I should begin this with a thank you. A thank you to the lady fielding calls for Green Flag the breakdown company, to Phil the breakdown man, to the helpful girl at Halfords who had the correct car battery waiting for me at the till, and to the taxi driver who provided a much needed shuttle service whilst wearing a permanent look of bemusement.
This was not supposed to be a trip. It was just me taking a train journey from London to Godalming and a simple lunch with my parents before heading back on the train to see Hamilton the musical. Given I had bought tickets for the performance fourteen months ago I had left plenty of time for unexpectedly delays (as these are not unknown when meeting my parents as my mother springs unexpected chores on me, normally as I am about to leave). The restaurant chosen for the meet up, Prezzo, was a short walk from the railway station and had ample handicap parking for my father, who now possessed a red and white striped walking stick to demonstrate he was officially deaf and blind. Unfortunately it did look more like a barber’s pole giving the slight impression he was the world’s oldest mobile hairdresser service.
Prezzo Godalming had survived the recent cull of restaurant chains that had affected the High Streets and Out of Town Shopping Centres up and down the country. Whilst their sibling establishments were baking their last focaccia and gently sobbing into their Prestigio pizzas, the Godalming outlet stood, like an Italian Alamo, defying the recession and a customer base that preferred to tap the “Just Eat” app on their mobiles with their stubby little fingers, rather than brave the English weather.
Regretfully their new additions to the menu had clearly been designed by someone who saw the end of their employment coming and decided to seek revenge, pervertedly on the taste buds of the few customers who had remained loyal. Even my father paused to look forlornly at oddly tasting cardboard mistakenly referred to as sea bream on the menu. My pizza seemed to have been concocted from whatever had been left in the fridge at Prezzo Guildford when its doors had closed for the last time. Yet my parents are always well treated there and a one off culinary failure can therefore be overlooked.
As is usual when we meet an exchange of post and other items take place. Reminiscent of the world’s most middle class drug deal, I swap whisky for my father and cigarettes for my mother’s cleaner for whatever Amazon had delivered to their house for me to collect. On this occasion the deal also involved my father’s new mobile phone which my mother wanted me to ‘sort’.
My father and mobiles have had a rather checkered history. Previously I used to buy the simplest one I could find, set up a contract, charge the phone, put in the key contact numbers and ensure the panic button on the back was correctly set. Previously he then put them in a drawer and left them there. This time it was going to be different, just four buttons on the front, labelled A, B, C, and D with space beside each to write the name of the person each button rang. All I had to do was set up a new contract.
After trudging up and down a rain soaked Godalming High Street whilst my parents stayed warm and dry in Prezzo, I discovered that it was, apparently the only town which O2 and Vodafone had decided to snub. If you wanted your sight or hearing tested it appeared to be the place to go. Higher end, amusingly named, second hand clothing stores (“Change of a Dress” to be but one), it had by the score, but if you wanted a SIM card, forget it. Nevertheless, after several enquiries I eventually discovered that the Sainsbury’s superstore at the end of town had an EE shop within it.
I returned, sodden, to the restaurant, collected my parents and we set off in my mother’s car in search of the SIM.
Arriving at Sainsbury’s I left my parents safely in the car in one of the spaces for the handicapped. Given I was now becoming slightly concerned at the passage of time, I raced in and a mere 45 minutes late returned triumphant.
The look on my mother’s face showed me instantly that all was not well. The car, which seemed to be working perfectly when I left, now showed no sign of life. The lights worked, as did the electric windows, as my father repeatedly proved by pressing the button that made them go up and down, each time allowing the rain and ice cold air to enter the car. However, the engine remained lifeless.
My father had around ten potential reasons why this was the case. The first eight involved it being my mother’s fault. The remaining two were that it was either as a result of the two front tyres being replaced the previous week or, for reasons I still don’t get, the lack of snow chains. He then began to read the instruction manual, which, as someone who is registered blind, was unlikely to add to our some of knowledge on the cause. He was certain it cannot be the battery, as the windows worked. This he again demonstrated.
Meanwhile, on the backseat, my girlfriend was sitting having given up on suggesting it could be the battery and instead simply resorted to handing round the chocolates we had bought as a gift for friends we were due to have lunch with the next day. Partially handing them out was as an act of kindness but partially it was an effort to keep my father’s hands occupied and away from the buttons for the window, as each time it was opened the rain that entered missed him, but managed to soak her.
Having eventually agreed that there had not been an accident and therefore the freephone number my mother had for such an eventuality was not the most useful one to dial, we found the number for the breakdown firm and rang. A charming woman answered and, having provided her with details of the fault and our location, we awaited rescue. My father continued to prove it can’t be the battery as he could still use the electric windows. He proved it two or three times every minute. He then explained again how it must be my mother’s fault as only a couple of days earlier she had lost all the TV channels by turning off the television in the wrong way. The fact the rest of the village suffered the same problem at the same time was, to him, pure coincidence.
Meanwhile my mother contemplated if she could time his opening and closing of the window with pushing his head through at the instant it was fully down then claiming the resulting strangulation was either a tragic accident or self-inflicted.
I was now faced with a dilemma. As the dutiful son I should stay with my parents until the crisis was resolved and they were safely on their way home. Or, like a cad, desert them to their fate and head off for my rendezvous with Hamilton.
I called a cab.
Almost immediately, Phil the breakdown man arrived and advised us that the battery was dead, much to the smug satisfaction of my girlfriend. Phil also advised that whilst he could start the car, he didn’t have a replacement which fitted and therefore the car would die again when my parents got home. Phil asked if we knew a garage nearby which sold the correct battery. This was an odd question to ask two octogenarians and someone who lives in Gibraltar. Siri was no more helpful although I do now know what was showing at the Odeon cinema in Guildford that day.
Meanwhile, the taxi arrived.
It was now nearly 5pm on Good Friday. Miraculously one of us remembered that a Halfords store exists in Godalming. Now Halfords is a remnant of an era when people managed to do their own car repairs and fit ugly accessories without the help of either a software engineer or anyone with any discernible taste. Quite why a town, bereft of mobile phone outlets still has a shop that sells car radios and DayGlo stripes for Ford Cortinas still exists, but it does. I rang them, they were open and had the battery in stock. The girl who answered even said she would have it by the till when I arrived. I jumped in the taxi, explained to the driver the change of plan and a few minutes later we returned clutching a small but surprisingly expensive car battery
Phil fitted it. Impressively during the whole process my father was still able to show the battery was working, and therefore not the problem, this he did by opening and closing the passenger door window, occasionally leaning over to do the same on the driver’s side, for extra emphasis.
Battery changed, my parents set off, I set off, Phil set off. My gratitude to Phil only slightly diminished when I found that both my father and I had heavily tipped him.
Only when I was safely on the train did I ring my mother to check they had got home safely. They had, but only she was inside. Apparently the electric windows on the passenger side of the car had stopped working as someone’s head was stuck in them. I am sure it was an accident and my mother has a freephone number for that.