A letter to York Council, contesting a parking fine

Some background:

City of York Council used to issue discount parking badges to residents. These badges were free of charge, saved 20-30p per hour on parking, and did not have expiration dates.

They recently changed this scheme, but were unsuccessful in letting everyone know they were changing the scheme. I contested the parking ticket, and it was only when they replied to it that I was informed that the residents’ scheme had ended, to be replaced by a different programme, that required residents to pay for their discount badges.

Here’s my follow-up (images have rotated, for some reason, and I can’t be arsed to fix them):

Your ref: Penalty Charge Notice: XXXXXX

Dear Ms XXX,

Many thanks for your letter, dated 14th April.

On 11th April, I received a PCN attached to my windscreen at Castle Car Park. This surprised me, as I had paid for parking by telephone, and the PCN had been attached before the parking had run out. I had paid at the residents’ discount price, as I have a residents’ discount badge in my windscreen (see below).



Your letter stated that the discount badge was out of date. Of course, looking at the badge itself, you’ll see that there is no expiry date on it, and I was completely unaware that City of York Council had removed this benefit to residents.

Your letter stated that “the Council aimed to conduct an extensive advertising and marketing campaign to ensure all residents were aware of the change before the cut off date of 31st of August” last year. I had never been informed, so although that was your aim, it was not completely achieved.

You stated, “This included articles in the York press”. I don’t read local newspapers, so did not see this.

You stated, “and also signage and posters in the car parks”. Well, I visited Castle Car Park today. There are no posters at the entrance, at all. There is, however a very small, scratched sticker on the ticket machine:


But this is small, and it is – somewhat bizarrely – located at hip height: IMG_0975









This means that someone purchasing a ticket would need to be reading an old sticker at hip height, in order to know the detail, and you wouldn’t expect someone to do that unless they were specifically looking out for it. It’s not as if the Council has gone out of its way to make these stickers stand out in any way, is it?

Also, of course, a driver will only see these stickers if he or she is (a) looking down and (b) standing in front of the machine. Drivers (like me) who buy their parking tickets by phone or through the parking app will never get to see these stickers. On the phone payment system you could have a voice message stating that the old residents’ badges are no longer valid, but you have chosen not to.

Your letter also states that the Council “commissioned a letter drop for every household in York which explained the changes in the resident scheme”. I did not receive one of these letters. I also did not receive the annual household refuse collection timetable when it was sent out at the end of last year, but was told that I could order one online (at https://www.york.gov.uk/DoItOnline/Pages/NeighbourhoodServices/RefusePostcodeLookup.aspx). When I enter my postcode, however, my address appears not to be in the system. Try it. I suspect this is why I also did not receive your letter about the parking scheme.

The first I heard that my undated residents’ parking badge was no longer valid was when I received your letter of 14 April 2015. I therefore continue to contest the ticket on the grounds that the contravention did not occur (as the Council failed in its duty to inform me that my discount badge was no longer valid) and that this was due to a procedural impropriety.

In your letter you accept that I was unaware of the changes, and that you will cancel the PCN if I buy a new discount badge. As the discount badges are now chargeable, and at a rate greater than the savings I would enjoy as a badge-holder, I will not be purchasing the new badge – I do not park in council-run car parks often enough to warrant paying the badge fee. It’s a real shame that the Council has decided to remove the resident’s discount benefit and replace it with a revenue-generating scheme instead.

So, I will not be purchasing a badge that will cost me more than the savings it offers, an I will continue to contest this PCN. Should you decide to not cancel the PCN I will appeal the decision. I am sure you will agree that it is fair to cancel this particular penalty charge. After all, it isn’t as if I tried to get away without paying – I paid £2.40 for the hour (including pay-by-phone fees – see receipt copy, attached). That’s 30p less than I would have paid, had I known the badge was no longer accepted. It’s also exactly the same price I would have paid had I been a non-resident, paying at the machine.

It’s also worth noting that your online system for contesting PCNs allows drivers to upload documents in support of their claim. However, it rejects .pdf documents. Can you guess in what format your PayByPhone parking system issues receipts? I’ll give you a clue – it starts with P and ends with F.

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Lee Harris


Social Justice Warriors

I love the term “Social Justice Warrior” (or SJW).

