I received a phone call this week, which made me want to vomit onto my touch screen. My friend had got a puncture and fate had burst his tyre close enough to my two-bedroom flat that I would have to ‘slip on some jeans’ and go help him.
Now, I don’t mind running to people’s aid. I once walked a drunken veteran back to his old people’s home and when I was at university I helped pick up loads of apples that had split through a young lady’s bag because it was too thin. But this task sounded particularly repugnant to me. Changing a tyre is the last thing you want to do on a hot day, and I knew I’d been selected more for proximity than nous. But he was tearful and he was in my postcode so I had to go. I punched my wall and kicked over my table with the pot plant on it and wandered down to find the stricken goon.
He looked funny. He was already doing things with a jack and his white shirt and beard were slick with sweat. I leant against a fence and watched. I wasn’t the only spectator either. He’d parked up in some kind of residential bit and there were quite a few kids watching and enjoying it. One of them wore a swimming costume and was sunburned and laughing and pointing at the goon. She was asking him what he was doing and ridiculing his pink trousers (he had been travelling to band practice). She was only seven I’d say, but some of her barbs were genuinely smart. The goon wasn’t saying much. He was breathing heavily and waiting for me.
Changing tyres isn’t my forte, to be fair. I’m not a man in that sense. I can’t really change anything, actually. Tyres, fuses, remote control batteries. Lightbulbs are also beyond me. I get my old man to change them all at once, then observe them gradually expiring one after the other as the months go by. My two-bedroom flat becomes duller and duller until, eventually, I’m sat on a stepladder, squatting under the last remaining bulb, thumbing through my address book for my dad’s number, my final lightsource flickering weakly above. I phone my dad, and he drives down and reboots the lot.
The jack lifted the car and the goon began trying to remove the offending wheel and the sunburnt girl threw bottle tops at his ass and pools of sweat flowed down the hill and toppled into the drain. The goon staggered to the boot with the dead tyre. Boy, did his car look funny with only three wheels! I wondered where a fourth would come from. Do cars come with an extra wheel? Or would he have to improvise something with the steering wheel? It felt like ‘borrowing’ a rear wheel to plug the gap at the front would be short-termist and ‘stealing’ a wheel from another car didn’t seem like a great option in this part of London. It was hot. I popped to Pret for a drink.
I found a low bin and sat on that as the goon started tightening nuts on a new wheel he had magicked from somewhere. I just thought ‘good on yer, mate’. The kids were giving him hell and I chowed down on a Swedish meatball wrap and a can of sparkling apple juice. The goon had taken his shirt off now and had texted me asking me where I’d got to. He said he was ‘almost done now’ and ‘thanks a bunch’. I texted back and said I’d be there in a sec and did he want a pint and he said that would be a lifesaver.
The tyre on, the goon stood back and wiped his hands on his sweat-sodden pink trousers and the sunburned girl shouted at him that he was a wanker and it looked like he might take a swipe at her with his spanner. “HEY!” I made myself known. “Oh hey Tim, I think I’m done”. I applauded and kicked the tyre. “Good job, pint?” The goon looked at me like I was heaven-sent. “Thanks man. Thanks for coming down”. “No worries”.
We drove gingerly to a pub by the canal and enjoyed a lager top apiece. Man, did that taste good with the sun on our backs.