Simon Parke  
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      Simon Parke with his latest book, The Indecent Death of a Madam   Cover of Another Bloody Retreat   Cover of The Enneagram


Posted by Simon Parke, 29 May 2017, 10.58am

I have a journey of over 200 miles ahead of me. I’m returning home after leading a 5-day retreat.

But something is spraying out of a pipe beneath the car.

It smells like petrol and while I’m no expert, this probably isn’t good. So I drive a few miles along the A47 and thankfully, discover a garage.

I park outside and find a nice man with his head in an engine. He says he can’t help, that he’s too busy, that it’s bank holiday weekend.

‘To be honest, mate, all garages are going to be busy. I don’t see a space for you.’

So very much a ‘No room at the inn’ scenario – this inn or any other inn between here and London.

But he does confirm it’s a hole in the petrol pipe and, well, a correct diagnosis is always the best of starts when it comes to healing.

So I thank him, park the car in the petrol station forecourt, ring our call out service and after an hour, Andy arrives.

Andy: he’s a big man with a shaved head a big truck.

‘Only got back home at 2.00am,’ he says. ‘There has to be eight hours between shifts, so you’re my first call-out. 10.02am, I heard about you! Didn’t give me long, did they!?’

‘Well, thank you- and I hope you’re paid well for coming out so soon after getting home.’

‘Oh I’m paid very well.’

And after giving me a quick run-though his payslips, (better than mine) he confirms the split in the petrol pipe…and he’s thinking ‘Gorilla tape’.

‘So here’s the bad news,’ he says. ‘I could go back to the depot and get some spare parts, but that’s going to take three hours and going to cost you £45.00 an hour
plus parts. All right?’

‘And the good?’

‘The good news is Gorilla tape, which I think might do the job – it’s quick and it’s free. Ever heard of gorilla tape?’

‘No,’ I say, keen to learn.

‘Let me show you.’

We go round the side of his high-tech recovery machine, all flashing lights and well-chosen tools. And he produces some tape.

‘Gorilla tape,’ he says. ‘Very handy gear. I use it on my split hose in the garden. Take a look.’

I’m underwhelmed.

I’m looking at the sort of tape I’ve always called Gaffer tape, tape I use all the time, good for make-do repairs.

It’s popular back stage in theatres, which I know more about than cars.

But even my ignorance knows that petrol will eat straight through it.

‘If it can get you home, then it’s done its job, hasn’t it?’ says Andy.

I know it won’t, and half an hour later, after much sticking and re-sticking, so does Andy.

‘Turn the ignition on,’ he says. This is the test, it gets the petrol pumping. ‘Stop!’

Petrol everywhere.

We pause.

Gorilla tape seems to have been his ace.

But then another idea appears in the roadside sunshine. How about we go back to the garage, buy parts and then Andy mends it.

‘Saves going back to the depot.’

So we return to the garage, find the nice man and ask for some tubing and clips. He gives us what we need and refuses payment…he’s getting nicer by the minute.

Andy and I walk back to the car.

‘What could have done this damage?’ I ask. ‘I’ve never had it before.’

‘Looks like it’s been chiselled in some way, you can see markings. It’s a thick plastic tube, doesn’t split easily. Fallen out with anyone recently?’

‘I can’t think of anyone.’

‘It happens. You fall out with someone. They know a bigger someone and, well – things get done, it’s not uncommon.’

I’m aware people sometimes get upset on retreat and angry with me. But I’ve not yet had anyone attack my car in response.

‘Or it could be a rock,’ he adds.

He works under the car for a while then takes a break.

‘I’m getting a sandwich,’ I say. ‘Can I get you one?’

‘I could really use a ciggy,’ he says.

So I buy a tuna baguette and 20 Pall Mall. They cost £8.49, which comes as a bit of shock, not having bought cigarettes for 45 years.

Quite apart from the health thing, how can anyone actually afford to smoke?

We talk about his job, which he expands on with a little encouragement, reassuring me (again) that it’s very well paid and multi-skilled.

‘People think I’m just a mechanic.’

‘But you’re not?’

‘No way. We’re car recovery as well, an accident service, we do all sorts.’

‘I suppose you never know your next job?’

‘It could be jump starting someone’s car – or taking their car out of a tree. We had that last week, no lie. We took someone’s car out of a tree. Don’t know how he’d
got it there, must have hit the curb and flown.’

He has gory stories as well, from accident scenes. 

‘We’re part of the team – Fire Brigade, Paramedics, Police – and Us. The fire brigade and paramedics first, and then we take over, we’re telling the police what to do.’

He likes this idea.

‘Different expertise,’ I say.

‘That’s right, we work as a team. And of course you seem some pretty smashed up vehicles. When a small car – like your own – hits a larger one, well, you can see the impact…the engine’s on the front seat. Blood on the door. You just know the driver didn’t get out.’

‘A small car – like your own’ is a phrase that comes up more than once as he talks about blood and wreckage.

It’s not helpful… but he’s now back under the car and half an hour later, Andy and I are pretty pleased, with the whole ‘Gorilla tape’ fiasco behind us.

Not only has he got some free cigarettes…but the clamped tubing does seem to have stopped the petrol leak.

Job done and we now look to the future.

I feel like we’ve been on holiday together and are now standing at the airport, saying our goodbyes…but with a twist.

‘Well, many thanks, Andy - but I do hope I’ll never see you again.’

‘Oh you will, you will,’ he says looking at me with intent.

What don’t I know? Or is it just people with small cars?

‘We’ll meet up there,’ he says, pointing to the sky. ‘We’ll meet up there. And we’ll be partying. Partying!

Wonderful. Service with a smile…and a sermon.

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