Those who fight for social justice never use it. It’s only ever used as an insult by those who do not identify with the title, and anyone who thinks that the term is insulting – that the fight for any sort of justice, social or otherwise, is something *not* worth fighting for – then they automatically identify themselves as idiots, and not worthy of our attention.

It’s esentially shorthand for “You can safely ignore the rest of what I say, as I’m a fucking moron.”

Very helpful.



(Originally a Facebook post)

The Hugos, 2015

So, the Hugos, huh?

Every year I disagree with the inclusion of a good number of works or people on the Hugo (and Campbell) shortlists. And that’s fine – not everyone is supposed to have the same taste. If we did, the 5 works that make the shortlists would also be the only ones on the longlists. But tastes and opinions differ, and there will never be a year in which the Hugo Awards accurately represent my choices for the Best 5 of everything (and I doubt there will ever be a year in which the awards represent my choices for even a single category). But that’s the nature of democracy. Last year I was shortlisted for a Hugo for Best Editor (Long Form). Was I one of the best 5 novel editors in the genre across the English-speaking world? Hell, no. But enough people liked the work I did well enough to have nominated me. I may never get another Hugo nomination, but I will always know that the one I achieved was gained without trying to game the system. A few nominees (across multiple categories) last year were part of that year’s “sad puppy” slate. This year, the sad puppies (and their cohorts, the rabid puppies) managed to swamp the categories with works and individuals that might otherwise not have made the final ballots.

It’s a shame, because this year’s winners will win tainted awards. Those that appeared as part of the litters of puppies’ slates will always know that the puppies’ influence on the awards was at least partly responsible for their win (possibly majorly so) and that will surely devalue the award. Those that win who did not appear on the slates may well worry that their win was as a result of the members of the World Science Fiction Association voting against the puppies as a matter of principle. That will also devalue the award. This year, no matter who comes out on top, no-one wins.

The people I feel most sorry for this year are the ones who appeared on the slates, who might have made the list anyway, this year. Or next, or the year after. How awful to have your work tarnished by being associated with a bunch of political activists, who appear to be out solely to destroy the awards. Because, let’s be quite clear, here: that must surely be their endgame. If the works of the alpha puppies was good enough to appear on the ballots (or to be longlisted, even) they surely would be. Encouraging supporters to buy Associate Memberships purely to bloc vote not only goes against the spirit of the awards, it makes the awards worthless (some people believe that awards like this are worthless anyway, but that’s a discussion for another time).

After expressing my disappointment on Twitter and Facebook at the state of this year’s final ballot, I was contacted by someone who was on the ballot, and who was also listed as part of the puppies’ voting block. This person I know to be an extremely hard working person in his category, and he told me that my words had hurt him. I have no doubt that this person could have found himself nominated this year without the puppies’ involvement. If not this year, then at some point. How much more satisfying would it be though, to know for certain that your nomination came not as a result of political in-fighting, but as a result of the joy that your work has provided people over the years. If you’re reading this, Mystery Person X, I truly hope your work is allowed to speak for itself in years to come.

It’s important to remember, I think, that among the list of absolute dross that is listed on the puppies’ slates, there are also pearls. And not all of the people listed on the slates were aware of their inclusion (or what that inclusion meant).


So this year, as every year, I will be paying very close attention to the nominees, and will vote according to how I feel about each particular category.

If I feel a work does not merit inclusion on the final ballot, I will not include it in my vote. And if I feel that there are works (or people) on that ballot that do not deserve to be on there, I will be voting No Award.

But the system is broken. It’s always been open to abuse, of course. But this year the abusers came out in force and coordinated their abuse.

I have some further thoughts, but it’s Easter Sunday, and I’m going to go spend some time with my family. More later, no doubt.

I leave you with a few quotes from last night’s Twitter (unattributed by design):

  • If there’s one thing angry white supremacists on the internet have, it’s $40.
  • Stop talking about merit. If your people were capable of winning Hugos on merit, they’d already have Hugos.
  • It’s astonishing to me how pointlessly cruel people can be. Isn’t it supposed to be about the art, guys?
  • I think they’d be happy with No Award winning every category, because that spoils our fun.

