Not being a Penelope Pitstop sort of lady, my car has proved one of my biggest challenges over the last 12 months. Like any good relationship we need each other – Mavis and I – but my goodness she has proved as temperamental and needy as her owner. The mini dramas she promised when we met 8 years ago, hinted at excitement and adventure not the leaking engine oil and flat tyres that in reality she has brought to our relationship.
It started back in the summer with two flatish tyres – I’d parked her, as usual, at the school where I work. Luckily an observant colleague brought this bad tyre news to my door well before I set off to drive home in the dark; through gritted teeth I was able to acknowledge the blessing of having the option to limp Mavis to a garage conveniently around the corner. The experience cost me two new tyres, but I’d coped. More importantly, I was able to drive home.
Two days later, same parking place and another flat tyre. This time totally flat. The garage won’t come out to look at Mavis and I can hardly bear to look at her myself. The tyre is too flat even for Kamikaze Mama J to risk driving it. Another kind colleague enlightens me on the kit of gunge that is apparently a new-fangled substitute for the spare tyre I always thought Mavis had hidden away in the depths of her bodacious backend. We elastoplast the tyre with this foamy stuff and Mavis and I limp around the corner for another pit stop. The garage can see no fault with the new tyre they fitted earlier in the week and tell me that it must be students letting my tyres down. I feel sick; life’s tough enough without the thought of adolescent sabotage.
I start parking on a different part of the school site, right under the CCTV. Thankfully no new serial drama.
In a metaphorical parallel to my personal life, however, my front passenger door then starts refusing to open. I allow a few nimble passengers to climb over the driver’s seat for a few short journeys before realising that as well as being ungainly, it must be totally illegal to travel like this – with no emergency exit for any companions. I compound the metaphor and start travelling solo.
In my usual style, at first I hope that the problem will just sort itself out and that by some miracle I’ll return to the car one day and the passenger door will decide to open. I’ve been hoping something similar might happen in my personal life.
In the interim I try a couple of garages and in both I’m greeted with that sucking in of breath that only plumbers and electricians can do, and an acknowledgement that no-one really wants to touch the car for risk of damaging the door.
Finally I can bear it no longer and in a kill-or-cure moment leave the car with another local garage, telling them to do their worst. Mavis and I are no longer spring chickens and both of us can surely cope with a little damage to our bodywork. I’m missing having company in the car. With my new found assertiveness, when I drop the car off I also ask the mechanic to listen to the engine which has become so loud that I think my ears are starting to bleed.
Good news at last means that the passenger door is fixed and that I can start enjoying company again. The garage also reassures me that the engine is fine and it’s just Mavis’ age. I should have perhaps checked out that Mavis had indeed been taken for a spin, but I’m just thankful that the returning cooperation of the car door coincides with both mum leaving hospital and FD returning from her travels. Rather than being grateful for my renewed chauffeuring capacity however, my returning passengers all express shock at the noise of my apparently menopausal engine (mum even takes out the batteries in her hearing aids). I feel protective of Mavis and ask passengers not to voice their concerns. I’m starting to get that sick feeling in my stomach again.
In this interim period of denial I certainly clock up some miles. I’m up and down the motorway to see mum, I’m moving FD into her new flat, I’m visiting FS and I’m chugging to and from work and squeezing in a couple of half marathons. I learn to keep the radio on very loud to try and drown out both the sound of the engine and my hunch that all is not well with Mavis.
Finally this last weekend allows me to visit my Oldest Friend on the south coast. (Remember, she’s not my oldest friend, but I have known her the longest of all my friends, and the same goes for her lovely husband). Lovely Husband runs his own car business* and I ask him if he’ll take my car for a run to see what he thinks about the engine. (I know he would do this even if he didn’t run his own car business* but it’s doubly reassuring to know Mavis is in the hands of an expert, at last).
The news is broken to me gently. Mavis’ wheel bearings are broken and that’s been the cause of her mechanical whinging. Not to be too dramatic about this, apparently my wheels could have flown off at any time. To compound the issue, during one of her many garage visits, apparently new brake pads have been put over Mavis’ worn out brake discs, so any balletics on my many recent motorway journeys could have been ungainly to say the least.
I’m suddenly very fond of Mavis again. Despite her neediness and whinging, she’s held it together over the last year and protected me and the precious cargo I have often travelled with. We need friends like this. I’m proud of her.
I feel the same about Oldest Friend and Lovely Husband. I didn’t think it was possible to be any fonder of them, but their calmness and support over Mavis make me value them even more. Like Mavis they have held me together and protected me over the last year – with no added drama, even though their own lives have been far from peaceful.
LH returns Mavis to me with everything fixed; I sense her relief as soon as I drive her and the knot in my stomach symbiotically vanishes. I feel a mini sense of security for the first time in ages.
OF and LH feel we should round the weekend off with a mini adventure, and that’s what we do. This time there is a carnival spirit, a mammoth bonfire and a LOT of fireworks on Littlehampton sea front. A procession of traction engines preludes the lighting of the bonfire and I inhale their noise, their smell, and the eccentricity of their fancy-dressed owners with pleasure. I’m used to this sort of transition.
Mavis doesn’t join us on this occasion, but I sense she and I may have a few mini adventures ahead of us yet; a few whacky races together may just engineer more stories to overly dramatise. Reassuringly LH has promised to keep Mavis together through our hormonal years and I’m sure OF will do the same for me. There be fireworks and we love those.
*John Mitchell Racing Limited