It was the night before the most recent lockdown when my exhaust pipe snapped. “There were sparks coming out from under your car,” said a passing cyclist. The car, a 56 plate Honda Jazz, is neither diesel nor hybrid powered, but what followed could have happened to ones that were, so bear with me.
It was dark, I was in Sudbury, Suffolk, eighty miles from home and there was a fireworks display not far off, which my dog wasn’t enjoying. I’d done my back in, so that levering myself down onto the tarmac to survey the damage was a slow process. What I saw made me call the AA. I was treated to an interminable list of pre-recorded options, then ordered to fill in a form and text it to a place where actual people would read it and call me. Fifteen minutes later my phone rang, and a nice bloke with a Brummy accent insisted I grind through all the information that I’d previously sent by text.
“We’ll send someone,” he said. “It should take 35 minutes to an hour, and if you’re very unlucky, it might take two, but that’s unlikely.” After an increasingly cold sixty minutes, my phone’s battery had 10 per cent of its charge left. When it rang, my friend from the AA was back on the line asking, ‘if our ‘breakdown partners’ had been in touch?’ I said no they hadn’t, and my phone was about to die.
“I’ll call them and let you know as quickly as I can,” said breakdown man. He was good to his word, but the news wasn’t good. “It will be another thirty-five minutes. I’m really sorry, but it’s manic out there.”
An hour later I was still waiting. The dog rug was on my lap, the dog on the rug. I tickled his ears with gloved fingers. Thirty minutes on, nobody had turned up. I shifted the dog, grabbed his lead, climbed out of the car, spread the rug onto the icy tarmac like some moth-eaten magic carpet, and sank onto it. Feeling the car’s filthy underside over where its moribund silencer was hanging, I found an excrescence from which the dog lead could hang. The handle slipped over the broken pipe. I pulled on the lead and the exhaust was off the tarmac. Once the lead’s other end had made friends with the tow bar, I started the car. It was a bit flatulent, but didn’t sound like a tractor. It seemed like we were good to go.
Sadly, my phone battery had gone, and I couldn’t call the breakdown people to let them know, so I gingerly set off.
Six hours after beginning a two-hour journey I finally got home, having navigated the M25 and M20 at a steady 60mph, hoping that the nylon lead wasn’t being cooked by stray exhaust gases until it dropped to pieces. It hadn’t, and our village garage man expressed grudging admiration at the effectiveness of my eccentric impromptu roadside repair.
He was also able to affect a proper fix, thanks to a Passat booked in for servicing that morning being trapped on its owner’s driveway, thanks to a dead handbrake motor.
By contrast, my hard luck story had actually been a lucky break with a happy ending. His hadn’t even started.