We’re in the car, travelling down a narrow road in Cornwall towards a small harbour which long ago stopped being used by commercial fishermen. In fact the harbour is now occasionally used to launch ribs used by diving groups but most often is used for hiring of kayaks for fishermen. There’s a nice beach there punctuated by groynes that stop sandy beach disappearing along the coast.
The road is on a slope descending towards the sea. Mostly the incline is gentle but enough to keep a vehicle going forwards. In some parts the road gets steep and is narrow at the same time. The narrowness is a throwback to a time when vehicles carried minimal weight and were narrow in to the bargain.
Ahead there is a corner, wooded at both sides with a parking place on the outside of the curve that is filled with a car that is constricting the road a little more than normal whilst on our side there is a bin protruding in to the road just to make things worse.
There’s a car ahead and we have to slow down. Now there is no room for the other vehicle to get past, and to add to the situation there is another car now stopping behind the car in front of us.
So there is no choice, we have to retreat to make room for the vehicles coming up the hill.
Janey my wife is getting a bit nervous with the number of cars waiting. That in turn is making her reverse manoevering more suspect. Turning this way and that towards the edge, away from the edge, going forwards a bit, moving backwards a bit. The pressure is affecting her performance.
Then there he is. The obligatory nutter. The one person you hoped was somewhere else today is here. “What the f***k are you playing at”, he says. “There’s plenty of room for me to get my big four by four past if only you could drive properly”.
I motioned to stop the car, and I got out telling Janey that she would have 5 minutes to get it right, “just take it steady and take your time but work it out while I deal with the walking gobshite”.
Here I have to channel uncle Frank. He was actually the husband of my mum’s cousin but we always called him uncle because it’s easier. Frank died years ago but his tales and exploits were legendary. My dad was there for quite a few and they invariably involved alcohol. For instance you know that thing you get shown in physics at school, or in the pub, the one where you take a glass of water (or beer) cover the open top with card or a beer mat and then turn it over and magically by the laws of air pressure and physics and Einstein and all sorts of magical incantations, the liquid stays in the glass.
Well Frank did that in a pub, then (never one to leave an audience unmilked) he explained that using the same principle that it was possible to stick the glass of beer to the ceiling of the room. So he duly acquired a mop, a willing (drunk) volunteer and had the volunteer hold the glass against the ceiling with the mop handle, urging him to let go because it would stay there. The (drunk) mop controller was reticent (getting sober) and said he was sure that it would fall if he took away the mop handle. Frank and several others apparently assured him that it would be fine, so he pulled the mop handle away from supporting the glass and it fell like a lead balloon full of beer and glass to the floor. Frank and the other onlookers nearly died gasping for air as they laughed so much. One of those occasions where the landlord was crying with laughing too so repercussions would thankfully be minimal, even though no one cared that much anyway as they took ages to catch their breath.
A few minutes later a man approached Frank and in all sobriety and honesty he said, “You know why it didn’t work don’t you?”. Frank acted dumb, kept the straightest face that he could and said that as far as he understood it it should have worked. The man continued “It’s the ceiling, It’s anaglypta, and that rough surface lets the air in so it fell”. Everyone looked at one another and just laughed even more. And that was Frank all over. He carried it off right to the end.
I knew I would need all of Frank’s ability to quel the rage of a neanderthal in a four by four.
First, it turns out that the guy doesn’t have a great big four by four. He has ideas above his station and I keep schtum about that. It’s not useful to point out that what he thinks is a big car isn’t really. It’s like a pissing competiton and really he’s good at the banter but not really equipped to take part in the competition.
Anyway he’s spoiling for a fight. So I go up to him and very quietly say, “Look I’m really sorry that you’re being held up but it’s really important that my wife is left to sort it out without hassle”. He starts to speak and I cut him off. Sometimes democracy is over-rated. “You see she’s got a confidence problem at the moment. She had a lower leg amputation last year and she was driving OK with her prosthetic leg. She’s had extra lessons, checks and all sorts. It was all going well and we got approached by Southampton University Cybernetics department to try out a new type of prosthetic. It’s so different to the other one that it’s knocked her confidence right out of the ball park. So it’s really important that we support her and just let her get on with it without hassle. That way we can build up her confidence in these situations so that she can independently cope with life again. I know it’s a pain but please just bear with us a short while with a bit of understanding so that she can start to find her old self”.
His jaw has dropped and his face is caught between disbelief, awe at a masterly delivery of a bulshit story, and a hankering to believe every word. Which is good because Janey now has a minute left to pull the car in to the side to clear the log jam of cars that is building up. Fortunately there’s only this one who is presenting an issue.
“Look!”, I say, “If you don’t believe me come and look. The new prosthetic is pretty good and it’s hard to see the join but with a bit of coaxing I’m sure she will let you see her leg without it. That way you will know that you really helped someone in need today. And I have to say that I for one appreciate you cutting her some slack to help her get back on her feet so to speak”.
The thought of looking at an amputee leg stump is going round in his head now so we’re either going to get a verbal reply or he will go white and throw up through the window.
He doesn’t throw up. He turns down the offer of the stump viewing, and even a front row viewing of her reserve prosthetic lower leg. He was quite pale though.
I see that Janey has the car in a good place and I thank him profusely for his understanding as I walk away towards our car.
I wave to thank all the drivers as they drive on their way, even mr gobby gets a wave and he waves back. After all it’s good to help those less fortunate than yourself especially when your fortunes allow you to drive such a large four by four, using both legs.
I get in to the car and Janey takes us without further incident to our destination. I get out and go around to her side and open the door. I look down and say, “hop out gorgeous”. She clambers out and replies “last to the second groyne is a cissy” as she sticks the keys in my hand so I have to lock up. She runs off at high speed, her knee action and thigh drive is much improved after her last coaching session and there’s no way I can catch her.
I wish she could drive as well as she can run though, I’m bound to get caught out sooner or later, even uncle Frank didn’t get it right all the time.