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Handle with car - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
j4
j4
Handle with car
So after driving to Oxford and back last Friday, I took my Renault 5 in for servicing on Saturday morning. It's been a bit reluctant to start on damp mornings recently, with the most traumatic non-starter being a couple of weeks ago when it sounded deader than a coffin-nail (see, there's the Hallowe'en-themed bit, because I value my goth readership) and the guy next door scorched my jump-leads by putting them on backwards, and it took a friendly roofer to come and sort us all out; but then, the guy next door had just had a baby, so really it was good of him to help at all. His wife, that is, had had a baby. Not him. This isn't that sort of story!

On the recommendation of the guy next door I booked the car in with C & D Motors on Hope Street (my favourite street name in Cambridge, and not a bad street either with its little hidden courtyard of junkshops in garages, but mainly I like it because walking along it makes me feel like I'm in an American country song). Of course, the damn car started perfectly when I went to take it round there, and I wondered if I was just being a bit dim and forgetting to set the "don't start" switch to "off" (go on, get your head round the double negatives) or something. When I went to pick the car up a couple of hours later, the nice gentleman expressed considerable surprise that the car had managed to start at all, which made me feel better in one way, though worse in another. Distributor cap all cobweb-patterned with hairline cracks (which is where the damp was getting in), leads perished, and one spark plug completely burned away (and all of them badly corroded). "It's probably only been firing on three cylinders half the time," he said. "Yeah, it did feel a bit that way," I said, remembering the time it had sputtered and died in the middle of the Coldham's Lane roundabout for no apparent reason and only chug-chug-chug-thunked its way home after a lot of care and cussing. (But then it was fine the next day! "Oh well," I thought, "probably just BAD KARMA in the engine or something.") I suppose it would have seemed a bit out-of-character for a ditzy girl driver who can't even clean her own spark-plugs ferchrissakes to know what "firing on three cylinders" meant, but pto452 does that all the time, though she's better in hot weather because blah blah blah expands and makes a better seal with blah blah. I bore myself to death sometimes, you know. Is anyone still reading?

When I bought the 12-year-old Renault it only had 44,000-odd miles on the clock (one careful lady owner). I've put about another 12,000 on it since then (one careless and lazy lady owner), and part of that was driving to Oxford and back what felt like a hundred times a month, at weekends, on weeknights, in the mornings, whenever, to try to drag the nails out of the coffin of an already long-dead relationship. Always tired, always hurting, in no state to drive. It caught up with me in the end, and one time I braked too late at one of the Milton Keynes roundabouts and bumped the back of the car in front of me -- entirely my own fault, I'd woken up at 6am after about 3 hours' sleep and started driving at 7, there was no way I was safe to be on the road -- and we both pulled over onto the verge and dragged ourselves out to inspect the damage. The other driver was a girl of about my age, who looked like she'd had about as much sleep as I had; we both said "sorry" and "are you okay?" about fifty times, and rubbed our red-ringed eyes as we peered at the cars, more for the sake of form, for the sake of appearing to give a damn, than because we thought there was anything wrong.

We couldn't see any damage whatsoever, but I gave her my address and phone number just in case, and as I passed her the piece of paper I thought about saying "Call me. Call me any time. I know you're bone-weary and heartsore, I know that look, I know that feeling only too well. We could drive somewhere together, and for a short time forget about the people who are grinding us down like the last of the coffee beans in the grey half-light morning. I could buy you a drink, and we could nod and laugh in recognition and say 'yeah' a few times before going our separate ways. It'd be nothing, nothing much, just the chorus of a half-heard song that we could hold on to in the times of awkward silence. And I could give you a map of Cambridge, and mark Hope Street with an X, and maybe one day you'd come back, and maybe you wouldn't, and maybe it wouldn't matter either way, but it's got to be worth a try, hasn't it?"

And she got in her car and drove away.

I hope she got to wherever she was going. I did, in the end.
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Comments
simont From: simont Date: October 31st, 2006 01:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
I suppose it would have seemed a bit out-of-character for a ditzy girl driver who can't even clean her own spark-plugs ferchrissakes to know what "firing on three cylinders" meant

As car owners go, I'm at least that much of a ditz. My colleagues have been known to take the piss out of me for the sorts of things I get a garage to do rather than bother to figure out how to do it for myself. I admittedly don't qualify for "girl", but all the rest of the above description and the implied further ignorance behind it certainly applies to me.