So, that was 2014

2014 was a mixed year, for me. The year started well, work-wise, but after a short while, background issues at one of Angry Robot’s sister companies caused the investment company who owned the Group to re-evaluate its presence in publishing, and although Angry Robot was a profitable imprint, the owners decided to act like complete arseholes and thus a period of several months of anguish began. It’s worth noting that Osprey (the most senior of AR’s sister companies) behaved professionally, throughout, with the exception of one senior member of staff, who had been thrust into a situation beyond his ability to manage (the Peter Principle in full effect, here), and so he – along with the investors he reported to – made a number of very bizarre calls. That was a very bleak few months, as we were largely kept in the dark as to the overall plans for the group, and what little we were told, we were prevented from relaying to our authors and their agents. I’ve moved away from Angry Robot, but I still keep an eye on them, and I’m delighted by the fact that they were bought out by someone who actually has a love of publishing, and not a quorum of bankers looking for a quick buck, with no regard for the actual people involved. Long may Angry Robot sail the publishing oceans!

In May, Tor.com announced a new novella programme, and announced they were looking for a team to run it, including a Senior Editor. The job looked like it had been plucked directly from my subconscious, and so, despite the fact that they wanted someone based in New York, I decided to apply for it. Weeks of interviews commenced, and in early July I was offered the role. At one heartbreaking meeting with my friend and mentor, Marc Gascoigne, I handed in my notice at Angry Robot (the only company in my working life I have ever been sad to leave). It was a very difficult decision, but I couldn’t pass up what may well be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to found a new imprint with the best major genre publisher in the world! Naturally, the timing was unfortunate (Angry Robot was working through its issues at the time), and naturally, a bunch of people added 2 and 2 and reached 7.6, but the move was the right one for me, at this stage in my career.

I joined Tor.com in August, the day before the World Science Fiction Convention descended on London. It was a good WorldCon (see my report, here). What made it extra-special for me this year (apart from the exciting new gig) was my Hugo nomination. In 2014 I became the first ever British editor to be nominated for a Hugo. Which was kinda cool. From the instant I heard about the other nominees, I pegged Ginja Buchanan as the winner, and win she did. That I was convinced she would win took all of the stress away from the event, and I was able to enjoy the ceremony without any of those frustrating “what if I were to win?” concerns. I do hope that another Brit is nominated next year – there are so many that are way more deserving than I (though I won’t decline if I’m nominated, again). Odd to think that I’m still eligible for Best Editor (Long Form) this year and next, due to books I’ve already worked on, and next year I’ll move into the eligibility for the Short Form category, where the competition is just as scarily tough!

In September I Chaired my first convention – FantasyCon in York. There were a number of behind-the-scenes problems that were stressful, but dealt with (largely by the brilliant front-of-house Redcloak team). A significant number of people told me it was their favourite convention to date (or favourite FantasyCon), so that helped.

The only other major event of 2014 happened in December, when my Dad died. I won’t write of it, here, as I blogged about it, already.

So, what about 2015?

Well, I want to lose some weight (2 stone would be good – that’s about 12 kilos), and get fitter (I ran a lot in the second half of 2014, but it dropped off a bit). I’m also going to be at my first Guest of Honour gig at CONvergence in July (the single best convention I have ever attended, and easily my favourite).

And, of course, the first novellas I have acquired (with my brilliant assistant, Carl Engle-Laird) will come out (this coming summer).

It’s going to be an exciting 2015, folks!



Bye, Dad

Yesterday we cremated my father. My older daughter (Verity) and I travelled down to Cardiff by train, and rented a car at the station – it cost a little more than driving, but saved time and stress.

The service was pretty moving (the vicar looked to be about 12 years old – maybe working toward his Scout vicarring badge) and there were a lot of people there, including some family I’d not seen in 30 years, and some I’d never met.

I said a few words. These are those words:


Let’s face it – he was a stubborn old bugger.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

We know he loved his kids, and he adored his grandchildren and great grandchildren.

But that’s not what I want to talk about, either.

He wasn’t much of a traveller. The journey from the living room window to the kitchen was a major expedition, and the last time he left South Wales was when he visited me in York, to see Verity just after she was born, and that was ten years ago.

But that’s not what I’m here to say.

When he was well enough to be out and about he had lots of friends – Doreen Jones, who he loved, Idris Morgan, his best friend in the world, and even my mum, who never stopped being concerned for him, even after they divorced.

