There won’t be any great point to this post so don’t be looking too hard for one. It’s more like a diary entry than a blog post, I think.

One morning, a bit before Christmas, I had to make a long car journey to get to a meeting. To arrive safely for ten in the morning, I had to leave at five. It was a dark dreadful winter’s night, pouring rain with a dash of hail and a fierce cold wind to boot.

I didn’t mind. I was in my car and had no intention of getting out of it until I reached my destination. I had an interesting audio book on board and such early starts never bothered my so much. In fact, the feeling of being up and out early tends to give me a rather neat feeling of moral superiority and over-achievement, God knows why.

I like to drive with a CD audiobook to hand. Our library had a good supply so there’s always something to bring along. On this morning, I had Christopher Lee reading some of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes short stories. Incidentally, I thought ‘The Adventure of the Lion's Mane’ was particularly entertaining – a little disappointing in the end, perhaps, but the journey was memorable.

So, anyway, there I was, motoring happily through the wet and windy wilds of County Galway when the tyre blew out. 

Apparently, I was lucky that it was a rear wheel blow-out rather than a front wheel one. There was no bang or even pop. All that happened was thate my control of the car was immediately and dramatically compromised. The car swerved wildly on the road. It took a few yards to get it under control and stopped, albeit a bit askew, on the hard shoulder. It was probably handy that there were no other cars in the vicinity at the time. 

I got out. The rear driver side tyre was in shreds on the wheel. The rain poured down, the wind propelling it deep into my clothing. My meeting awaited a long way down the road at ten am. 

I had a situation.

I’m not what you would call a ‘handyman’ type but I’m not too shoddy at changing a tyre. I’ve done it quite a few times and helped a few people out from time to time. So, whereas this was a goddamn nuisance of the highest order, it wasn’t the end of the world. I’d get it changed and get back on the road and hardly be late at all. 

I pulled the car across the road so that the flat tyre side was away from any oncoming traffic. The grassy verge was saturated and muddy as smelled faintly of cow shit, as Irish damp grassy verges so often do.

Here we go. Spare wheel out, car-jack ready for action. Overcoat draped on the ground in effectual Walter Raleigh fashion. I set to.

Three of the wheel nuts came off fairly easily, a little effort required but nothing outlandish. The fourth nut would not budge.

It simply would not budge.

I gave it my best. I screamed at it, jumped on it, I did all that I could but my measly four-sided lug wrench was not up to the task… or perhaps it was just me. I could not get that nut off. At one of my most concentrated attempts, the wrench slipped off and cut my hand, blood and rainwater mingling on the road. These were the moments when Bill Bixby's Incredible Hulk was prone to appear but Gamma Rays never got me that way.

The wind got up some more. The rain intensified and the hail content grew appreciably greater.

I now had a deepening situation on my hands. I needed some help. I could phone for roadside assistance but that would take too long. I would never make my meeting.

There was a house. It was up a lane which ran away from the main road just a little way up from my car. I trudged up to it. The house was in darkness, matching the rest of the world. There was a white transit van parked outside. It was the kind of van owned by a person who would have tools that were sufficient to remove a stubborn wheel nut. He was in there, safety abed. I could feel his presence.

I shuffled around to the rear of the house, drenched to the core. Inside a set of sliding patio doors an untidy Golden Labrador glared out at me, his upper lip snagged belligerently on his tooth.

I used all my mind power on him. Don’t bark. Don’t bark. Do not bark…

The dog started barking. He also started throwing himself at the glass patio door, as if willing himself to break through and tear my intruder throat out onto the crazy paving. 

“Shut up, you fucker,” I hissed but he didn’t.

The man of the house appeared, thankfully fully dressed in his work clothes. He opened the door and greeted me cheerily enough, the dog scrambled fearfully towards the bedroom. The man came out and had a go at my wheel nut and I was perversely pleased to find that, even though he was a big fella, he couldn’t budge the damn thing either.

He stared at it a moment, assessing the problem.

“We need torque,” he said.

He went away and came back with a three foot length of gun barrel pipe. He put the useless lug wrench onto the wheel nut, slipped the pipe over the handle and applied a little pressure to the end of the pipe. The nut turned easily. It was impressive stuff. Remember that bit. It may be the only lesson in the entire story. Sometimes you need a little torque.

He offered to help me complete the changing of the wheel but my pride had kicked back in. I had the wheel nut off and my trusty car jack in hand, the rest was well within my capabilities. I waved him back to his breakfast and his fearful belligerent dog.

Alone again, I jacked the car up high enough to take the wheel off. Once it was off I offered up the spare wheel but found I hadn’t jacked the car high enough. The old flat tyre may have slipped off but the new pumped one was bigger and would not yet fit on. So I set it to one side and jacked the car up that last required bit.

The jack snapped.

I’m glad my head wasn’t underneath the car in any way because that little jack snapped like a cream cracker and the unwheeled car came crashing down onto the road.

The man of the house had driven off, apparently eschewing breakfast and waving to me as he went. I was alone again, wet, frozen and now as late as hell.

