Yesterday was International Women’s Day, and I’m trying not to reflect on the irony that twice now, two years in a row, my car has broken down on International Women’s Day and as a result I have had to be rescued by men.
This time last year I was driving my husband’s car home on the M40 after an evening rehearsal when the engine light came on. I pulled over and phoned for help. After explaining what had happened, the woman I was speaking to urged me to get in touch with my husband.
‘He might know what’s wrong with the car,’ she said.
‘Why would he know what’s wrong with the car?’ I asked – tersely, it has to be said, because it was late, dark and cold, and I was on my own. ‘He’s an academic, not a mechanic,’ I continued, ‘and even if he did know what’s wrong – which he won’t – he’s 40 miles away and he can’t get here because I’ve got his car and it’s just broken down. Could you please just contact the AA for me? And by the way, don’t you know it’s International Women’s Day?’
‘Tch!’ is all I can say to that, frankly. I’m used now to being treated as a moronic half-wit by men when it comes to cars, but women should know better. A few years ago, a man told me after I’d reversed into a parking space that only one of my reversing lights was working.
‘There is only one reversing light,’ I said, to which the man replied, ‘No, no, one of them must be broken.’
‘No,’ I said, patiently, ‘it’s a Fiat Punto. It has only one reversing light.’
‘No no no no, there are two,’ said the man. ‘One of them’s broken.’
‘Okay,’ I said, giving up, ‘I’ll get it looked at.’ Yes, I’ll take my car to the garage and ask them to look at the imaginary second reversing light. I mean, for crying out loud matey, I know you’re a bloke and I’m a girl and we’re talking about cars, but please credit me with having more intelligence than a clootie dumpling.
And this is where my tale of woe really begins, my friends: you see, I told Hubby ages ago that some of the lights on my dashboard were sort of half-illuminated, and I didn’t think that was right. ‘It’ll be fine,’ said he, blithely brushing my concerns aside. ‘It’s just crapola wiring.’ I wasn’t convinced, but I don’t earn enough money to be able to pay for car repairs (he does!), so I had no choice but to Carry On Regardless. And all was well and good until shortly before 4pm yesterday when, after coming off the A3 at the Milford Junction, the oil light, engine light and battery light all came on at once and the engine cut out with no signs of firing up again. The steering was jammed. The brakes had gone. I was stuck in a dead car on a very busy roundabout on a Friday with rush hour fast approaching. I switched the hazard warning lights on, got out and phoned 999 – something I’ve never done before – and asked for the police. They were very understanding and told me to keep myself safe and that help was on its way.
I stood there, by the side of the roundabout, trying to look helpless, but probably managing only to look gormless instead. Vehicles of various sizes were pelting off the A3 and my car was right in the firing line. Most drivers managed to read the situation in time to pull around my car, but some came dangerously close before realising what was going on. A woman wearing a sleeveless black dress and a string of pearls came steaming around the corner, and was driving so fast that she had to brake sharply in order to avoiding crashing into the back of my car. She was so far from understanding the situation that she sat behind my car for a few seconds before I intervened and gestured that she should pull around it. Instead of sympathising with me in my predicament – a lone female driver standing in the pouring rain at the side of the road next to a broken-down car – this woman actually gave me a look of disgust and made a gesture of impatience before reversing her car so sharply that she almost hit the car behind her, and then roaring off into the traffic. Well, thank you, I thought, and don’t you know it’s International Women’s Day?
Next up, a tiny and rather elderly Asian man stopped his car and offered to help me push my car over to the side so that it wouldn’t be quite so much in the way. He honestly didn’t look as if he could push his way out of a wet paper bag, and I explained that I thought that was very dangerous, that the steering had gone, so all we could do would be to push the car further onto the roundabout which would make the situation much worse. I also pointed out that I didn’t like the idea of his being so exposed to the fast-moving traffic while pushing my car, that the police knew where I was and that I was stuck in a dangerous place and they would be along very shortly. I thought this was reasonable, but the man didn’t. He kept telling me I was causing an obstruction. ‘I realise that,’ I said.
‘You’re holding people up,’ he said.
‘I’m being held up too,’ I said.
‘We could move the car out of the way,’ he said.
‘No, we can’t, because the steering’s gone,’ I said, ‘and I don’t want you to get hurt.’
‘I take full liability for that,’ said the man, at which point I laughed and said, ‘Yeah, I’ll tell that to your widow.’
‘I don’t understand you,’ said the man and stomped off back to his car. Well, it’s quite easy, I thought. It’s far too dangerous for us to attempt to move the car, and the police told me to keep myself safe. Oh, and by the way, don’t you know it’s International Women’s Day?
Back to my post at the side of the road, and I’m really getting into quite a bad temper by now, but luckily for me, after another couple of minutes the fire engine turns up. Yes – A FIRE ENGINE! WITH FIREMEN! Blue flashy lights! This almost made up for everything! The next thing I know, they’ve put out cones and ‘Police Slow’ signs, released the steering, pushed my car to safety and disconnected the battery. One of them phoned the AA for me, and after having made sure I was safe and due to be picked up within the hour, they climbed back onto their trusty steed and away they went over the horizon. Once I’d got over the excitement, I realised I’d left my book at home, had only 23% of battery left on my phone so couldn’t play Angry Birds, and I had about fifty minutes to kill. Ah well. I was thrown back onto my own resources, which consisted mainly of fuming about not having been born a boy.
The AA man turned up exactly fifty minutes later, greeted me very warmly and proffered a greasy black hand for me to shake. After reconnecting the battery and rummaging under the bonnet, he said he didn’t know what the problem was, but something was definitely wrong. Well, yes…then he noticed the little half-lit lights on the dashboard.
‘Have you noticed those lights before?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘and I told my husband, but he said it would be fine.’
‘He said it would be fine?’
‘Yes.’ At which the AA man promptly disconnected the battery again, said that the problem was probably a short in the wiring loom and that was why the little lights were on. And that the car could catch fire. So I couldn’t drive it home. And I would have to be relayed home. And I had to pay £110.01 (yes, one hundred and ten pounds and a penny) to upgrade my membership so I could be relayed home. I finally got back to Reading at 8.15pm, having set out at 2.45pm, and Hubby was cross. I didn’t help the situation by saying ‘I told you about those lights ages ago.’
‘Oh, please don’t be right,’ said Hubby in an agonised tone. Well, sorry sweetie, but I WAS RIGHT and don’t you know it’s International Women’s Day?
To the various people who dealt with my panicky phone calls with such gracious patience and understanding – thank you. To my oboe teacher, who had to put up with me not turning up to my lesson for the third week in a row – I’m sorry, and I promise I’ll get there next time! To the firemen and the AA man who came to my rescue and did so with much good humour – thank you.
To the gentleman who got so cross when I refused his offer: I understand that you were trying to be helpful, and I thank you for your kindness, but your suggestion was not a sensible one and I did not appreciate the way in which you badgered me when I would not comply. If you had listened to what I was saying and thought for a moment, you would have seen that actually my refusal was based on a reasonable assessment of the danger involved.
To the mean-minded woman in the pearls: your behaviour was just not nice. For you, I suggest an Advanced Driving Course and also some classes in Anger Management (perhaps a Time Management course as well). And while you’re tidying up your life, you might want to have a good look round to see if you can find where you left your manners.
Next year, I’m going to stay at home on International Women’s Day.