Parked at the supermarket last week for a quick shop (in, oot, nae hingin’ aboot), and on returning to my vehicle, could not help noticing it had suffered a prolapse (I think diagnostically in medical terms). Something was “hanging down” at the front, off-side. I thought it might be a foreign body, but alas, it was integral. I phoned the garage, and struggled to describe the pathological appearance.
“Sounds like the under-tray, sir. Can you bring it in tomorrow morning? 8.15 all right?”
“Perfect. Should be a quick fix. Just a loose screw.”
I got there in plenty of time, handed the keys over, and went for a walk. I always experience a sense of liberation when I relinquish the automobile and become a pedestrian. The tempo of life necessarily slows down. I cut a swathe across an industrial estate in the direction of the city centre, noticing the way those of us on foot (I already felt a sense of moral superiority over the motorist) sometimes eschew the pavement and take a more direct route that has forged a path across the grass expanses and through the hedgerows. The birdsong never ceased. I enjoyed the sensation of walking the still quiet streets of Stirling waking up. Commuters paused at newspaper racks and coffee shops. I nodded and said hello to them, like Crocodile Dundee on New York’s Fifth Avenue.
I left the city centre and walked south west, parallel to the railway line, and into unfamiliar territory. It occurred to me that if I kept going, rather than turn back, I would sooner or later come to a bridge that would let me cross the railway and thus afford me a round trip. So it turned out. There was a rather handsome footbridge, with extensive ramps for cyclists, as well as pedestrian stairways. I crossed over and found myself in a quiet country lane surrounded by green fields populated by contented cows chewing the cud and apparently enjoying the sunshine.
Still no word from the garage, so I extended my walk through a wooded area in the direction of Bannockburn, coming eventually to Ladywell Park, a very beautiful area of grassland in an extensive hollow on the edge of the town. Ahead of me was a remarkable structure, a bridge across the burn, carrying the town’s main thoroughfare, a double arch, the lower arch inverted so as to form an apparent wide circle in the centre of the bridge’s superstructure. It was very eye-catching. It turned out to be a creation of the great engineer Thomas Telford, erected in 1819. When I saw it I was reminded of a recent brief report in The Herald, announcing that the footbridge above Callander crossing the Bracklinn Falls, which had been swept away in a violent storm a decade ago, and was replaced by an apparently robust and sturdy structure, has now been deemed unsafe and irreparable, and is to be demolished and once more replaced. Yet I fancy Mr Telford’s bridge will still arouse admiration a millennium from now.
At this point the garage phoned me to gloom me up. The car was up on the ramp. The under-tray was beyond repair and needed to be replaced. Moreover, the mechanic had spotted a bust coil spring. Well, when I stopped to think about it, it all made sense. I recently hit a pot hole in Glasgow’s Clydeside Express. It was a real boneshaker. A warning exclamation mark illuminated on my dashboard. I suppose that must have accounted for both the tray and the spring. Actually I confess, I hit that pothole three times. Now once is unfortunate, twice careless; three times it’s sheer crass stupidity.
Repair-wise, a substantial three figure sum was mentioned. Must needs I suppose.
By now the day was very hot and I hadn’t brought a hat. I went back through the lovely Balquidderock Wood and into town, popped into Waterstones and, in order to pass the time, bought Andrew Gimson’s book on the US Presidents. I grabbed a coffee, found a snuggery, and settled down to read. Often I read history books from back to front, starting with the familiar and receding into the past and to the unfamiliar. This book I read in contrary motion, darting from front to back to front. Washington, Trump, Adams, Obama, Jefferson, Dubya… after the fashion of constructing a bridge from each side of a river, hoping to meet up somewhere in the middle. Grover Cleveland, or thereabouts.
The garage phoned. A glitch. Something unforeseen. I was dazzled by technicalities. The graunching stanchion hook failed to meld with the tamping gurney. Or words to that effect. Bottom line, work would roll on to the next day. All well and good, but I had a pressing appointment next morning. Could I please have a courtesy car? They were all lent out. All right, so can I hire a car? Yes. I went in.
It occurred to me that, since the defaulting graunching stanchion hook was really their responsibility, the hired car really ought to be afforded courtesy status. But, having carried out various medico-mechanical procedures myself, which haven’t always gone exactly to plan, I cut them some slack, and hired the car. Did I have my driver’s licence? Yes. Did I have some sort of DVLA attestation of fitness? No. That’s okay, we can do it on online. Did I have corroboration of my address? No. But you must surely have something on your phone. I can assure you, I have nothing on my phone. At this stage, the assistant looked at me with profound suspicion, and started to speak more slowly, and more loudly, and with a kind of overlay of faux-kindliness, as if I had suddenly been categorised as elderly, infirm, and demented. She presented the problem to a higher authority. The higher authority looked at me, and said, “You a Volvo customer?” and gave her the nod. I said thank you, and drove home in my Renault Clio. Blue tooth technology. All sorts of bells and whistles that I couldn’t interpret. I might have been in the cockpit of an Airbus A380. Running the gauntlet of the A811, I found the steering to be a little light.
Anyway… next morning I jumped into the Renault to attend my urgent appointment. Small problem, I couldn’t find reverse. All I needed to do was to “push back” (as the aviators say at the terminal gate) to avoid taking out my neighbour’s fence. I consulted the car manual, to no avail. Ever since the bells and whistles took over, the paperwork has become less and less helpful. I actually released the handbrake and attempted to “push back” manually. But the car was on a slope and I couldn’t do it. I phoned and cancelled, or at least, ever hopeful, postponed my appointment. Then I telephoned the garage, hoping not to be answered by the lady who already thought I was an idiot, to explain my problem. It turned out I needed to elevate an invisible flange lurking under the gearshift’s knob. Totally counterintuitive, I can assure you, even if, once explained, it was ludicrously simple. I attended my rescheduled appointment.
Then, long story short, the garage phoned and my car was ready. I duly went in.
“How was the Renault?”
“Okay, once I’d figured out how to reverse.”
He laughed. “Ah, so that was you!”
“Actually I found the steering a bit light.” I was reminded of Matt Damon’s line in one of these Bourne Identity-Supremacy-Ultimatum-Legacy films, just before he takes, for a hair-raising drive, the Mini of the lovely Franka Potente. Something like, “I thought the tyres were a bit squelchy.” So I’m glad to have the Volvo back. At least I know where to find reverse. Ovlov.