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Real Life

Calm before the storm

24 September 2008

12:00 AM

24 September 2008

12:00 AM

Quite out of the blue, the insurance company rang to say that the Polish driver has admitted liability and my car is to be fixed. This came as a shock and forced me to reevaluate certain prejudices I once held to be self evident. I had, for instance, entirely written off the possibility of a foreign driver coming clean about hitting my car. But he has.

I had also discounted any likelihood of an insurance company insuring something. But mine has come up trumps after forcing me merely to gaze into the first circle of hell — abandon all hope of keeping your no claims bonus, you who enter here. This involved spending many hours on the phone to people called Kevin who were clearly writhing on the floor of the call centre taking their last-ever customer inquiry before slashing their wrists with the edge of my claim form.

In the end, the breakthrough came when I gently but firmly talked a Kevin through the finer points of the insurance business. ‘What you need to do,’ I explained to him, ‘is contact the Polish driver on the mobile number I provided on the accident report.’

To which Kevin, and I’m quoting directly, replied, ‘Couldn’t you call him?’


The poor boy sounded so hopeless, so depressed, so desperately unhappy that for a moment I wavered. But I decided to hold firm because there is such a thing as enabling. If I had taken it upon myself to rescue him from elements of his life he ought to be confronting it would only make his problems far worse in the long run.

So I told him no, I could not process the claim myself. He would have to face up to his responsibilities, grasp life by the throat and shake himself out of whatever crisis had engulfed him. Seize the day, I said. Carpe diem. Stand on your desk and shout ‘captain, my captain!’ at your supervisor, or something.

It took six months but it worked. This time a capable woman called Julie rang — possibly she was ‘captain, my captain’ — and said that the driver with the name like the director of the Three Colours movies now accepted that he hit my car in April.

The next day I got a call from the body shop to say someone would be coming to collect the Peugeot at the next available opportunity, or indeed in three weeks’ time. They turned up on the appointed day ‘between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.,’ which is to say 2 p.m., with a Ford Ka courtesy replacement.

It was a sorry little thing, having no hub caps nor extras of any kind. I’m convinced that they had taken the original seats out and replaced them with ones designed to be especially uncomfortable to make it even more cheap and gruelling. (They had also taken the lights out of the dash so I can’t see how fast I’m going at night without hunching over the wheel. Conveniently enough, I’ve put my back out so the effect is even more painful than they might have been aiming for.)

I signed the paperwork, the man drove my car away and a strange sensation assailed me. It was the feeling of solving a problem. It spread like a wave and left me glowing. Suddenly it seemed to me that everything might just be all right. I contemplated getting a back massage to celebrate, followed by a renewed assault on all my other problems.

You see, another prejudice I held to be true was that the practical guff I find myself assaulted by on a daily basis will never be resolved. I am fighting a losing battle, holding back the tide, destined to process bills and queries and mistakes by banks and car prangs to no discernible effect for the rest of my natural life. But here I was watching a man drive my car away to get it repaired free of charge as a direct result of my perseverance and I genuinely felt the elusive pleasure of having got something sorted.

Then, ten seconds later, I realised. The Ka didn’t have a parking permit to sit outside my house. As if by magic, a traffic warden appeared at the end of the road. The blood rushed to my head, my ears pounded. My problems weren’t getting sorted. My problems were only just beginning. I was about to get eaten alive by Lambeth council to the tune of £60 a day for however long it took them to fix my car. I would have to drive the damn Ka to the nearest street without residents’ parking, possibly Croydon, or Cornwall. Or just drive around London in perpetuity. The old feeling of administrative colic set in. Being serene never suited me. At least I am back to normal.


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