Monday, December 11, 2006

If I Was A Mechanic, But Then Again….

During another ‘Really Intelligent Serious Conversations’ with my son Rik, and his subsequent account of the purchase of his newly acquired Volvo, I pondered a little. Why is this lad so keen to buy an old car and do work on it? Well, Dear Reader, it is because in my youth, I was exactly the same, and monetary reasons also dictated such things. Trying to drag up two children in Sarf London was expensive! I suspect that this activity became de rigeur in Rik's young mind, and continues to this day. The word 'tinkering' comes to mind.

We lived in a pleasant house at the end of a cul-de-sac. That’s a posh term for a dead-end street. We even had a patch of lawn (posh term for weeds) outside the front, which was actually the ‘dead-end’ of the street. Outside our house, there was often a motley crew of vehicles belonging to the Hughes household. Most were two-tone in color – whatever Mr. Ford or Mr. Austin had originally chosen, and rust, the latter being quite prevalent. The road took on a wonderful hue when it rained. That'll happen when it rains on leaking oil. The vehicles of the 60s had a knack of doing this. I was also in the habit of assisting other neighbors with their cars, who, for monetary reasons would resort to using The Aled Hughes Guide To Fixing Cars. A very thin book, you understand. This all added to the desolate look outside the house.

One day, after the failure of a rather snazzy (but flawed) Triumph 2000, I had purchased a French car (I know I should have been shot!) complete with white flag. It was a Simca, later taken over by the Chrysler Corporation – the company, not the car. This was an Estate Car (Wagon over here). It had such a small engine that it took about 30 seconds to get to 60 mph. The driver’s floor was always wet, and upon examination, there was a hole big enough to escape through and perhaps wave the white flag. However, duct tape, and a piece of ply-wood saved the day. Some carpeting was put over it so that the annual road test would not give the game away. Silly me. It failed miserably. But it kept my feet dry.

A brief digression here, the UK is obsessed with testing cars annually (after the age of three – the car, not the driver) for road-worthiness and one of the major causes of failure used to be rust. Now in a country which has more rain than Noah ever had to cope with, who in their right mind would declare that rust is not going to pounce upon your hard-earned treasure! To add insult to injury, salt is freely sprinkled onto roads upon the mere mention of snow or ice coming - usually in August.

Back to the plot. After a serious welding job, and many ££, the Simca was back in action. Unfortunately, while driving home one evening, I smelled smoke. The car was actually on fire in the engine department. I was able to coast home, and then to extinguish it with some ingenuity – my jacket. The white flag remained intact though. For the princely sum of £50 (about $100 in real money), I was able to purchase another Simca, albeit a saloon. Unfortunately, the rear axle of the saloon was shot, but the other one was fine. What could be simpler, I thought? Exchange the dead axle with the one from the burnt car. This is where DIY and the Hughes family meet. And this is where I learnt the word 'oxymoronic'. DIY and Hughes.....

With Rik’s (enforced) help, I was able to place about four jacks under the original car. One of these was a bottle-jack, where pressure keeps it working - it's a mechanical thing, where E=MC to the power of two or something like that. I’ll never forget the hiss from that thing – worse than a snake. Every few minutes required another pumping. The axle was removed. There were mutterings from neighbors about how was I going to get rid of the original car. There’s always someone willing to complain isn’t there. The jacks were used for the ‘new’ car. This is where problems started. The road that the car was on was not exactly flat, and while I was under the car, the snake decided to give up, and the other three joined in sympathy. Rik spotted this situation first, and screamed at me to get out as the car fell to its doom. I’ve never moved so fast in my life. Rik was very obviously concerned for my safety and welfare. It took him 10 minutes to stop laughing.

The upshot of all this was that both cars were towed to the graveyard to rot away in peace. At the same time, an MG Midget and a Ford Capri were also removed, closely followed by a Renault 16 and a rusting caravan. Much to the relief of the neighbors, I might add. I acquired a little Austin which was fine for my needs. This was soon traded for another Renault, which my dear wife crashed - twice. But that’s another tale of woe. Both wife and car.

Here endeth today’s lesson.