It’s amazing how much of my life I live on autopilot. Yesterday morning I brushed my teeth, picked up my bags and headed out to my car. I sat down, turned the key and… nothing happened. I lie, a horrible grating noise happened. But the engine didn’t start. It took me a couple of seconds to comprehend this. I tried again. No engine. Damn. Now what?
I have an ex-boyfriend who used to buy cars on ebay for such low prices that anyone with any common sense would know there was something wrong with them, so I have a lot of experience of bump starting engines. Only this time there was nobody to push. I tried to think of someone in Oxford who I know well enough to call and ask them to help me start my car in the pouring rain. I couldn’t think of anybody. Well that’s depressing.
I looked through the owners manual and found ‘If the engine won’t start.’ It recommended that I contact the nearest Hyundai dealership. I took out my phone and googled ‘Getz 1.1 won’t start.’ The internet didn’t suggest anything that doesn’t involve waiting for new parts to arrive. I had to be at my Grandma’s birthday meal in about five hours. I opened the bonnet and stared blankly at the engine for a few minutes. It dawned on me that it’s actually raining quite a lot. I got back into the car to do what any straight thinking capable adult would do: I phoned my mum.
“Hello?” My sister answers the phone.
“Is Mum there?” I ask.
“Erm no, she’s at work. What’s up?”
“Well my car won’t start,” I begin. “So I suppose I was phoning to ask if she had any ideas.” There’s a silence, in which my faith in this plan all but disappears. “And I guess to say that I’ll be arriving a bit later than I originally said.”
“Oh, okay. Are you going to be alright?”
“Yeah. I’ll probably just jump on a train. See you later.”
I sat in the car a few minutes longer while I mustered the enthusiasm to go out into the rain. My phone rings as I am getting my bags out of the boot. My sister apparently decided that this is an emergency worth phoning Mum at work for.
“Mum says to ring Dad.”
I paused to consider what my father could do to help from behind a desk in Gloucester, before starting to haul my bags to the train station. About three minutes down the road I realised that, used to being insulated by my car, I’m not really dressed for this weather. My dress and tights are soaked through and my new, higher-than-usual heeled boots are starting to hurt my feet. I got on a bus.
At the station I found there was a train to Hereford leaving in five minutes time. This is good, I thought, things are working out well. As I settled down on the train I felt as though I was starting an adventure. Not knowing how I will get from the train’s destination to where I actually want to go reminded me of travelling in India and I became a bit over-excited about my journey. This is how to get places, I thought, as I get out my book and start to drink my tea, I don’t get to do this when I’m driving. I reconsidered selling my car and going everywhere by bike, bus or train. I became lost in the romantic appeal of public transport. That is, until it was time to get off the train and back into the wind and rain.
With each step I took against the wind, I swore under my breath. My only recently dried out dress became soaked again in a matter of minutes, the flowers I’d been carrying for my Grandma were becoming increasingly battered. I had no idea where to catch a bus to Newent from, but was still filled with an adventurous spirit.
I kept my sister informed of my progress via text message: “Am cold and soaked through. But alas! I have located the bus stop. Bus in 10 mins. See you soon.”
As the bus winds it’s way towards the my hometown I considered how doing things in a different way challenges us to learn new things. I’ve lived near Ledbury for most of my life without knowing where the bus to Newent goes from. I’ve arrived at the station countless times without knowing how to walk from there to the High Street (I’ve also been to the High Street countless times but always driven directly to both). I started to panic when I couldn’t find the bus stop and I didn’t have enough phone signal to look it up online. But then I remembered to ask someone – a real person, not somebody on twitter – and they pointed me in the right direction. I had actually forgotten about the kindness of strangers. I started to type these reminders on my phone: to foster an interest in my surroundings and to connect to actual people. But then I became too travel sick and had to stop.
There is enough of a walk from the bus stop to my house for me to get really wet again. When I arrived my sister pulls a sympathetic face and takes my bag. She unpacked it, hanging the damp clothes in the airing cupboard and laying out my electrical items on the dining table to dry.
“Isn’t it nice to have a mother,” said my Mum, watching my sister work. She paused and took a sip of her tea before adding, “Why didn’t you just call the RAC?”