RSS Feed

» Listings for 2013

  1. Sun over hills (pic)



    When the car died at Autoparts on Saturday, I had to admit it was a convenient location. Driving up to town, the battery warning light had been on the whole time, the windscreen wipers were going at half speed, and the jets of water that clean the windscreen were barely hitting the bottom of the glass.

    With the garages all still closed up for the holidays, we went into the shop for some helpful advice. To cut a long story short, the probable diagnosis was a knackered alternator, and it was decided that if the car could be bump-started, we could limp it around the corner to our garage where it would be in situ for opening time on Monday.

    There’s something about bump starting that sends my brain into freeze mode. The situation is always accompanied by a gaggle of blokes who all know their way around a car, and automatically assume – in my case, rightfully – that the poor little woman doesn’t have a clue.

    My husband, who cheerfully admits that he knows nothing about cars and he’d rather ask a mechanic any day, is there, getting ready to push. Then there are the two incredibly helpful Autoparts guys, who explain in words of one syllable how I should proceed at the wheel. They ask – nicely – if I’ve done this before, and my instant answer is yes. Which is true. What I don’t tell them is that I’m actually not very good at it.

    I should know how to do this. I’ve been here many times before, usually trying for a start on our helpfully steep downward hill at home. Even there, my success rate is about one in ten, and has more to do with random luck rather than a thorough understanding of the principles.

    So this is how it goes in the Autoparts carpark: Handbrake off. Second gear position, with clutch engaged. When the car is moving, turn on the key, disengage the clutch and vroom vroom we go.

    Or not. The first time, I remember to take off the handbrake, but for some peculiar reason, put the car in fourth gear. I am already embarrassed, which doesn’t help. The second time, I do even better. The handbrake is off, but the car isn’t moving. After a tactful pause, one of the Autoparts guys appears at the window.

    “You’re in reverse, love.”

    “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” my husband says, less tactfully.

    The third time, I almost do it. Handbrake off, second gear position, clutch engaged. I triumphantly disengage the clutch …. and forget to turn the key.

    I jump helpfully out of the driving seat, my driver credentials in tatters. “You do it,” I say.

    Now the reinforcements arrive, so there are three members of the Autoparts team trying to get some life out of my car. Already embarrassed three times, I now feel desperately guilty that half the staff seems to be involved in what should be a perfectly straightforward operation.

     It is certainly no reflection on them that it refused to fire. They give it another three good goes, then reluctantly push it back into the parking space, keep the keys so it can be picked up on Monday, and reassure us that the car is safe.

    Grateful thanks to Autoparts, then, for all their help – and to our friend Brenda, who rescued us from the carpark along with our musical instruments and general clobber, which meant we could participate in the band practise for which we were originally headed. She then served up a great festive tea and gallantly drove us home to Gravir – a round trip of fifty four miles. We owe her a big one!




    Years Ago, when I still lived on the mainland, I worked in the schools department of Bradford Central Library. Once, the department placed an ad in the local paper for additional temporary staff to help with a massive cataloguing job. The ad was supposed to say that disabled people could apply for the work; somewhere between the original writer and the print processes, the ad ran with the stipulation that only disabled people could apply.

    The job involved being able to lift boxes of papers and books, use ladders to reach high storage points, and sort through material, placing each item in a relevant section. The interviews were conducted in our department, and as I worked at the book repair station, cleaning and sellotaping books which had been loved a little too vigorously by their young readers, I listened to the candidates for the posts describing their capabilities, and explaining what they could and couldn’t do. It was a chastening experience for someone who had rarely had a day’s illness and thought nothing of getting up in the morning, going to work, going out to eat, and all the other things associated with a lively urban lifestyle.

    Most of the applicants were not wheelchair bound, but nevertheless had damage to limbs or nerves, sight or organs that put severe restrictions on their activities. Some said that they could only work for two or three hours before cramps would set in, or a particular movement such as raising arms above the head was not possible. As well as the physical difficulties, most of them were also attending lengthy hospital consultations for physiotherapy and other clinics, which ate into huge portions of time every week.

    What most struck me and my colleagues about these people was their cheerfulness and willingness to get stuck in, and their delight in being able to actually apply for a job that wanted them. In stark contrast to healthy people who see a mild illness as a good excuse for a day off work, there was no whining or malingering. Like everyone else, I moan when I’ve got a cold, or complain if I wrench my arm, but it is possible to remain relatively cheerful when the problem is temporary and there is every expectation that it will not last long. I had never really before come into contact with people who had had to accept that they were permanently disabled, had been so for many years, and had no prospect of getting much better than they were.

    I was reminded of all this when in October,  I suddenly fell foul of a trapped sciatic nerve, and nine weeks down the line, am still hobbling about with a walking stick and wondering how the hell it happened, and why it still hasn’t gone away. Before I knew it, I was on four different drugs, three of which I’d never heard of before, and reduced to sitting on the sofa watching David Attenborough documentaries for comfort.

    All of a sudden, things I used to take for granted, like driving, playing saxophone, swimming, walking out with my camera, standing in the kitchen preparing food and baking my daughter’s birthday cake, became much more difficult – or, in the case of swimming, impossible – than they used to be. Concentration has been interrupted by pain, and even sitting at my desk proved a problem in the early days.

    Now, I still have the expectation that this is, although rather long-winded, a temporary glitch in the proceedings, but it has been a bit of a grim wake-up call that I should never take my health for granted. Limping into the craft market last weekend for the beginning of the Christmas season, I was painfully conscious that I couldn’t lug painted rocks from the car – which my daughter had driven – to the table, couldn’t help set up and break down the 30 tables required for the event, and had to watch my husband, daughter and son do everything they usually do, plus what I usually do as well.

    In these situations, one’s newfound limitations to carry out the usual tasks are very frustrating. In the course of the day, several of our traders came up to ask what had happened. I discovered that quite a few had experience of the drugs I was on and had suffered the same problem, and some were dealing with long term difficulties that I had never known about, some of which were, quite literally, life-changing events. 

    In the past, I’d always listened sympathetically to people with long-term health problems, but there was nothing like getting a taste of it myself to make me understand, as I had in Bradford Schools Library all those years ago, how fortunate we are when we enjoy good, uninterrupted health – and how quickly we can cross the line. It’s also taught me the value of not whinging and thinking in terms of what I can do, rather than what I can’t, because as the old saying goes, there’s always someone worse off than you are – and whatever you’re dealing with, there’s always something in life to be grateful for.