The NCT

Sometimes you’re driving down the road and big fuckin stone cracks your windscreen. But it’s ok, cos the insurance will cover that. Sure didn’t I do that before? Your man came out especially and changed it in Val’s car park in Athlone on a Tuesday morning. Didn’t cost a cent, free, covered, standard, normal, we love stones in insurance companies, the way they hop off the roads, keeps us all busy, kept going, how’s Val getting on, sure isn’t great?

            And here comes the NCT. People say prayers for you when you’re going for the NCT. Normally I’d need them, and maybe even a mass, or a visit from the pope, but today felt alright in the unbreakable Ford Focus. Brought her to Corrib Oil for a fast wash. Usually there’s a queue of lads in impossibly priced cars reading phones and waiting for the Polish lads to do the fancy waxy waxy and make the money wheels go shiny shiny. But no line today. Cost of living, time of day, something. Parked her up over the big grate for the running water, said give it a blast lads. Went to the shop to get cash, talked to a woman at the door about life, the rain, and The Guggenheim Grotto. Then the car was ready and it was time to go. I hadn’t been to Westport in a while so I asked the oul fella, how long do you think it will take to get there?

            He thought, said: ‘Almost the same as Castlebar and a bit with it….’

            Irish estimations. You have to love them.  We sat in and he asked: ‘What happened the windscreen?’

            ‘Stone.’

            ‘What kinda stone?’

            ‘Dunno, from a truck on the M50.’

            ‘Well fuck.’

            ‘Probably be grand. Sure the insurance’ll cover it….’

            ‘Hmm…’

            We took off, around the town, down High Street, sailing along. The wide Castlebar road. The tight corner at Keel Bridge. Took a left at Partry and followed the winding roads. The crack seemed to grow all the time, like solar powered misfortune. We got there on time to be twenty minutes early. Parked up, waited. A Mondeo in for a retest. A Volkswagen with no tracking, an Insignia for sale outside. They called in the Focus, ran her through, came back and said the car was perfect except for the windscreen.

            Not the end of the world. The insurance will cover it. Everyone knows it’s standard on the insurance. I’ll just ring them up and they’ll come to the house and change it and it’ll be all free, and easy, and simple, and standard. So I rang them, casual, easy going, friendly, assumptive. The girl on the phone was nice, helpful, calm and efficient. I was looking at the wall, thinking about something else, when she said, actually no, that’s not covered. We removed it at renewal. You have to specifically request it anymore. Sorry about that.

            Wonderful.

            I asked around for advice. One fella said I could try and fix it but the crack was bigger than a 2 euro coin so that was out. Another lad suggested I change the number plates with some other car and try swing something like that and most official places wanted somewhere between 200 and 300 euro to replace it. Then the apple windscreen fell on my head and I was inspired by a ground breaking idea.

            I rang the insurance back, innocent, inquisitive, vaguely confused, like an Irishman in New York, pretending he can build skyscrapers. I’d swear twas the same girl that answered when I said: ‘Just wondering, eh… can I add windscreen cover to my policy…?’

            No, Michael, she said. No.

Well fuck.

    

The end of the Insignia…

The advice was – don’t let her go low on oil, whatever you do. Keep plenty of oil in her.

Then later.

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There was an almighty bang and a plume of smoke. I couldn’t see out any of the windows for about twenty seconds. When the cloud cleared, it was like the aftermath of a drone strike. Parents running stunned away with kids. Abhorred traffic and two lads at the pub door coughing and spluttering and unsure what the hell was happening.

One of them came over and said: ‘I think your turbo’s gone.’

‘How do you reckon that?’

‘The smell. The smell of burning sweet rubber.’

‘That’s not too bad, I suppose.’

‘Did you notice anything beforehand?’

‘No. Just put oil in it?’

‘Much?’

‘Oil? A good bit.’

He thought, said: ‘You might be fucked so.’

I tried starting it. Sure enough, it fired. Hesitant, then strong. Maybe it was too much oil. Drive her out of it. Hope for the best. I pushed on -away from the new smoke, and the onlookers and into the oil free future.

It was then I noticed the temperature. It was over the usual half. Gone past the dangerous three quarters. And was now at full tilt maximum. I thought then I should maybe stop but I was sure when a big light came on and said: ‘Engine Overheated. STOP IMMEDIATLEY.’

Great craic. I got out, tried to breath, struggled a bit. A Romanian man came along, asked:

‘Car has problem?’

‘Turbo I think.’

