Automotive Anxiety


The other day, Mrs H and I were pootling along in our little car, when the unthinkable happened (or rather, came to our attention). The unthinkable was portended by the ever-observant Mrs H.

‘Why is the car making a funny noise?’

She was right. There was something indefinably funny reaching my ears. Not hilarious, mind, since it required that she (as the passenger) get out to ‘take a look’. Luckily, the problem was immediately apparent. We had a flat tyre.

I’ll let you into a secret. I’ve often wondered what I would do in this situation. I knew that there was a spare in the boot, as well as the requisite tools to substitute it for the deflated one, but somehow, it all seemed beyond me. And it was raining. I convened a pow-wow with Mrs H.

‘You know,’ I said, ‘one shouldn’t really attempt to change a tyre by the side of the road. It isn’t safe’. I’d heard this somewhere, but suspected that it was more applicable on the motorway than a deserted South Gyle byway on a Sunday morning. Thus it was we decided to get the AA to prove themselves deserving of our annual subscription, which (delightfully) they were.

Mrs H graciously volunteered to wait in the car while I walked home. We were only a few minutes away, but naturally she didn’t emphasise this point to the AA man.

Anyway, we were quickly sorted, and the issue arose as to what would need to happen next. The AA man had outlined the necessary steps on a yellow bit of paper: ‘REPLACE PUNCTURED TYRE ASAP’. I got a sinking feeling, knowing that I was, that very afternoon, to deal with crew-cutted chaps with dirty hands. Spiffing.

There has been something quite emasculating about each and every encounter with automotive maintenance, and this was to be no exception. I made an appointment at Kwik-Fit, changed my intellectual, slim-fitting shirt for a tatty, begrimed hoodie, and set off. Once there, and after struggling momentarily with the push-pull arrangement of the entrance door, I minced in.

I was attended by a kindly-enough-looking chap (equipped with the requisite crew cut and dirty hands) and attempted to make my needs clear. I tried to convey the advice of the AA man (that we should have the steering alignment checked) and pretended I knew what that was all about. He seemed to get the hang of it quite quickly, and I was banished to the seating area while they got on with it. I had a sift through the magazines on the table: Prima, Heat and Marie Claire. I averted my eyes from such effeminate pleasures just until their backs were turned, and then got stuck in to a very interesting article called How To Get What You Want By Flirting. I wish I’d taken notes.

In time, my dedicated mechanic returned to tell me that the problem was fully rectified. I piped up cheerfully:

‘And how was that ol’ steering alignment?’

‘It was off by two.’

I wasn’t sure what he meant. Two degrees? Two minutes? Who knew?

‘Ah, that would explain the way the tyres were worn irregularly.’ We got this from the AA man. ‘Did you manage to get it…’ I groped for an appropriate verb. ‘…Recalibrated?’

Truth be told, I wasn’t sure that ‘recalibration’ best described the process of rectifying the ‘off by two’ issue, but it sounded reasonable.

‘Yep. You’re all set now.’


And that was us, I thought. And it was only when I was on the drive home that I realised the indicators were now wonky. The right one wouldn’t stay on, and the left one wouldn’t switch off.

On a brief return to Kwik-Fit, I was told that the problem had only arisen during their machinations only through sheer coincidence, and that they couldn’t fix it anyway. I was left realising that I’d have to go through all this again, with a whole new set of crew-cutted dirty-handers.

What a treat.

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