Since I got the car back from the mechanic, I’ve been something of a nervous driver. The car was fine when I drove quickly, but if I drove slowly the car started to chug alarmingly and the engine would cut out suddenly. Given that every time I park I do a 37-point turn, I found the engine stopping suddenly at least six times every single time I stopped anywhere. As I say, it was fine so long as I drove over 40 mph, so I was relegated (or elevated, depending on your perspective) to the role of Sandra Bullock (or Keanu Reeves, depending on your perspective) in the movie Speed (or to the role of Dougal in Father Ted with the milk float, depending on your perspective). I was more worried about short journeys than long ones because it’s easier to drive fast over long distances, so I had no qualms about driving to Dublin for an afternoon of work on Thursday.
I had a 2:00, a 3:00 and a 4:00 appointment and at about 12:30 I was driving along the Kinnegad bypass (taking the by-roads to avoid the motorway toll, because I’d somehow found myself impoverished again.) The car started sputtering, the battery light started flashing and then it just stopped. I managed to steer it into the cycle lane. It wouldn’t start again. Because the battery light had been blinking, I guessed that’s what it was, opened the bonnet and tried to flag down a car so they would help me to jump start it. I waved as car after car passed me. No one was interested in stopping for me. I put my hand down, dejected. Almost as soon as I stopped trying to wave a car down, a man pulled over offering to help me. The lesson, I believe, is that you shouldn’t ask – you should just look helpless.
The man was middle-aged, with a streak of hippy. He had well-ironed trousers and a proper shirt with a collar, but his beard was too straggly for business and he had an entertaining bracelet on. We tried to jump start the car and failed. It was a more serious problem than I’d hoped. He gave me directions to the nearest garage, a ten-minute walk across the motorway. I emailed my 2:00 and my 3:00 appointments, cancelling them, still holding out hope that I’d be in Dublin for my 4:00 and that I wouldn’t have to give up an entire day’s pay, and walked to the garage. It was 1:05 pm. There was a sign up saying that the garage would be closed for lunch from 1:00 – 2:00. I walked back across the motorway and sat into my car.
At 2:00 I returned to the garage. I told the man who greeted me that my car had broken down on the road. He said “What year is your Polo?” I hadn’t told him it was a Polo. The Country is scary. There are no secrets. He told me to sit in the waiting room, that no one was free at the moment, but that they should be able to see to it in about half an hour. The waiting room was in a prefab, the walls were mildewy and 2FM was playing on a crackly radio. There was a plentiful supply of motoring magazines, which I don’t understand, but my phone battery was running out, so I was grateful for some kind of diversion.
A little later, the garage boss, Kevin, popped in to tell me that “two of the lads” were going out to have a look at the car. I didn’t need to tell him where the car was. They knew because this is The Country. After fifteen minutes, my car was towed through the gate, looking forlorn. At this stage it was 2:45. I emailed my 4:00, cancelling the appointment and my phone battery died.
Kevin came in again, saying that it was my fuel pump. I told him I’d had my fuel pump replaced a week before. In fact, I’d had it replaced twice if you remember: the second-hand pump that didn’t work and then the new one, which did, except clearly it didn’t. He said that the fuel pump in my car wasn’t a new one. Had my local mechanic ripped me off? He brought it in to show me. I had no idea what a new fuel pump should look like, but I nodded when he told me that this pump was “spurious”. He asked how much I’d paid for the pump. When I told him, he said that I hadn’t been ripped off, just lied to. He said a new fuel pump could cost ten times what I’d paid for the one I’d got. He said he’d ring around some scrap yards, get another fuel pump and get me back on the road.
What followed was the most boring few hours of my life. I was in that waiting room with 2FM drilling through my soul for about six hours. My phone was dead, I was alone and I didn’t know if there was anywhere within walking distance I could go to. The garage was a busy one, and so I could watch “the lads” work on cars. The garage was surrounded by fields full of brown cows, who don’t look as threatening in daylight as they do on my night-time walks in my little village. Occasionally, someone else would be sent to the waiting room, but only one of them stayed longer than 5 minutes: a woman and her three-ish-year-old son who stayed for about half an hour. He was an adorable creature, giggling at a Minions game on his mother’s phone and when someone rang, insisting that he get to “press red” meaning that his mother would sometimes have to call people back because he would get very upset if the other person hung up first so he couldn’t “press red”. She did it in that wonderful way parents have of being resigned to the path of least resistance, where there is no more “ridiculous” any more, there is just screaming or no screaming.
