Most people don’t run out of petrol more than once in their lives. I am not most people.
When I was an undergraduate student in UCC, I was given £10 by my mother to put petrol in the car one weekend. I decided instead to put only £5 of petrol in the car and buy cigarettes with the other £5. This was a mistake.
A few days later, I was driving along Cork’s main road, Patrick Street, when the car started sputtering and spluttering and then stopped. I realised what was happening and managed to steer my car into the taxi rank that was in the middle of the street. I was immediately approached by menacing-looking cab drivers. When I explained my dilemma to them, they were sympathetic, but they were quite firm that I couldn’t leave the car in their taxi rank. They helped me to push it to the side of the road – into a bus stop.
I left a note in the window, saying “gone for petrol”, and walked off to find a petrol station. The only place I knew of in town where you could get petrol was the Esso on the Western Road, by the main gates of UCC. I walked out there and discovered that the petrol station had been knocked down. I later learned that it had been demolished a good six months earlier. I just hadn’t noticed.
I made my way back to my car. I got to Patrick Street. The car wasn’t where I had left it. I checked every bus stop on the street, completely nonplussed. “How could you steal a car that has no petrol?” I asked myself. Then it hit me. I had been towed.
My mother wasn’t one bit happy with me as she drove me to the City Pound. I had a watering can full of petrol clamped between my knees, splashing my trousers as we went over pot holes. We got to the pound and my mother paid the £140 needed to release the car. Thankfully, the situation dictated that we go home in separate cars.
The summer after this incident, I ran out of petrol in the little village of Lispole on the way to Dingle. Luckily, I was relatively near the petrol station. Also luckily, there aren’t many parking regulations in Lispole. It was here that I paid the smallest amount I have ever paid for petrol. It turns out that €3.47 is enough money to get you from Lispole to Dingle.
After this, it was at least eight years before I ever ran out of petrol again.
In 2009, I was driving to Belfast to give one of my weekend courses. I was giving a friend of mine a lift so he could visit his family who lived there. I knew when I was setting out that I would need to stop for petrol. But my friend was feeding me sweets. Not only did he distract me by placing toffees in my mouth, like some bizarre, mutant version of Holy Communion, but he also put the bag of sweets down on the dashboard in front of the petrol gauge.
I can hardly be blamed.
We heard the sputtering and spluttering of the engine somewhere outside Banbridge, and as I calmly and resignedly steered my car onto the hard shoulder, my friend spluttered a bit in surprise himself.
We decided to split up. I would stay in the car, smoking, and my friend would go and find help. He walked about three minutes along the road and then returned, saying that there was nothing to be seen for miles, other than the pigs (or possibly sheep) in the field next to us. It was dark and the pigs (or possibly sheep) were quite scary. My friend phoned his Dad, who drove out from Belfast and saved us. I may have been 28 years old, but if your Daddy won’t help you, who will?
I swore never to run out of petrol again. And I meant it.
A week later, I was driving to Tralee to give another of my weekend courses. I was somewhere between Newcastle West and Abbeyfeale when I noticed the petrol gauge flashing at me. This time I was going to be sensible. I pulled over and rang Toyota Eurocare to ask where the nearest open petrol station was. It was close to midnight, but surely either Newcastle West or Abbeyfeale had to have a 24-hour petrol station. Surely! I had more than enough petrol to get to either town.
Toyota Eurocare refused to deal with me. My year’s free membership had lapsed. I rang my brother and the AA. The AA informed me that the nearest 24-hour petrol station was in Limerick city. “How do people live out here?” I quietly moaned, as I turned the car around and drove to Limerick. Miraculously, I had enough petrol to get to Limerick. Then I saw a petrol station. My heart lifted. And then, with a sputter and a splutter, my little car came to a stop. The petrol station was only about 200 metres away up a hill. I flagged down a passing motorist. He jumped out and started pushing the car. After nearly breaking his back, he asked if I had left the handbrake on. I had. Once we got moving, I realised I couldn’t steer the car. The wheel was locked. I stopped my Good Samaritan a second time. He showed me how to unlock a steering wheel. Then he pushed both me and my car up the hill to the petrol station. I can’t imagine he needed to work out again that week, or the next.
On New Year’s Day this year, I set off to Cork to celebrate my nephew’s birthday. I had about a third of a tank of petrol and about four euros. A third of a tank is usually about enough to get to Cork. If I used my €4 for tolls on the way, I could stick to the motorway and a quicker journey should mean that I was less likely to run out of petrol. I dismissed the alternative strategy of buying €4 worth of petrol and going the longer route with no tolls. This was longer and riskier.
The gauge dropped alarmingly quickly. I was still in Tipperary, passing a sign that said 15 km to Cahir, when the warning light started flashing. There was no way I could make it home. Or was there? I drove at as steady a speed as I could. I passed Cahir. And Mitchelstown. And Fermoy. And Rathcormac. And Watergrasshill. And Glanmire. Wow! Very, very near. I was on the approach to the roundabout where you choose whether to go into Cork city centre or around the Ring Road, when I heard that familiar sputter and splutter, and I pulled up on the hard shoulder.
I rang my sister. She came to rescue me. She put petrol in the car. We then had to jump start the car as the warning lights had worn down the battery (I have no idea what I’ve done to the battery, but it really is rubbish). In order to jump start me, my sister did a three point turn, on the dual carriageway, in the dark, twice.Wow.
I’d been rescued. What really surprised me about the whole situation was that no one was at all surprised. I posted on facebook, saying I’d run out of petrol. Only one person commented. When I got home, no one mentioned the incident. In three days in Cork, my parents didn’t even make a passing reference to it. It did come up in conversation with my brother and sister two days later, but neither of them expressed any surprise, shock, awe, anger, disapproval, indignation or contempt. They didn’t mock me or sympathise with me.
Me running out of petrol is apparently completely unremarkable. Not in the slightest bit odd. Completely commonplace.