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Pause for thought

Aug 15, 2018
It had just turned 11:30 pm on a dark and humid night. We were driving back from a jazz concert in Tunbridge Wells with our friends Mike and Dawn and full of the joys of a very entertaining evening.

Tony Allen: And finally...I must confess that on the way out of the car park, and in the darkness, I had collided with a curb that I had failed to notice was there, but hey-ho we all do it.

We had just reached the windiest, darkest and narrowest part of our homeward journey when suddenly I became aware of a rumbling noise coming from the back of our vehicle and, knowing that the lady wife had not eaten anything that might disagree with her, it became utterly apparent that we had a puncture. All of the passengers confirmed this in voluble form.

I had to think quickly, there was nowhere safe to stop so I continued our journey with the help of the rim of the wheel. Pretty soon, and fortuitously, we found a somewhat dilapidated lay-by and pulled over; upon inspection the only casualty so far was a £250 tyre. We all tried to act very calmly and, to be honest, if we’d have had a five piece concert orchestra on board I’m sure that they would have gone on playing.

In former times, changing a wheel was laborious but simple. Not any more – and some vehicles don’t even have one. Mike and I rapidly came to the conclusion that we needed a degree in mechanical engineering to progress, and the handbook was of limited use. Why does everything have to be so damn complicated these days?

Finally we decided to call out the breakdown service, although we knew that this would not get a speedy response owing to our location and the time of night. After going through a whole host of security questions - address, date of birth, glove size, etc. – we were told that we would have to wait for sixty to ninety minutes. What! And I pay £75 a year.

So far we had only been passed by two cars and then a third one stopped and a very nice young man asked if there was anything he could do to help. Mike asked if he was going anywhere near East Grinstead (where we live). He said that he was and so he agreed to drop the ladies off back home. This was a great relief and I suggested to Mike that he go back too, but he insisted that he stay with me. I must confess that after they had left it did occur to us that they might both end up in a distant Arab souk being exchanged for camels; although I’m not quite sure what the exchange rate for camels is. They did phone twenty minutes later to say that they had arrived home safely, so that was a relief.

We got back into the front of my car and watched as the ‘Samaritan’s’ car slowly disappeared into the night. Darkness seemed to press in upon us, and apart from the intermittent click of my warning lights the only sound was that of the wind in the nearby trees, oddly like waves upon the shore. We were the only people in the world.

I’ve known Mike for around four years due to our mutual love of music. We now had ample time to talk and listen and we discussed each other’s lives uninterrupted by the ever increasing cacophony of modern life. We joked and we laughed until finally, in the distance, we saw flashing orange lights. Too late for an ice cream van, so it must be our breakdown vehicle – and it was.

He managed to park adjacent to us and I noticed that he was carrying a badly damaged vehicle with almost the whole roof missing.

‘Whatever happened there?’ I asked.

‘Vehicle overturned quite near here, which is why I took so long getting to you. Looks terrible but the occupant was lucky, only had a broken hip. But I suppose that’s bad enough as she wasn’t all that young’.

Within minutes the wheel was changed and we were mobile. I thanked the driver for ‘saving our bacon’, and then he was gone.

With a great sigh of relief the engine started and we were on our way back to the real world. Once  resolved, these kind of episodes are soon forgotten, but as we drove home it really made me ponder how those simple things like friendship are often taken for granted, and how we can know somebody for many years without really actually knowing them - because we are too busy to ask and too busy to listen. On that dark and humid night the fragilities of life were very much in my mind. (Five camels by the way)

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