I had to phone the car recovery service. There was nothing left to do. I phoned and they said somebody would be out within the hour. As I rang off, a car pulled in across the road. An elderly gentleman and lady sat in it and patiently waited. I couldn’t imagine what they might be doing.

Then it came to me. They were waiting for a bus to come along. I splashed over to them. The road was much busier now as morning, if not dawn, was fast approaching. 

The man was indeed getting his wife onto the bus so that she could go to work. He happily offered me the loan of his jack and even came over and supervised me while I jacked the car up again and finally got the spare wheel on tight. 

That was pretty much it. I got on the road and made it to my meeting, a bit late, a bit muddy and a bit bloody and probably smelling a bit of dung. The meeting people seemed to understand. We all get days like that, I reckon.

My practical advice would be to get a better nut wrench and jack for the boot of your car. The ones they provide you with are often not all that effective. I now have a nice long handled nut wrench which the tyre guy assured me will open anything that I may ever need to open.

I've just realised that I still don’t have a replacement jack.

Damn… must get on that. 

Do Something

(Little posts like this are written for myself, to give myself a bit of a kick. If I should seem to be preaching, it’s only to me.)

Sometimes it seems as if working and sleeping and sitting on the couch are enough.

Sometimes it seems like that’s all the energy we have. Barely enough to get up and get out and get all of the work done and get home and crash and sleep and then get the hell up and do it all over again. 

The delights, such as they are, come from getting all these things done, in addition to those fleeting moments of achievement gained during the work times. That and the feeling of safety and relief of finally landing in front of the telly and kicking your shoes off, your work all done for another day.

Sometimes it feels like enough.

But it’s not. We all know it, deep inside, but we still have to remind ourselves of it from time to time. We have to kick ourselves into action, into activity.

The moments of joy and true fulfillment and peace and value mostly come from the things we do outside of all the things we have to do. We haul ourselves off the couch and away from the telly and we do the things we are inspired to do. It can be anything, composing a symphony, painting a landscape, completing a jigsaw puzzle, it doesn’t matter. It’s extra-curricular, something we have chosen to do of our own accord, and I reckon it’s deep in there that much of the value of our everyday existence can be found.

We don’t have to do much outside of the daily grind to appreciate the value of it. A little something can quickly show us that there is a world outside of our never ending routine and we can choose to be a part of it. It’s very obvious and it’s very easy.

Except when it isn’t. Then it just isn’t.

Life is wearing, busy, demanding, fast, and tiring. Sometimes it feels like it’s all we can do to make it to that couch and breathe a little before sleep overwhelms. We get there and we congratulate ourselves on getting everything done and on the earning of some well-deserved nothing time.

And it feels so good, sometimes, to do nothing.

But if you do it all the time, it gives you nothing back. When you audit your week, in that sub-conscious way, all you will see in the summary column is work and sleep.

We have to kick ourselves sometimes to go and do something else. Once we are doing it, we will know we are in the right place and that we actually do have some energy left inside us to do it and to love doing it.

My point?

Get up off your arse. When everything you had to do is done, go and do something else.

You won’t thank me for it.

You will thank yourself.

It’s All About Who Touches Your Heart

On Monday morning, when I heard the news that David Bowie had died of cancer, my immediate reaction was not sadness or grief. 

I just didn’t believe it.

“That’s not right,” I said to myself in the kitchen, as the news filtered through, “it must be a hoax or something. He can’t be dead.”

This wasn’t because I deemed the man to be immortal or anything. It was mostly about the release of his new album only three days before. If it had been an accident, a sudden death, that juxtaposition of creativity and death might have been possible but not this. How could someone be so productive, so vibrant, so artistic on one day and then be gone on the next? It just didn’t compute.

But, of course, it was true and the outpouring of love and respect that has come out from the world in these subsequent days has really  been something to see.

It was not totally unexpected either, to see a sort of mini-backlash against all the people who felt so sad. It is in the nature of modern media to react to news and then react to the reaction. Some people thought it unseemly for so much apparent grief to be expressed over the loss of someone who was not family, who was not a friend, who we didn’t know.

I think those people missed the point but then it’s a lesson you have to learn rather than one you can be told. We don’t grieve people simply because they were family or because they were a friend of ours. We naturally grieve those few people who actually manage to touch our hearts. 

And they can touch it from an arm's length away or across an entire universe, the effect is exactly the same. Our hearts have been touched.

It might be a writer or a film actor or a popular singer, it doesn’t matter. When our hearts get touched, they stay touched and when that person who touched them goes away, they are going to leave a dull and a hollow place behind them.

I was not the biggest David Bowie fan ever. I liked and greatly admired much of his music and it was a part of my growing up and my life. But, somewhere along the line, he must have touched my heart, because I feel his loss even though I never met him. 

There is a person who has touched me very greatly with his music and his artistry and I won’t say his name here lest I bring the attention of some ironic power onto him. When he goes, and I hope it’s not for a long time, I will feel it. I will feel it as many of you have felt it for David Bowie and for Alan Rickman and for all those other people who have gone before.

Give me a bit of space to be sad when that happens just like I will gladly give you a bit of space now. 

Because, as a man called Tom Jones (not that one) once wrote.

“Without a hurt, the heart is hollow.”