It is the first time I have had to drive my husband’s soft top jewel-green Audi.
He hovered round the ironing board as I ironed the children’s clothes for the day. I wore a frown. It was to be a day of thorny meetings and tetchy negotiations, and I think my unconscious addmitted what my conscious wouldn’t.
The shirt I was ironing, I realised half way though, was dirty. Maddie had put it on the wrong pile. I can’t blame her: the clothes piles in this house have attained epic proportions. I glared at it, and bowled it overarm towatds the washing pile in disgust.
Oh, yes, there was my husband standing by the ironing board.
“A few things about the car,” he ventured.
Moody silence from spouse weilding iron.
Phil chose gamely to continue. “Two things you have to remember. And this is important, so you HAVE to listen.”
He has become familar over our 20 years with that look of stormy focus. He knows it means the internal circuits are all absorbed working on a problem. The chances of my attending to anything outside my head, other than the ironing, were slim to none.
But this car is his baby. And if I didn’t listen, the chances are I would engineer a more intimate relationship between it and another car than anyone would feel comfortable with. He persevered.: “This car has gears. It is not an automatic. This is key to how you drive it. Please remember that my car has gears.”
I growl-repeated: “Your car has gears”.
“Secondly: the brakes on my car are nowhere near as fierce as the brakes on your car. You need to apply them more to get the same effect.”
I nodded curtly. The second shirt was looking much more hopeful. Steam hissed. I schemed, deep amongst the lower echelons of my consciousness.
But I did remember the conversation as I took the keys and opened the car, much, much later when it was time to go and collect Maddie from the station.
Mainly because of a third thing Phil did not tell me.
The gear stick appeared to be on upside down.
The reverse was pointing upwards, and first gear down and to the left. It was a test in mental agility, a baffling conundrum. And interestingly, it is not the first time my gearstick has been on upside down.
No: once upon a time a home mechanic collected my car and delivered it back with a perfectly functioning gearbox, fitted so that one had to go into fifth gear to start, and reverse to speed at 90mph.
On that car the whole box had been skew-whiff: but today, after some extremely ginger experimentation, it became evident that it was just that the little plastic gears sign – the one like this –
-that had moved round 180 degrees.
I was comfortable with it all as I drove out of my road. After all these years of driving, that little gear map is etched upon my brain. But then, at the first major roundabout I looked down. And realised with a kind of fascinated wonder that it had righted itself. It had happily vibrated 180 degrees to tell me accurately where first gear really is.
It was a hairy journey because my unconscious had not entirely dispensed with the day’s business and I went on auto pilot, surfacing to correct the kangaroo jumps every now and then.
It was a grateful me who got out and hung up the keys, before commandeering my bicycle and heading off to the shops to fill up the paniers.