Traffic Wardens are by far some of the most hated people in Britain according to recent reports. But have you ever wondered what it takes to be one? Meet the ‘bleached blonde black babe’ who patrols the streets of West London’s Notting Hill Gate.
Underneath Portobello Roads flyover lingers the stench of years of damp posters plastered on walls despite the signs proclaiming bill posters will be prosecuted. Excrements from homeless drunks, boxes to keep them warm overnight and empty beer cans are normally the only remains around 8 am on a rainy Friday morning. The traffic is heavy and nobody pays much attention to the drunk still sitting beneath the bridge watching the world drive by. His appearance is dirty and his hair hangs wild. He tries to hide his grimy face with a pair of dark sunglasses that have an eyepiece missing.
Shiniel Cornwall laughs out loud. Her lip ring slightly pulls down the corner of her mouth to reveal her tongue piercing. The latest tattoo on her back has been itching like mad, she explains. Her short, tight, Afro curls are bleached blond and the light complexion of her fine-boned face would stand out anywhere. But it also helps that she is a traffic warden controlling the busy streets in the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea. “That’s the guy I was talking about. He thinks all cars belong to him.”
Her navy blue uniform made of cheap Teflon polyester consists of a hat, trousers, a jumper and black shoes. The trousers are baggy and a size too big for her. “I have a big, black girls butt and don’t like being approached for that reason in the streets.” Her hat is the same colour and material as the trousers and does not look very fashionable with its sky blue band around it. The band bears an emblem in the middle that reminds of something taken of a Royal Post van. A white short-sleeve shirt under the navy jacket has the words Kensington & Chelsea Parking Attendant printed in navy in a size not bigger than 15mm. Steel toe capped shoes provided by the senior officers at the base in Earls Court complete the uniform.
“People don’t know me but would still love to knock me down in their cars or drive over my toes. The officials know that hence steel capped shoes.”
As she moves over to a Volkswagen Golf GTI parked on a single yellow closer to the flyover the drunk calls out in his hoarse voice: “Oi you, that’s my car there” he starts laughing. She knows he just wants a bit of fun and replies: “Well, where are your keys? Get in and drive off fast, before I book you.” She now enters the make of the car and the time into her timer and notes the same details into her little book. “Every five minutes I need to write something into my book to show my base manager, Duncan, the dick-head, that I am not skiving. Duncan can be quite reasonable at times, I must say. He took off five hours of my 47 hour week so that I can drop and pick my daughter Sapphire up from her school in Lewisham every day.”
The tax details get checked on the car, including the expiry date and serial number. She kneels down to have a look at the valve position and explains: “The valves are covered so I can’t really inspect them and also the tax has expired. This means a total of two offences I could give a ticket for.”
After entering the details into her timer she waits for five minutes before she can proceed writing out the ticket. “Offences 01, for the parking on the single yellow line, the no tax offence and a 12/12 for incorrect valve position have been entered. I can’t give the ticket quite yet though, as I need to wait for the full five minutes in case the owner shows up,” she explains.
She writes out the ticket, places it underneath the windscreen wiper and says: “If they pay the ticket within two weeks it will cost £40 but if they don’t the amount will double.”
Whilst walking on towards Ladbroke Grove passing drivers can be heard shouting obscenities: “Get a decent job, bitch” and “nice way to earn money Blondie.” “I hate it when people call me Blondie that really pisses me off. But what’s more annoying is when black people approach me to tell me I shouldn’t give tickets to my own people. That’s just hilarious. I remind them that they don’t pay my wages or feed me but my job does and I do want to keep it.”
She is now standing by a packed bus stop and says: “This is the place I saw Davina McCall, the big brother woman, stop to make a phone call. I told her that she couldn’t stop at the bus stop as this is an instant offence.” She just said: “I just stopped to answer my phone.” With a smirk on her face, she explains: “She was a bit ratty and I let her get on with it. When I turned around to check she was already gone.”
As an attractive, striking, young woman with a small but curvy physique, which still shows through her baggy uniform, she does not seem to get that much hassle from men. “If you believe it or not women are worse when dealing with me. There was that woman two weeks ago who was parked at a double yellow. During my five-minute wait, she returned to her car mumbling foolishness. I turned away to leave and she spat at me. I just told her that she should have choked on it.”
Shiniel shakes her head and rolls her eyes in disbelief: “No, wait for the joke now. She actually wrote a letter to the council complaining about me, saying how I caused her a lot of grief and distress by telling her to choke on her spit when her son had plastic surgery on the same day. She was quite lucky I didn’t spit back but that’s not really my job’s worth.”
She takes a sheet of paper out of her pocket and explains: “This is a beat sheet, which states all the roads to be visited by me at least once today. Some of the roads on it are quite small so I don’t bother with them sometimes but to keep the traffic going I need to stick to this plan.”
A black Bentley with the private registration plate BNM1 is parked at a pay and display slot but has no ticket displayed. “This is a 06 offence, which means no ticket is displayed therefore it can be assumed there was no ticket bought.” As Shiniel is about to write out the ticket, a guy in his early forties who looks like his wife is about to give birth is running to the car from across the road shouting: “Please take it back just pretend you never gave it to me. Come on, I was only away for a minute.” She looks at her timer, which displays the truth and says: “Five minutes 29, 30, 31 seconds and counting. But you are lucky as I haven’t written anything yet.”
On Acton Road off Portobello Road, another drunk in his forties sits around idle. Shiniel knows him and grins even before she walks past him. He is medium build, white, with grubby short hair. “Where has my wife been? I will never divorce her,” he shouts out loud. “You wish mate,” she responds still laughing. Shiniel is very confident in her dealings with the people around the neighbourhood. “I made a couple of friends in the area who always joke about how they will run me down. Imagine risking your life for just over £200 a week and no bonus. Sometimes, if my book is neat, I might get the odd extra pound from the senior officers who do all the paperwork.”
The way Shiniel goes about her job seems quite honest and reasonable. “Not because you commit an offence, I will book you. I’m not like that. I can listen.” She talks about some of her colleagues who are sneaky. “They would log in the car and hide so the drivers don’t suspect a thing. After the time is up they return to the vehicle and book it straight away. I don’t do that.”
When a guy pulls up in his dark green Peugeot to ask for her number in exchange for a ticket Shiniel says, whilst scratching the tattoo on her back: “That’s funny because this is how I met my current boyfriend Elliot. I gave him a ticket but took his number. He paid the £40 the next day.”
To touch the sensitive topic of bribery is not a problem for Shiniel. “I have never had anyone offer me bribes. But it probably happens all the time. It’s so tempting to make some quick money. If it is happening, I am sure my colleagues would like to keep it a secret.”