Tuesday, 10 April 2012


There was the steady shhhhh of rain on the car roof, like a short wave radio between stations; and the thunk of big drops from the eucalyptus trees that bordered the car park.

"What time do we have to be there?" I asked John.

"We have to put our names down by quarter to eight," he said. "Plenty of time."

"OK, well, I'm outside now," I said; "No hurry, though, I want to go through some stuff."

It's nice listening to heavy rain when it's close by but can't get at you. As opposed to, say, listening to it on the hood of a jacket that is already soggy and promises to be soaked through very soon. I peered at my notebook and tried to make the words sound right. They were resisting.

John appeared out of the twilight. "I wasn't sure about tonight," he said; "But I've been working on the kitchen and could do with a break from it."

We set off, wiping the mist from the windows as we went, then wiping it off again as they were steaming up like nobody's business.

Passing through Westbury on Trym, the engine hiccoughed, and, quick as you like, I swung into the car park that was fortuitously placed just ahead of us. The driver of the car behind parped their horn to let me know how annoyed they were, as they sped up the steep hill out of W-on-T.

"...and you too," I said. "Damn, engine's playing up."

We listened to the uneven beat. I switched off the ignition, opened the bonnet, and sprayed some WD40 around the distributor and coil. Then tried to start the engine again.


There's only so much you can do in the dark, in the rain, with a dead ignition system. John and I heaved and pushed the car into a parking bay, and grabbed our bags and providentially-brought-along brollies.

I left a message on Deborah's mobile. "Sorry, we won't be there. Car conked out."

Ten minutes later, she called back. "Do you want any help?"

"It may need towing home," I said. "Do you feel up to it?"

"Oh, yes!" she said brightly. "I'll be round first thing in the morning, before the traffic gets too bad."

I squelched home. My woolly parka, which weighs as much as two sheep, had become the weight of two camels by the time I got there; I was drenched.

Just as I'd added the whisky to the cocoa, John called. "I just got home," he said. "Popped into the Co-op for some milk, and then the rain eased off."

This morning broke sunny with the occasional spot of rain. I'd hardly finished throwing an emergency repair kit into a bucket when Deb phoned. "I'm on my way!"

"You'll have to tell me about towing," she said; "I've not done it before."

Brave soul, her.

"Nothing much to remember," I said; "just keep the rope tight and go wide at corners. We may be able to fix it anyway. It'll either be something very simple, or something we won't be able to do anything about there and then."

A quick jab at the coil with the multimeter told the story; the 12V supply had failed. So I by-passed it with a wire across to the fuel pump (it's the white wire in the photo), and we drank our coffee while Deb told me about the evening at Halo that John and I had failed to get to.

And then we convoyed home, and the engine didn't miss a beat.

Onwards and upwards! Thank you, Deb!


  1. Cheery ignorance rather than courage, I think!

    Glad we did it then rather than now - it's tipping here.

  2. Glad you got it sorted. My always dad said I was good at being towed - unfortunately it was due to lots of practise.

  3. My dad had a Beetle with a 12v supply...and consequently glow-worms for lights!!

  4. At least with an old Moggy when you lift up the bonnet there are bits you can recognise as an engine and have some chance of fixing it. Feel so helpless with a modern box...

  5. I trust wherever the failure is, it isn't an expensive one. At least Minor owners have good parts availability so an ignition switch or whatever shouldn't be a show-stopper.

    I'm ambivalent on modern car electronics. Sometimes they do have unforgivable design flaws, but in general the effect of the technology has been to make the cars astoundingly more reliable. And the car will tell you what has gone wrong and where in the event of a fault, if you have the diagnostic interface which doesn't cost a silly amount of money.

    What I don't like is the atmosphere of "No user serviceable parts inside", when that isn't the case. The parts may not always be as immediately accessible as those in the Minor, but that doesn't mean modern cars are unfixable without a dealer visit, however much the manufacturer might want you to believe that.

  6. What a fits-and-starts loat of weather, though, Deborah! V dramatic lighting half the day. Anyway, thank you. Cheery ignorance is good. Worked for Captain Scott. Hmmm...

    You too, Anji? -seems like we all have a history of dodgy vehicles around here!

    I think my most imaginative lighting set-up was on my BSA Bantam, Gwynneth- you never quite knew what was going to happen when you switched them on. I once spent the night sleeping out on Mynydd Maen when I stormed out of the farm one evening, and then the electrics caught the mood and went pop half a mile up the track....

    Exactly so, Caroline. My heart sinks when I look under the bonnet of a new car. I changed the headlight bulb on a friend's car recently, and could scarcely get my hand in theree. Eek.

    It seems to be a failure of the cable, Jenny; the coil and the fuel pump go to the same connection in the fuse box (they are unfused circuits, which I learned only after scratching my head for a bit and then REFERRING TO MANUAL.) So I'll just install a bit of decent wire in place of the doorbell wire it's using at the mo.