It’s out of my comfort zone to be discussing cars. Particularly my car whom I feel a guilty sense of responsibility for.
If something goes horribly wrong with him – his name is Bertie – then I could cause an accident. If he doesn’t work, I’ve lost a huge amount of my freedom. Buying a pint of milk suddenly becomes complex. Bus timetables, the tiny luggage area on a train and Sunday hours are nightmares I’d rather not have to think about.
He’s also kind of a family heirloom. He belonged to my granddad before he belonged to me, and my granddad would never have allowed him to be left with the wrappers of cereal bars on the floor, a torn up, wrangled map on the backseat and six months of dirt in the footwell. My granddad would have kept him shiny. Bertie would have been best friends with the vacuum cleaner and never out of water.
After our recent disasters, Bertie and I took a trip to the garage today.
How Bertie works I have no idea. By which I mean I’ve seen the video which shows that crazy cool whirry thing that allows cars to turn corners (if we’re lucky the Boyfriend will find me the link). And I’ve studied the Otto cycle from a wholly academic perspective, but I haven’t made much of a leap between such theories (which I never remember anyway) and a real life moving vehicle.
Ideally I’d take a car apart and put it back together again.
Anyway, all this lack of understanding leads to fear. Fear that I’ve done something wrong, neglected something I shouldn’t have, and that things are going to be terribly, terribly expensive.
Bertie’s nearly 15 years old.
So I don’t go to the nearest garage. Instead I ring up the number of the garage I went to back when I lived at the Hovel. I know that the phone is going to be answered in a cheerful, polite manner, by a woman who’s going to phrase her questions so that I actually understand them. She’s going to tell me when I can bring my car in to visit. She’s going to give me a quote before anything happens and she’s happy to explain it and advise appropriately.
At the garage, she takes the keys and asks how I am.
She’s smiling, always.
Any worries I might have dissipate as she confirms what they’re going to do with my car, passes the keys and the details back to the mechanic and we chat about Christmas. I tell her about the car getting stuck at my parents’ house, the trauma of moving all my belongings and we commiserate over computer mishaps – hers is playing up, mine is broken.
It’s small talk, but she listens as if it really matters.
A man comes through the door and she greets him warmly. He reports details about the car and tells her about a relation who’s been hospitalised. All the time she’s focused on what he’s saying. She seems genuinely concerned for the relation despite it being the first time she’s heard of their existence. She takes his keys and assures him they’ll get the car started and that he’s not to worry. The man thanks her, says bye to the both of us and then disappears again.
My new battery is a tiny bit cheaper than the original quote. The slightly cheaper battery had the longer warranty and she figured that would be a better solution for my needs.
I thank her. She wishes me Merry Christmas and I leave without ever having felt intimidated or given reason to worry.
She runs the sort of garage I think my granddad would approve of.