IN many ways I’m a blokey sort of bloke.
I like sport, I like beer and I like bare knuckle fights (as long as I’m not personally involved). But – and this hurts me to confess – I’m not at all mechanically minded. You’d have as much luck teaching a dog to quote Shakespeare as expecting me to learn about cars or anything else with wheels. I’m not saying I don’t like things that go. I do. We just don’t quite hit it off.
Once I was on holidays with the family, when the tyre blew out on our caravan. If you think you’ve heard this story, you’re mistaken. It seems we’re always having blow-outs. On the occasion I’m talking about though, we happened to have our mishap right in front of a mechanics’.
I remember saying to my wife: ‘Whoa, how lucky are we?’
She was non-committal, and with good reason as it would turn out. Knowing me the way she does, she expected things to go wrong. Knocking on the mechanics’ door we were told the business was in the process of moving. Yes, they’d been there 25 years, but they were moving on the very day we needed them. All the tools were at the new business location. Sorry mate, can’t help you.
I went back to my wife and told her the news. ‘Doesn’t matter, though,’ I reassured her, ‘I can fix it.’
‘No, Matt. Please don’t,’ she begged me. ‘You know what you’re like.’
If I’d been a more capable man I would have been offended. As it was, I was forced to nod and make the call. It’s a humiliating moment, waiting for the RACV. You know, as a man, you shouldn’t need to.
To make matters worse, the angry man we got was the antithesis of those RACV guys you see on the ads. He wasn’t smiling and he wasn’t ready to gratefully accept a cuppa. His vibe was more like Begbie from Trainspotting. The only kiss he’d be giving would be one of the Liverpool variety. I tried to ignore his ‘tude, hovering should he need me to hand him a tool or something.
‘Can you believe it, these guys relocate after 25 years, on the very day we break down?’ I said.
He grunted. ‘They’re bloody hopeless anyway.’
Hmm. ‘Good day?’ I asked, trying to keep the irony out of me voice. He was holding a tyre iron, after all.
I got a grunt in reply. When he’d jacked up the van and taken the damaged tyre off he grabbed the spare. The job was quick. He had the fresh tyre on in an instant. But it sank down, the tyre flat to the rim. I hadn’t put air in it since we bought the van.
‘Surprise, surprise,’ he muttered.
Worst of all, I’d flattened the battery because I’d left the radio on. That grumpy, near psychotic, RACV man had to come back to jump start me. ‘Surprise, surprise,’ he said again. The words – ‘Surprise, surprise.’ – still ring in my ears, the stinging rebuke of a real bloke levelled against one who hasn’t quite made the grade. They’re the words that keep coming back to me each time I do one of the silly things I do.
Last week when I put four litres of oil in the car when it didn’t need any at all – with the result that it shuddered, blew blue smoke and seemed to be on the verge of seizure – it was these words that echoed in my head; ditto the week before that, when I left the oil cap off the car and it sprayed oil everywhere (I thought something had ruptured and the engine had a hole in at as big as watermelon).
I can’t escape these words: ‘Surprise, surprise.’ I will do silly things until the very end, so they will always be with me. And I reckon too that the end will come because I’ve done something silly. My own personal Grim Reaper will be a man in overalls and I know exactly what he will say.