Well, after his weird gearbox behaviour at the weekend, old Grumpy made it to Thursday morning without another hitch. However, pulling onto the driveway last night I noticed a dark stain on the tarmac, so I had a look under the car and, sure enough, I was leaking something – probably transmission fluid, which would explain a lot. I was more anxious than ever then that the car wouldn’t make it to the garage this morning. It’s only 4 years old, done around 40,000 miles, and this really isn’t good enough for a modern vehicle. It’s more the sort of thing you’d expect when a car’s gone round the clock and is getting a bit tired, and you should be thinking of changing it.
With a modern vehicle you shouldn’t have to think about anything between services at all, other than checking the washer bottle and the tyres, now and then, but I find I’m fretting about something or other on old Grumpy all the time. I’ve had three holidays in various far flung corners of the UK, and every one has been tainted by the nagging fear that the damned thing won’t get us back home without calling out the AA. I should have traded it in last year, but the money’s needed now for other things like University Tuition Fees for numbers one and two sons, and it’s such a pain in the posterior changing your car anyway, I couldn’t be bothered and just hoped I was over the worst of it. I hope the Universities appreciate my sacrifice, but I doubt they’ll notice because they’ll be too busy squandering my life savings on champagn and cigars.
All I have to do, you might think is get the car to the garage, and let the experts sort it out, then hand over my debit card number and hey-presto! Problem sorted. Hmm,… have you experienced the main-dealership “experience” recently? I don’t like dealerships – they’re more expensive than the independents of course and you never get to talk to the mechanics. My uncle was a mechanic of the much maligned and undervalued backstreet variety, I was an amateur mechanic myself for many years before time became short and cars so complicated, plus I trained as an engineer on systems that make cars look simplistric, so I understand mechanics, but dealers keep them inexplicably under wraps, like they’ve got the plague or something. Instead they’re fronted by dolly birds or young lads who don’t know one end of a car from the other, but want you to think they do, while all you seem to be faced with is an uphill battle to make yourself understood, get yourself booked in and back on the road.
I’ve mostly driven older cars contented myself with a local independent garage for decades, but Old Grumpy, coming with the rump end of a Vauxhall warranty, and suffering a major breakdown a few years ago which required main-dealer back up, I’ve been sucked into the dealer’s seductively squeaky-clean showroom a few times now, but I think this will be the last occasion. Old Grumpy’s f*&£ed. He’s the property of the independent sector from now on.
Your vehicle’s an important part of your life, and in spite of the politically correct hogwash recently about us all getting back onto public transport in order to save the planet, the car is something we non-urban types simply cannot do without. Not even for a day. So, booking a service, or horror of horrors, an emergency repair can be a traumatic experience, because what do you do while your car’s being fixed? If dealerships were serious about your custom, they’d be falling over themselves to help you out, but the dealership I’ve been dealing with isn’t like that at all. It’s them doing you the favour, not the other way round.
Unless you’re going to take several days holiday while they fix your car, you’re going to need to borrow a car from them, in order to get to work. But I found that borrowing a car isn’t as painless as one might expect. First there’s a sharp intake of breath. You want what? Then you have to ring your own insurance company in order to get yourself insured to drive their car for a day. That costs you money – £18.00 in my case. The impression I got was they’d rather you made other arrangements. But I had no choice, so I jumped through the first of their hoops and got myself insured.
After sorting out the insurance yesterday, I turned up this morning very early, thinking I’d drop old Grumpy off, pick up their “courtesy” car and get in to work without losing any time. The first thing I was asked to do though, during the tedious booking in process, was to produce my driving license and my insurance details. Now, I wasn’t told to bring them, and I’ve never had to insure a “courtesy” car myself before, ever, so I hadn’t though to bring the damned things. However, no documents, no car, “sir”. So, I took a deep breath and drove home for them, listening for the gearbox burning out all the while, losing an hour of my morning, and imagining myself by now on the frowny side of the boss’s face because I wouldn’t be at my desk when I was supposed to be. Sorry boss, I know you’re not like that.
With paperwork finally in order and the key to the “courtesy” car finally handed over, I waited outside the dealership for someone to bring it round. It was a Vauxhall Corsa, fairly new, but to my dismay resembling a clown’s car in red and white, with the dealership advertising splattered all over it. Perhaps I was feeling a bit out of sorts this morning, but I was very cross about this; I mean let me get this straight; I was paying £18:00 and had already driven the best part of forty miles that morning, for the sole privilege of advertising their dealership? At this point it was on my mind to tell them to shove the car, then take a taxi home and book the day off as a holiday because I was beginning to feel I really needed to cut my losses here, if not financially, then at least emotionally. I was also an hour overdue for a cup of tea , and I’m British for pity’s sake!
