The brilliance of the older car is that they are much more fixable than modern cars. No computer is needed to tell you what is wrong; you can usually see it, plain as day, hanging off, or you cannot see it because it is missing completely. And people like to help, and mechanics seem to have a great deal of respect for the VW Transporter/camper family. So far, touch wood, we have never been stuck.
Sometimes it requires a lot of people to help. One year, on the M3 in Hungary, while touring with our Hungarian friends, we had a tyre blow out. That is a shocking sound on any car – there is a bang like you’ve been shot at, then the car starts to slew all over the road. We were on our way to visit the Aggtelek Caves in the north-east of Hungary with Bali (pronounced like the fancy champagne not the Indonesian island – bolly!) and his wife-to-be Aniko. They were in their own car in front, so we had to signal to them to stop and then get ourselves into the first parking area that came up. Luckily, it was not too far. Then the fun began. First Bali found the nearest garage and got them to be on standby for our arrival, with the correct tyres waiting. Meanwhile Will was trying to release the spare wheel, which is located under the bus near the front, held in place by a large metal frisbee bolted front and back. You could have put a gun to my head, and I would not have guessed where the spare wheel lived. It was ot something I had ever given any thought to. The tool required to get that metal frisbee off could not get clearance from the ground to be used effectively. So, we needed to jack Olive up. Now, I do know where the jack lives – it is behind my seat. Unfortunately, the jack was too strong and the jacking point much corroded (this was pre-2014, before Ben got to work on the body of the bus) so instead of lifting it, it just started ripping through it. We needed another type of jack that would not be so brutal but still do the job. A truckload of workmen had turned up and were enjoying their lunch of bread, sausage and peppers.
This is where Aniko stepped up. We needed someone who could speak Hungarian so obviously that counted us out. Bali was on the phone to the garage and frankly, the workmen would find Aniko harder to say no to. Aniko is exceptionally beautiful. And sweet. And lovely. So, we took a vote and unashamedly sent her over to the workmen. They immediately abandoned their lunch break and all five of them galloped over to help. Galloped. Sweaty, beardy Will would not have got such an immediate response, I am sure. They would have strolled over after finishing their repast at best. A trolley jack was produced; Olive was lifted enough for the bolts to be loosened; and the spare wheel was released. With some hearty ‘thank yous’ (kersie in Hungarian) to the workmen, we were back on the road, heading for the garage Bali had rung earlier to check that they had the correct tyres in stock, which amazingly, they did.
They did not. But, undeterred, one of the men jumped into a tiny Lada and drove off to a neighbouring garage who did have the correct tyres. He returned with four of them bouncing around in his car. While we were waiting the other mechanics had amused themselves by taking photos of each other sitting in the driving seat of Olive, laughing about it being on the ‘wrong’ side. Less than an hour later we had both front tyres replaced and a ‘new’ spare bolted back underneath, all for the princely sum of twelve thousand forints that equates to roughly thirty English pounds. So, thanks to two Hungarian friends, five workmen, one Ladadriving delivery man, the neighbouring garage, three tyre fitters and their boss, we were back on the road two hours after one tyre had blown out on the M3. It takes a village.
Anyway, back in Belgium 2017, there is just Will, Doris, me and the dog, not the village you want at that moment.
But our best ‘village’ is on the phone. Ben’s advice is drive straight, avoid potholes, no Evil Knieval stuff, cross fingers and all would be okay. I am shown the problem. “See that one? It starts up there, curves round and is bolted on there.”
“Errr yes, I see.”
“Now look at this side.”
“Okay, yes, I see, it’s not bolted on there but hanging down onto that bit which is where the clanking is coming from but where it should be attached to?”
Usually, I just pretend I have seen the difference in the two bits of twisted metal or multitudes of wiring he is showing me just to stop having to look at something I do not understand. All I want to know is, are you going to fix it and how long will it take? But this time I really can see the problem, maybe because it is so frigging obvious. Can we get to our friends in Austria and fix it with power tools? A follow-up call to Ben puts that possibility out of the window. The part is only twenty-six pounds so do not try and bodge it, and more importantly, it cannot get any worse, so it is not irresponsible to continue. Maybe we can get it done properly in Hungary when we have more time? Spoiler alert – we do not bother and just drive all the way home with the clanking.
Extracted from Juliet Greenwood’s new book, We Can Drive There.