A post about a curious incident after my daughter’s flute exam
Having long ago given in to the classic parenting trap of bribing one’s child through traumatic events, I agreed that after my eleven-year-old daughter Laura had taken her flute exam, I’d treat her to a trip to the nearest shopping mall, Cabot Circus.
Her flute exam fell at a bad time: the day of the annual school concert at the village school during her final few days there before moving up to secondary school. The exam was to be held at Bristol Music School in Clifton, in the centre of Bristol, 20 miles away from our village. Attending the exam meant she had to miss not only afternoon school but also the first of the two concert performances.
I duly collected Laura and her flute from school, and we drove into town. As we neared the Music School, we passed dozens of smiling new university graduates with proud parents, attending their degree ceremony in the Wills Memorial Building. As I watched them milling about, I did a simultaneous flash back to my own degree day, in my pink dress and grey gown with my parents up in York years ago, and a flash forward to Laura’s in 10 years time. Where did her first 11 years go? I wondered, panicking about finding a parking space with so many extra visitors in town.
Despite the heat, Laura was playing it cool: it takes a lot to faze her. She’d been practising hard on her flute for the previous few days, and if she was nervous, she was hiding it better than her mother was. We arrived in plenty of time, the exam was over quickly, and Laura remained calm throughout, focused instead on the promised Krispy Kreme doughnut that awaited her at Cabot Circus.
Parking at Cabot Circus was easier than in Clifton: we simply drove up the spiral ramp to the fourth floor of the multi-storey car park and straight ahead into an empty space. With one eye on the clock, as we had to be back at school for the 5pm concert, we did a quick tour of the toy shop to spend her birthday money, wrapped ourselves around a couple of doughnuts, and returned to the car.
The Missing Car
Or so was our plan. When we arrived back at the top of the ramp on the fourth floor, my car was not there. In its place was an almost-identical one – charcoal grey instead of smoke grey, a couple of years newer, and, I admit it, with fewer dents. But it was in exactly the same place. Laura, whose memory is much better than mine, assured me we had indeed parked on the fourth floor, but we agreed to check the exact same spot on the third and the fifth floors just in case.
My car was not there either. Realising that not only were we now on a tight timescale to get back to school for the concert, but that also locked in the car book were Laura’s flute, music and Heather the rabbit, her favourite and irreplaceable cuddly toy, I began to panic and theorise about this disaster. Perhaps the owner of the darker car had a key which matched ours, had parked next to us and got into the wrong car to depart by mistake?
The Search is On
Thinking as fast as my now pounding heart, I grabbed Laura by the hand and whisked her down to the attendants’ office on the ground floor to explain our plight. The couple of chaps in there were kind and patient. They took down the details of the car and where I’d left it, before running a very clever search by licence plate on their security camera, which played back a recording of us driving in earlier. They then despatched their junior staff member to find it. Moments later, he buzzed through to say he had indeed found our car, and we were instructed to meet him at the lift on the fourth floor.
So we were right, it was the fourth floor! But we were puzzled as to how he could have found it so quickly. Had the driver of the darker car realised his mistake just the minute before and returned ours to swap it back again?
All was revealed when we arrived back on the fourth floor. The waiting attendant patiently pointed us in the direction of our car, which was awaiting at the top of the ramp. But, it emerged, there were TWO spiral ramps on this side of the building: one going up and one going down. We’d looked at the top of the down ramp instead of the up. Well, who knew?
“We’ve never lost a car yet since we opened,” the attendant assured me, smiling proudly as he waved us off.
Relieved to retrieve car, flute and rabbit and to be on our way back to school in time for Laura’s concert performance, I wondered how I’d managed to be so stupid, when we were so geared up for action earlier on. Then it occurred to me: the minute the flute exam was over, our adrenalin surge had stopped, our brains had cranked down a few notches, and we’d relaxed and stopped thinking strategically. We were no longer primed for fight or flight, and in fact were not fit for either. No wonder we couldn’t find the car.
It was only later that I discovered that between leaving the exam centre and getting home that I’d also managed to lose my glasses.
But the good news is: we’ve just heard Laura passed her flute exam. Thank goodness for that! Parental duty done.