The bloke who dropped the clown car off was pleasantly chatty but I found myself unable to engage as warmly as I might ordinarily have done. In the end I decided against taking a taxi home because it was irrational – I mean I’d paid for the “courtesy” car so I was damned well going to drive it. With a deep breath, I jumped in and set off, anxious by now to get to work, and thinking I was going to have to stay until six pm now to make up the lost time – and it was Kung Fu night, and I’d promised number two son I’d take him, and I didn’t want to miss it. However, there wasn’t a drop of petrol in the car, and there was a warning light flashing and telling me fill up immediately “or else”, so I was even more late for work, finding a petrol station, then squeezing in the bare minimum of petrol I was allowed. Do the dealers deliberately drain the petrol out of these things in order to save money? Will they drain what’s left of the petrol I’ve paid for, so the next poor sap has to struggle as well? By now I was up to £25.00 for the privilege of advertising the Vauxhall dealership, and my mood was plummeting.
Now, as usual, I try to find a place inside my head where I can look down on all of this and ask myself what I’m supposed to make of it, what I’m suppose to be learning from the greater perspective of life, the universe and everything. I mean, there’s no point in simply having a rant about every little thing that goes wrong, because that gets you nowhere, and simply drains your energy uselessly into the great void of illusion, as the Bhuddist’s might say. I struggled to think “skillfully” though this morning, and even found myself becoming “unskilfully” annoyed at the slow-coaches who seemed more numerous on the road than usual and held me up even more, making me even later for work. I arrived at the office, mid morning, feeling short changed by the whole experience,… and that was even before I got the bill for the repair of old Grumpy!
Was I supposed to observe how the dealership was a triumph of style over substance? Possibly, but I knew that anyway, and there were really no surprises there. Was I supposed to take a deep breath and notice that it was a lovely morning? Well, it was a lovely morning; it was bright, sunny and after a touch of frost the day was already warming up, and tempting me out of my top-coat,… but no,… I wasn’t for budging from that dark place in my head, not even for a bit of sunshine. For a long time then I remained huddled down in the darkness, like a sulky child, arms and legs folded while I took refuge under the table-top of my grumpy cynicism. Was the car a metaphor now for the grumpy old man I was in danger of becoming? Where had my Zen-ness gone? In short what was happening to me?
I was reminded then of a friend who used to drive around in a battered old Vauxhall Viva, back in the eighties. The gearbox mountings had begun rotting away, which meant the gear stick was getting shorter and shorter as the gearbox sank to the ground. To remedy the problem my friend tied the gearbox up with a bit of old rope and ran the car quite happily with it like that for a while. The car should have been scrapped years before because there was always one problem or another he was having to sort out. And it wasn’t as if he couldn’t afford a better car – he had a good job and lived simply, and when he was asked why he didn’t change it for something more reliable he said he believed we were only given so many problems in life to solve, and he’d rather they were all in his car, because they were localised and easily dealt with. If he changed his car for a brand new and hopefully fault free one, he might end up with a bad leg instead or all manner of other misfortune that wasn’t so easy to pin down. And he was only half joking.
This remembered anecdote finally punctured my dark mood and had me half smiling by lunch time, and thinking I should really give that friend a call, because it’s ages since we last had a walk and a talk.
It’s easy to get bound up in the minutia of life, and miss the bigger picture. The headache of the last few days, although personally frustrating pales into insignificance when you read of the problems currently being faced by people just like me trying to make their honest way in Libya, and I’m almost ashamed I considered my “bad” day even worth the blogging about.
Oh,… I know,… the dealer will rip me off, and if I’m lucky Old Grumpy may last another six months before his next major hiccough. My country may also be looking a little shabby around the edges, while we ordinary Brits tighten our belts and stoically darn our socks in order to save money so the leaders of our financial institutions needn’t forgo their usual ration of cigars and champagne, but at least I’m alive and well, and still able to get around without fear of getting shot at by my own government.
I made it to Kung Fu class, this evening, with only minutes to spare. I had a good night sparring with number two son and entering the first of the Shaolin Gates,… cool eh?… then drove home, took a shower, and finally caught my breath. The cursor of the laptop was winking at me from my desk, so I poured myself a glass of wine, then sat down and blogged the day out of my system.
Hold fast through your frustrations, dear reader, or as my Grandmother used to say, there are worse losses at sea,… and whatever’s dragging you down remember that it too will pass.
Old Grumpy’s still at the dealer – ratcheting up the bill and I’m still driving the clown car which number 2 son says has a funny “organic” smell that’s past its sell by date, and we’re afraid to open the boot in case there’s a body in there,… but it’s Friday tomorrow and the forecast for the weekend is fine.
Enjoy yourselves and stay safe.