At times I was very zen. I pondered existence and looked at the clouds. At other times, when 2FM just got to be too much, I found my heart crying out. I got stressed by the silliest things. I spent a good twenty minutes inwardly screaming “I don’t even know what county I’m in! What if I have to spend the night in Kinnegad? Do they have hotels here? How on Earth will I afford one? Where is Kinnegad anyway? How can I have a crisis properly when I don’t know what county I’m in?” I don’t know why I attached so much importance to knowing what county I was in, but I did.
It was after 7:00 pm when my car was ready. Kevin told me that they’d fashioned a new fuel pump from the parts of other fuel pumps and it was just a temporary solution to get me home. He told me that my frankenpump was not really roadworthy, but should be able for one journey. He told me to go up through the gears very slowly and to keep a steady speed and to bring the car to another garage the following day.
I asked him how much I owed him. Having told me that they had assembled a frankenpump out of second-hand parts and he was giving me a car that, in his own words, wasn’t roadworthy, I was half expecting him to tell me that it would be free. Then I could appear magnanimous by giving him twenty euros anyway. I was wrong. He got out a calculator and charged me €70.
I got into the car and started driving. It was making a very odd noise. My car cut out again and again as I tried to drive up the little slope to get onto the road from the garage. As I was to learn over the next hour and a bit, hills were not the frankenpump’s friend. I stopped for petrol, spending my last €25 to get me home.
It was the most stressful drive of my life.
The car shrieked, chugged and spluttered all the way home. It fought me, trying to stop, but I just kept driving. It hated changing gears. And who knew there so many hills on the N4? For the first time in my life, I noticed that roundabouts are usually set a little lower than the road and that driving onto a roundabout is fine, but driving away from one is serious work when you only have a frankenpump. There are a lot of roundabouts between Kinnegad and my village.
Worst of all was the heat. It terrorised me. Heat was radiating from the floor of the car. My feet were boiling. The handbrake was hot to the touch. I vividly imagined the car exploding again and again and again as I drove home, fighting every little slope like it was Kilimanjaro. I arrived in my village and didn’t bother parking. I just stopped the car on the side of the road, rather than in one of the actual parking spaces outside my house and ran inside.
My car hasn’t exploded.
I spent the next day, Friday, hibernating. Literally. I stayed in bed all day, only getting up at 8:00 pm to go to the loo and eat something and was back in bed before 10:00. I didn’t venture outside until Saturday, when I turned the car and parked it in an actual parking space.
My Vietnamese employers are even later paying me this month. It’s now almost three weeks since payday and no money has materialised yet. My other main paycheque isn’t due for another week. I’m late with my rent. I can’t get my car fixed. And my heating oil has run out, so I’m wandering around the house wrapped in a blanket. I wish I was better with money. I ran out of food yesterday and had to borrow money from a friend yet again. I wish I was better with money. I’m making as much money, or more, than I ever have before, but I just haven’t managed it well and the unpredictability of my pay dates isn’t helping.
But on another level, I don’t care. I might be freezing cold in my house because I can’t afford oil. I might be trapped because I can’t afford taxis and my car is a death trap. And I might have been reduced to porridge for both lunch and dinner yesterday, but that’s OK.
Because I’m more satisfied with my life than I have been in a long time. I have eaten within my recommended calories for 30 days in a row. I think it must be three years, or maybe more, since I’ve gone a whole month without a single binge. I haven’t weighed myself in the last week because I haven’t been able to afford to go to Boots since the car decided to stop working, but I know I’m lighter than I was. And 30 days without a binge is miraculous. And my body is getting used to walking again and I feel my legs looking forward to their walks again, like eager puppies. And I have finally actually started doing what I moved to the countryside to do. I’m writing and I’m working on my projects and there will be more to be revealed about all that soon, but for the moment, let me just say that it’s all good.
And One Direction’s new song is glorious and their best song since Night Changes back in November 2014. And Gilmore Girls is coming back for a four-episode revival series on Netflix and everything is good.