And yet, when my car was firing on three cylinders a couple of weeks ago, I knew it. It was an unmistakable feeling: at low revs the entire car juddered back and forth in a bone-jarring fashion at something of the order of five hertz, and just through the seat of my trousers I could feel that there's a complex array of interlocking forces which pushes a car engine around and they're somehow supposed to add up to zero net acceleration so that the car doesn't normally shake itself apart, and that in my car one of those forces was completely missing. (Also it stalled very easily, especially in reverse, and noticeably lacked oomph when I was trying to pull away from a standing start; the latter I found particularly inconvenient on, oddly enough, Coldhams Lane roundabout with its distressingly small gaps between oncoming cars...)

I complained to some friends one evening that I didn't think it was firing on all its cylinders, and one of the friends – who can drive, but hasn't in a while – looked at me and said "gosh, I don't think I'd even know how to tell that from any other failure". The previous week I'd have said the same. But I just knew.
bellinghman From: bellinghman Date: October 31st, 2006 02:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Mine was firing on five (one down from its supposed count) a couple of weeks back. It didn't like starting, and it ws somewhat uneven. (But its main problem was it was pumping large amounts of fuel through that cylinder, causing white smoke and potential catalytic converter failure. That was due to an Engine Control Unit frying itself.)

Maybe by the time you get to a V12, losing one cylinder isn't obvious any more.
rbarclay From: rbarclay Date: October 31st, 2006 02:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Maybe by the time you get to a V12, losing one cylinder isn't obvious any more.

Hmm, I'd think that especially those people with V(or W)12s should notice - otherwise, why bother with it in the first place?
bellinghman From: bellinghman Date: October 31st, 2006 02:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, the power, the power.
rbarclay From: rbarclay Date: October 31st, 2006 02:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Doesn't power come from cubic capacity, compression and revvs ;-?

What you want as many cylinders as possible for is quietness and smoothness.
bellinghman From: bellinghman Date: October 31st, 2006 02:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Compactness - the thickness of the wall of a cylinder needing to contain a given pressure is proportional to the diameter of the cylinder. So smaller cylinders for the same total capacity allow you to have lighter cylinder walls (adjacent cylinders presumably not needing to hold that same pressure at the same time.).

Which theoretically means a lighter engine for the same power.

I'm not sure those builders who used V12s in Formula 1 cars were particularly interested in quietness or smoothness, though I do take the point that V12s can be exceedingly smooth when used in luxury cars. And I suppose the contrast between very quiet and exceptionally quiet may still be noticeable to their owners - like the Princess and the Pea.
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 31st, 2006 01:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Coffin-nails is Christmas, not Hallowe'en.

Yours forever,

MARLEY
From: kaet Date: October 31st, 2006 02:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
I feel like I've done 52k miles and am firing on three cylinders, recently. I shall have to check my distributor cap, :).

I remember when the alternator went in my Peugeot. I went to the scrap heap and found one out of a Peugeot van. It was a little bit meatier than the one I replaced, but it plumbed in okay. When I turned the ignition it was really quite ridiculous: the lights were like searchlights and the radio had to be permanently left on setting "one" or it would deafen you. I checked and it was a 12 volt one, but only in that vague 12 volts means somewhere between 11 and 16 stuff-you-find-on-a-scrapyard kind of way.

Indeed, electrics are fun in the "interesting times" sense of fun. I remember another time getting through about four times the battery volume of distilled water (standing well back), after the battery became entirely acid owing to neglect, it just kept turning into steam! I felt I was in one of those cautionary tales about adding acid to water, not vice versa. This was in a crap old garage, and this was an old beige cavalier, so I expected at any time, to hear a seventies-tinged voiceover from the heavens on behalf of the "don't mix crossplys and radials" guy at the ministry of transport.
barnacle From: barnacle Date: October 31st, 2006 03:07 pm (UTC) (Link)

String-backed gloves in my automolove

The more idiosyncratic a car's behaviour, the more it becomes embued with a kind of psychokinetic. Travelling with it is like retracing all the journeys you've made with it, to all the places you've visited.

K's mother says we'll never forget our first car and I think that'll be the case. Nothing will really match it, more because it'll probably be the least expensive one we'll ever own than it being our first.
kjaneway From: kjaneway Date: October 31st, 2006 04:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
walking along it makes me feel like I'm in an American country song

We have a Hope Street in Manchester, too.

Going past it on the bus each morning, when I used to work in town, always made me thing of this song
covertmusic From: covertmusic Date: November 1st, 2006 12:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, but getting people is way more important than getting cars.

Thank you.
brrm From: brrm Date: November 1st, 2006 12:39 am (UTC) (Link)
He's lying, don't listen to him.
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