But that’s not what I want to tell you.

So, maybe I should talk about what I want to talk about, rather than what I don’t.

Perhaps surprisingly, for a funeral, I’m not here to share specific memories of things he said, or things we did together. I want to tell you something that occurred to me, too late. Something that I only truly realized after I received the phone call to say he wasn’t here, any more.

We lived apart for a long time. Not just distance, but in our experience of the world.  The distance added to that, it’s true, but in recent years we found it harder and harder to really talk. He was housebound, and so his news was limited to what he saw on TV and what he could see through the living room curtains. I live hundreds of miles away, and so most of my news was about people he’d never met.

Sometimes the silence before finding the next thing to say was painful. But then one of my daughters would start telling him something about what they were learning about at school, or what they were looking forward to doing later in the day, and his eyes would light up.

I never rang him enough. But he was always, always happy when I did.

I never rang him enough. But you could hear the absolute delight in his voice when he spoke to the kids on the phone.

I never rang him enough. I was busy – there was always going to be next week

And then I got the call.

And then I realized that there wasn’t going to be a next week, that he would never again be happy to hear my voice, that the kids could never again delight him.

I want to tell my family – my brother Michael, my sister Sandra, my mother, my Aunty Pauline, my nieces and nephews and younger family members with titles too complicated to work out. I love you all. I don’t see you enough. I don’t speak with you enough. But know that I love you.

And when you leave here today, when you get home, think about someone who you haven’t spoken to enough recently, and give them a call. Let them know you love them. Don’t think: I’ll do it next week. Because I thought that, and I was wrong.

I’m going to try to pick up the phone a little more often, from now on. You should do the same. Don’t end up thinking, “I never rang him enough.”

So, thanks, Dad. I love you, and thanks for the lesson.

I’m sorry I learned it so late.

It’s Only a Play

Last night I was lucky enough to see another Broadway production. This time it was a revival of Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play – a show that ironically uses celebrity and star-power to draw in audiences, while condemning the cult of celebrity, onstage. A self-referential show that uses the power of meta more even more than a bottle episode of Supernatural.

ioapI didn’t know much about the play, going in. I like to go in blind, sometimes, and not have any preconceptions, or prejudices. I did know who was in the cast, though – Nathan Lane, F Murray Abraham, Stockard Channing, Megan Mullally, Rupert Grint, Matthew Broderick and a newcomer (Micah Stock). As the play is only running until January, I was happy to be able to get tickets.

It’s the story of the opening night of a new play by Peter Austin (Broderick). His best friend (Lane) has come to see the show and support him on opening night, but also to confirm to himself that he was right to turn down the lead role.

I have to admit that I did go in with one prejudice – I liked Megan Mullally in Will and Grace, but have not been able to watch anything else she has been in without grimacing. Her performance in It’s Only a Play, though, was surprisingly low-key, considering the nature of this (and her previous) role/s. I can’t say I liked her in this, but I didn’t dislike her, as I was expecting to.

Micah Stock, playing a coat-check boy/wannabe star was wonderful, and should get all the roles when this closes, early next year.

F Murray Abraham wasn’t in the show I saw – his understudy was ok in a role that was woefully underwritten.

Stockard Channing looked as if she felt out of place. Her plastic surgery didn’t help, and limited the range of emotions she was able to portray.

Matthew Broderick was the biggest disappointment of the evening – a self-consciously wooden performance. A shame, as he was one of the two main leads.

Rupert Grint surprised me. Despite being cast in a role that must surely have been written for a man at least 10-15 years older than him, his performance was confident and assured (despite an unfortunate, ill-considered scene with a glove puppet).

And Nathan Lane? Oh, Nathan Lane… Nathan Lane can surely do no wrong. The absolute highlight of the show. Thank goodness he was cast in the lead.

The play itself was a little light, and the humour a little broad – it felt like mid-career Alan Ayckbourn.

And what is it with American audiences and standing ovations? I’ve not yet seen a production that didn’t end with a standing ovation! These should surely be kept back for superlative productions and performances? Stand at every show, and you have nowhere to go from there! What do you then do when a show is truly brilliant? (Probably best not to answer that!)

So, a relatively harmless way to spend two hours, but for over $300 for 2 tickets, I’d expect more than “relatively harmless”.

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