‘I think not.’

‘No?’

‘No. I think more like, how you say….KAPUT?’

‘Thanks.’

‘Iz ok.’

And he walked off. Darkness coming now. And some cold. Rang the breakdown assistance. Told them I think it was the turbo. They said they’d send someone down. And they did. He pulled up, all lights and swagger, said: ‘Overheated?’

‘Turbo maybe.’

‘Any lights on?’

‘Just for the oil.’

‘And did you put much in?’

‘A good bit.’

‘Oh.’

‘Oh?

‘Oh. You’ll need a taxi home. I’ll let them know.’

He rang the taxi. Put the car on the truck. Said we had to go to some town, some place. Sat in. Talked about life, kids, mortgages, Brexit, the price of cars. Then he said we’ll stop here and wait for the taxi.

We got out. Kind Friday air. Decombusted week. Then – more smoke. It was coming from the back of the truck. Had to be my car, a new fire, a latent sizzle gone rogue. But no. It was the truck. Smoke coming from here too. Something to do with wheels, rubber, axles, calipers. He explained while he poured water over the source and said he had to call a breakdown truck for himself now but he’d have my car back in Athlone by the morning and here comes your taxi.

The taxi man was delighted. Long handy fare. Asked me had I the car long and what happened. And was Athlone nice and do they have good chippers?

After that, we drove and didn’t talk much. Not much to say, only the dark night and the dead road and the carless future. He dropped me off on Connaught Street and I told them they do good chips in Mr.Pizza and he said thanks and charged me a €182 for the fare.

Great day, sure it might be grand. The next day I rang the mechanic and told him the craic and he asked me where the car is now. And sure I hadn’t a clue. Some town somewhere, on the back of a smoky truck. I’ll get back to you on that, I told him.

Insignia still not scrapped.

Ah, sure lookit. These lads had it sorted. Big operators. Big into the car business. Known for doin yokes up. They wanted the remains of the Insignia. It was imperative they got it. Said they’d give €500. The loved Insignias. Had five or six of them in the forecourt out the back of their mother’s yard. They were from some town. Some village. Some rural stretch on the road. Spent most days turning screws with ratchet screwdrivers and talking about buying Insignias. Lately they found a beaut. A real winner. Class price. A Brexit bargain from beyond. There was a trip over, and a boat back, and a drive home to the rainy dealership somewhere between the wet fields. Ballyfin, Ballindine, Ballyhowya. Somewhere. It didn’t matter because they had somehow found their way to Athlone and seen my sick model in the grey mist gathering dust and praying for an owner. Praying it wouldn’t be turned into Greta bean cans somewhere. And now here were the Messiahs.

The mechanic rang, said: ‘Them lads were here, would you take €500?’

I would. Half it even, but I didn’t mention that.

‘Ok, I’ll tell them. They just bought another Insignia they want your one too.’

‘The engine is gone, do they know that?’

‘Doesn’t matter.’

‘Are ya sure about that? It usually makes a difference when trying to drive it. Just talking from experience.’

‘They don’t want the engine, just the body.’

‘Fair enough. They mightn’t get far though.’

”They have another Insignia at home. But she’s English.’

I didn’t understand, said: ‘I know what you mean.’

‘And they got her at a good price, but the import tax is colossal.’

‘The VRT?’

‘Yeah, nearly twice the price of the car.’

‘Right.’

‘So what they’re goin to do is take the engine out of the English one, and put it in your one and then they have the English engine in an Irish registered car and don’t need to pay the tax.’

‘Sounds messy.’

‘I need the space in my yard either way so will I tell them to take it?’

‘Do. Do. Do.’

A week later, the car was still there. Looking like this:

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They had trouble sourcing a truck to bring it home. There was a cousin with a girlfriend who had a brother and his father owned a truck but he wasn’t willing to give it. They’d be back in a few days with a plan. More time passed. The mechanic offered them a triangular yoke you could attach to the back of your car and tow it that way. There was excitement about this until it transpired they didn’t have a car with a hitch so that wouldn’t work.

Another week went by and no word. Eventually they said the logistics wouldn’t work out, and there was a lot of work to be done on my yoke, and they hadn’t accounted for that time I scraped it off the pillar downstairs and wrecked the back door. And something might go wrong with transferring the engines and then you just have two useless Insignias and no money left. So they abandoned the great plan, let the genius subside, and went back to screwing screws with ratchet screwdrivers, and waiting for the next great moment.

Mick.

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