There have been some developments in Burgas, evident within the first ten minutes of our arrival. The town Council has invested in neatly restored pavements and a fleet of pickup trucks.
The pavements are a sight for any eyes used to the cracked and heaving obstacle courses of countless years. You must remember how loose broken slabs would pivot and release an ankle drenching shower of hitherto invisible foul water The paving stones are now set flat and neat ; their clean expanses are an invitation to the aged, the infirm and the Abiturentka (celebrating High School graduate) striding out confidently towards her ball in shiny dress and stiletto heels.
We stop behind another car –just opposite the Technical College, in order to pay our TV and Internet bills. As Annie hunches by the SKAT shack window, I sit admiring the glistening new pavement from the driver’s seat of a car that has just crossed Europe. As I blink at the clean level expanse of geometric heaven, I become aware – almost too late – of the arrival of a truck at my off-side. It takes me but a second to comprehend the purpose of its crane and swinging chains. It stops beside the car in front. A young man leaps down from the cab, looking purposeful. I give Annie a toot. She is of course in the midst of some impenetrable bureaucratic wrangle regarding our status. I put the car into reverse just as a second truck draws up beside me. I am now nearly boxed in. I know the score. They want to hoist my car into the air – with me inside it if necessary – and transport me to some God-forsaken dust pitch somewhere in the still derelict Communist industrial zone, where I will sit contemplating rusting pipes and plastic Bila bags blowing in the wind till Annie comes and rescues me with wads of cash.
In London the clampers and pick-up boys are merciless. Paid by results, they are often partially reformed criminals ready to extort eye-watering sums from motorists who have no choice but to pay – even when they had originally parked their cars legally. But this is Bulgaria where a threat is sufficient to maintain manly pride. Alerted by the neighbours the driver of the car in front of me appears, jumps into his car and is allowed to drive off unhindered after receiving an ear-bashing from the now purposeless young man. I breathe a sigh of relief as I too am waved on my way.
As I drive up to the New Post Office intersection, I realize my mistake. I should not have parked safely on the road, where, by the way, I was obstructing no-one. I should have followed the Bulgarian example and parked on the pavement. The new spotless carefully aligned pavement continues to provide much needed parking spaces for harassed drivers and so wobbling pensioners and tottering newly graduated schoolgirls are still forced out into the road.
Still the stretches of visible pavement are very impressive. And I realize that a local election must be imminent. In Communist times, urban regeneration only occurred when President Todor Zhivkov was scheduled to pay one of his lightning visits. Then any reconstituted pavements would be covered by artificially enthused workers and pupils, waving flags and banners provided by party agitators. Now in the democratic cycle, local politicians have to turn their attention away from the daily burden of self aggrandizement and seek out visible ways of placating the electorate. As those most likely to vote are over sixty, what better way to gain votes than to improve the pavements? Drivers of all ages will be so busy trying to find new places to park that they will have no time to express their frustration.