Saturday 19 July 2008

The will to live: hanging by a thread

14st 1lb; zero alcohol yesterday (so two day average down to a mere 11.5 units); 1,296 weary days left to fill; Chester.

I started losing the will to live yesterday afternoon as I was driving into the car park of the Alnwick Homebase (never let it be said that I don’t lead a glamorous life) and a siren started bleeping frantically. What sort of idiot would let their car make a noise like that, I wondered. Then I realized that it was mine. Worse still, whenever I parked the car its alarm went off, even if I left it unlocked.

At least I was near the relevant dealership at the time, so I called in to seek their advice. This always makes me feel like the hapless Rowan Atkinson character in the Not The Nine O’Clock News hi-fi shop sketch, being mocked by Mel Smith. A bloke wandered out with me, opened the bonnet, shook his head and sucked through his teeth. He was clearly just about to ask who sold me this heap of crap, when he remembered that he had. Thinking swiftly, he effected a deft sideways shimmy and said, “It’s your power sounder, that is.”

“What’s that, then?”

“It’s an anti-theft device.”

We agreed that it was working a treat, as no-one was likely to steal a car that was bleeping and wailing like mine was at that moment. Unless that stone deaf old chap from the club yesterday lunchtime made a hobby of twocking, which seemed unlikely.

According to the bloke, and I have no idea whether he was telling the truth or not, the power sounder was separate from the main alarm, and had its own self-contained battery. When that ran down after four years or so the thing went off to alert you to the fact that it was time to spend £99 replacing it.

Yes, it sounded like the sort of story you would tell a chap who looked like he might be good for £99 to me, too. But I felt obliged to do something to stop the racket, so I agreed to bring it back at 8.30 the next morning to have it replaced while I waited. Then I went home, the car screeching and howling all the way to the amusement or annoyance of those we passed (I cannot be sure as I carefully avoided eye contact), where I tried to use it to start my other car, with the aid of the £25 top-of-the-range jump leads I had just bought in Alnwick. It still wouldn’t work. So I was now the proud owner of two f***ed motor vehicles, one of which could go nowhere at all, while the other could go anywhere but at the cost of making more racket and turning more heads than an All-Nude (Strictly Over 18) Juvenile Jazz Band.

A couple of hours later the tally of knackered motors was slashed by 50 per cent when an immensely fat man from the RAC turned up in a big orange van and jump started what I shall henceforth call Car A in about five seconds flat. Followed by some 15 minutes of excruciating paperwork, including an apparently unrefusable opportunity to complete an electronic customer satisfaction survey. Sadly there was no box to tick for “100% satisfied with the service, apart from having to fill this bloody form out.”

While I was waiting for him to arrive I had wandered round to warn my elderly next door neighbours that they might be treated to the muffled sound of the alarm on Car B going off in my garage all night, and / or a visit from an RAC man looking for my house in order to restart Car A. I then had to spend a bit of time explaining where all this A and B stuff had suddenly sprung from. They suggested that “the blue one” and “the grey one” would probably be simpler. Though of course it could be argued that the grey one was actually closer to silver …

I could feel the final threads of the will to live snapping like the last remaining strands of the lift cable in a disaster movie.

Spookily enough, it turned out that my next door neighbour’s car would not start this morning, either, and had just been towed off for repairs. I enquired whether there had been any unusually bright lights in the sky while I was away, compatible with an alien spacecraft hovering overhead and sucking up all the electricity in the locality. They looked very thoughtful.

After a late night, I got up at the absolute crack of dawn this morning and drove to the garage to get the car with the defective alarm fixed. Sorry, I could have saved you a bit of reading there by calling it Car B. The receptionist looked at me sadly and pointed out that it was now 8.33, not 8.30 as instructed, as a result of which they were now “busy with other jobs” and it “might be a while” before they got round to mine. Asked to elucidate, she came back with the good news that it would definitely be completed by the time they closed for the day at noon. Even allowing for the generous proportions of the Saturday newspapers, this seemed rather a long time to kill sitting in a garage, so I gave up and went away again. Then I drove across to Chester in Car A, for the purpose of seeing the Less Tall Cheshire Brunette and having a lovely picnic at one of those jolly open air concerts featuring popular classics and a big fireworks display at the end. Only it was cold and had been chucking it down for most of the day, which rather lessened the appeal of the whole concept, so we decided to settle for a quiet dinner and a DVD at home instead. Her home, not mine. “We can always go next year,” said the LTCB, recalling too late that I am supposed to be on a three month probationary period, expiring at the end of this month. It’s arguably jolly lucky for her that I am much too neurotic to become complacent.

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