Class conscious - Andrew Martin thinks parking is a reason for murder

How satisfying to find a white van with a copy of the Daily Star inside

If there's one thing that connects the British middle classes to their atavistic instincts, it is parking. You can be sure that, if a murder were to happen in our street, detectives investigating the matter would unearth a parking dispute somewhere along the line.

Our street is located just outside a controlled parking zone, and therefore becomes, in effect, a free car park for visitors to our area during the working week. Each morning, our happiness as residents is determined by the degree to which our territorial rights have been infringed by some giant, black 4x4 parked across a driveway, say, or half on the pavement.

A small form of revenge, I find, is to walk up our street (and others similarly afflicted) looking inside the cars, and reading them for clues about their owners. There's a small green adjacent to our street with a horse chestnut on it. I am waiting for the day when I wake up and see a Mitsubishi Shogun parked directly and unapologetically underneath that tree, with nothing inside but a copy of The Da Vinci Code and a Robbie Williams CD.

But let's take the findings of a particular day last week (and by the way, please excuse my vagueness as to the make of car; I'm no expert here). The first car is a completely empty Honda Civic. I am resentful of people who leave their cars empty - somehow it's not playing the game. No wait, there's a sticker on the dashboard that says: "Don't blame me, I voted for Willie Nelson." An American owner, then, therefore outside the English class system, therefore to be forgiven the moderately intrusive parking position.

The next car is flashy: a low-slung Porsche Boxster. The advertising manager of the Mail on Sunday's Night and Day magazine will be pleased to hear that there was a copy inside this car. But - and rather poignantly - it lay on the back seat alongside a clutch of Lottery tickets. Parked in front of it is a green Jaguar XJ6 with nothing inside but a box of tissues. A cad, I surmise, a rich cad - probably a good-looking, divorced, commercial barrister - who is forever breaking the hearts of young women, causing them to cry. Hence the tissues.

Now we have a Nissan Micra, and very tiny it is. This cannot be a man's car. The only thing inside is a booklet advertising forthcoming shows at the National Theatre. This car obviously belongs to a middle-aged, female English teacher at a private school. Next we have a Citroen something or other. On the back seat is a small A to Z, and on the front seat is another, bigger-format, A to Z. This is a person of a fiercely metropolitan orientation whose eyesight may be fading.

I turn the corner to encounter a white van (at last!). And it's a classic case, too, because inside is a copy of the Daily Star together with what appears to be a weightlifter's belt. The van is parked next to a light blue 2CV with pink fluffy dice. A humorous person owns this car.

Just over the road is an old-fashioned looking VW sports car with a box of files in the back, across the top of which is laid a tightly furled traditional black umbrella, causing me to diagnose a Conservative solicitor of the slightly racy, Spectator-reading sort. But I have jumped the gun because, leaning forward to scrutinise a visible part of one of the documents, I read: "The world is full of like-minded people who want to work for peace." So this must be some kind of anti-war activist who has somehow come by a guardsman's umbrella.

Nearby is a Saab 900 Turbo, for sale at £800. Naturally, there's nothing on the seats. This is so you can imagine your own junk in there. I walk along a bit further to see a VW Golf with nothing inside but a copy of a magazine called the Acquirer.

It's a bluff, I decide.

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