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Saturday 19 April 2014

The unsung joys of a jump-lead jamboree

Like a lot of surprising events, it happens completely out of the blue. We are about to do the week's Big Shop. Spirits are high. Prior to leaving, we had a quick look at a certain discount German supermarket's website and were delighted to learn that potatoes were on special offer.

Every Lidl helps.

We get into the car and I turn the key. Nothing happens. When you try to start a 1997 Toyota Corolla and get no response, you immediately blame yourself.

"I must have turned the key all wrong."

I try again and again but there is nothing but silence. Something is up.

My life with the car flashes before my eyes. We've been through so much together.

It effortlessly negotiated swampy car parks at Electric Picnic, brought me up and down the country for gigs, and through Dublin Friday-evening traffic.

It overcame black ice, white ice, dry ice, freezing fog, freezing rain, melting snow and never grumbled.

And I think of the struggle we went through to pass the NCT. Me in that awful waiting room with other anxious owners, while it was being prodded and poked at by strange men measuring things.

In some ways, watching your car being NCTed is like watching a loved one being questioned in a foreign police station. You're powerless to help and can't remember if this is one of the places they used to take bribes.

I admit I'm slightly over-anthropomorphising here. I'm not yet at the stage of giving cars human names, but I do think my Corolla, with its roundy little headlights and wide grill, seems a cheerful, smiley car.

I could do with the arrival of a wealthy uncle now, though. I turn the key one last time, then glare around the car and see what might have run the battery down and spot the interior light in the 'on' position. I manage to pull myself together enough to incorrectly blame my wife. Now it's time to ask neighbours for jump leads.

Jump leads are one of the unsung heroes of neighbourliness. They are the cup of sugar that brings people together. They turn the negative of a breakdown into the positive of a solution.

Everyone loves to help in jump-lead situations. Starting someone's car with them is the sort of entry-level car mechanics that allows people – especially the sons of heroic fathers who could do everything – to pretend for one moment that they are 'handy'.

I've helped my next-door neighbour a few times with jump leads and basked in the glow of usefulness for weeks afterwards.

Two men are chatting down the road and I approach them with the kind of scuttling walk that usually precedes the request for a favour. As predicted, they are only too happy to help.

One goes to push the car out on to the road to get it into a position to 'mate' with the other car.

During this bit, I burn up a lot of jump-lead credit as I manage to catch my own car door in the side of the gate, causing it to bend back in a way it shouldn't.

No matter – the jump leads are out. Life-giving cables that solve problems are attached. Unfortunately, in the gloom we manage to connect them incorrectly, causing lots of sparks which we ignore. Sparks are exciting and mean that men are doing something with electricity.

I try to start the car. Again, nothing. Someone mentions the alternator. Oh dear God, not that. The alternator was one of the top 'ators' I remember breaking on a sequence of Fiat Mirafioris.

Now it's time to push the car back where it was. It's profoundly dispiriting. Not just for me but for my neighbour, who has been cruelly robbed of his chance to experience a jump-lead high. And my car, which used to be a smiley friend, now seems a cold, dead hunk of metal.

It's not until the following day that I remember that comprehensive car insurance might be useful for something. The home-start men arrive in an hour and swiftly point out that our little neighbourhood jump-lead jamboree the night before had blown every possible fuse. They fix everything, and the car starts.

It's good to have you back, buddy – whatever your name is.

'Isn't It Well For Ye? The Book of Irish Mammies' by Colm O'Regan; published by Transworld Ireland; £9.99

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