don’t want to shoot back in reverse and discover a pair of bull bars poking through your back window. The trick is to aim for your rear lights to kiss the headlights of the person behind you. This is a light kiss, not the sort of kiss that leaves shattered teeth all over the road.
© GUY BROWNING IS AUTHOR OF ‘NEVER PUSH WHEN IT SAYS PULL’ AND CREATOR OF ‘TORTOISE IN LOVE’ (DVD) – USED BY PERMISSION.