Life, travel

Like, yet not like…

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Photo: Stuart France

If you are going to have your car squashed by a lorry, then I heartily recommend my local supermarket. Admitting liability instantly, their chosen intermediaries expedited the whole process, leaving me barely chance to mourn the Silver Bullet when they announced her official demise. The only fly in the proverbial ointment was the mail service that delayed the settlement cheque quite unreasonably.

However… the deed is done, the Bullet is no more, gone to some faraway scrap yard to donate her organs to other, less mangled vehicles. She goes with my thanks and affection.

The hire car, driven only with the aid of the pillow from the spare bed that allowed me to reach the pedals, went with a kind of relief, grateful as I had been for its temporary presence. I had found a replacement a week before and, on a dark and chilly night, when the moon was low and the stars bright, my younger son drove me to pick her up.

They say that you should do something to get your heart pumping every day. That qualified. Driving her home in the dark has to be one of the scariest things I have done in a long time. And that is odd considering I will drive pretty much anything without batting an eyelid.

Was it such a vastly different car? Er…no. That was the problem. In one of those illustrative incidents where, from a seeming disaster (like, say, having your car squashed by a truck), you find that a doorway opens to better things, I had replaced the Bullet with her identical twin… except that the new one had led a much healthier lifestyle and was in far better shape.

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Photo: Stuart France

Where my poor, tired car had rattled and creaked as much as her owner and was in dire need of having as much as she was worth spent on her innards after the thousands of miles we have done together. It was odd that I had been ruminating on that, wondering if I could justify the cost or would have to replace her as I drove to work just before the fatal incident. Odd too, as Stuart had pointed out, that we had already written her out of the books in the last volume of our travels, But ‘n’ Ben.  On the other hand, her replacement has been beautifully looked after and professionally maintained. She’s also done less miles than the Bullet had when we first  joined forces. Things work that didn’t… things close that were reluctant… the engine purrs… and everything is exactly where it should be and exactly the same…

Except it isn’t.

The clutch actually works… the gears feel different, the engine and brakes respond differently and the lights that shine on the road illuminate a different view. Of course it would be so… cars are as unique as people. And that was the problem.

A completely different car would not have fazed me at all. This one did… not because of any fault with the vehicle, but because of my own unconscious expectations. My body has the habit of driving ‘this’ car and reacted to the change as if the vehicle had suddenly  revealed itself as an impostor. The near-panic I felt because of the unfamiliarity of the supposedly familiar was both unsettling and revealing.

I had to ask myself how often I have made those unconscious judgements that include expectations that may, or may not, be fulfilled? Not just me, but how often do any of us make that silent leap to presupposition based solely on  the looks or what we think we know? Bad enough to do that to a car… but we do the same things with our fellow creatures and to people too.

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Not just other people either… that was the conclusion I reached. We do it to ourselves. We are, quite obviously, the same person were were ten, twenty years ago… although we know we are not. Daily usage reminds us of the changes in the way our bodies function as we grow older, but what reminds us of the way we may have grown? How many old fears, ancient habits and  impressions, both positive and negative of ourselves do we carry still, simply because we have always known them and so expect their presence… and in expecting, become our own prophets?

How many of those negative beliefs about ourselves are based on other people’s opinions too? Or our perception of their opinions?

I have to wonder how we would each see ourselves if the familiarity could be taken away as suddenly as it was when driving the new-old car for the first time? I know that the extreme events we sometimes face may bring us up short and make us reassess many things, but we do not need to wait for trauma to kick us awake…we can wake ourselves by drawing back the veil of habit, thus realising our own true potential, rather than basing our self image on outmoded ideas that may not even have been ours to begin with.

It seemed the little car was already earning her keep…

As I drove slowly through the pitch black of deserted country lanes, my lights caught a glimpse of something moving and I slowed to a halt, watching in delight as a young badger wandered out into the road, explored a little, then shot off at a surprising speed when he realised he was not alone. It is the only time I have ever properly been able to watch a badger in the wild… all others have been minimal glimpses or the sadness of their crumpled bodies beside the road. I took the gifted encounter as a good sign that the little car will be a good friend.

There are a couple of differences between the Silver Bullet and her successor though… As yet we are barely acquainted and this one has not yet told us her name… and she isn’t silver.

Photo: S Austin


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