Being blonde and female, I should have known better than to take my Fiat to a main dealer to get it serviced.
It’s not that I’m stupid, per se. It’s just that main dealers have an invisible automatic scanning system so that, when a blonde woman walks through the door, an alarm goes off inside the service centre, a red light starts flashing, a till ringing sound reverberates throughout the workshop, and greasy mechanics stand ready with their spanners and clipboards bearing long checklists of mechanical failings.
I always swear I will never do it again, but like most women I’m a stickler for doing things by the book. So when the Panda ‘service’ light lit up I could not resist the temptation to take it to a main dealer instead of a garage under the arches, in order to ensure that I got one of those official stamps in my service book. Why do I persist with this lunacy?
The omens were not good as I walked into the big, swanky Fiat showroom on an industrial estate in Guildford.
The young woman on the reception desk was competing for the title of ‘prettiest girl who never had to be bothered to be nice to anyone because all the important people, i.e., men called Gary, fancy her anyway even when she is damnably rude so there’s clearly no point wasting breath being polite or helpful, especially to women, so clear off’.
She didn’t even look up as I stood in front of her. ‘Er-hem,’ I said. ‘Uh?’ she yawned, looking up at me through perfect almond eyes, her perfect dolly-bird blow-dried hair framing her perfectly made-up dolly-bird face.
‘I’m booked in for a full service and MOT?’
‘Name?’ she said, looking past me. I told her. She shuffled through some papers on her desk as if it were all too tiresome.
‘Sign this,’ she drawled, looking behind her to see if there was a man called Gary she could flirt with whilst dealing with me so that this five-minute segment of her life would not be a total waste.
‘It’ll be two hours. There’s tea and coffee. You can sit in the waiting area or there’s a sofa over there,’ she said, not pointing anywhere because that would have required lifting a limb and there was no point doing that for someone who could not marry her and take her away from all this.
‘Where?’ I said. ‘There,’ she said, not pointing again. ‘I can’t see where you mean,’ I said. ‘There,’ she said, and moved her eyes slightly to the left. Now she was wasting serious amounts of energy on me and making mental notes to add an extra charge to my bill for eyeball-moving.
‘Do you have wireless?’ I asked. She looked at me like I had requested open heart surgery.
She heaved a huge sigh. ‘Gary! Customer needs the Wi-Fi codes!’ she called over her shoulder.
I settled on to the sofa, which turned out to be an elongated footstool without a back — of course it was, a back would have provided comfort — and ate the sandwich I had brought and fiddled on my laptop with Gary’s Wi-Fi codes.
And after two hours, the pretty girl sauntered over and said, ‘I need to talk to you about your car. There’s like, all this what needs putting right before it’ll pass its MOT.’
And she shoved at me a wad of papers covered in mechanical faults from smearing wipers to leaking gaskets and drop links that were suffering from ‘excessive movement’, at the end of which was a total column that said £848.
Let’s be clear. You could rebuild a 2004 Fiat Panda for less than that.
‘I want to see the mechanic,’ I told her.
She stormed off and a few minutes later a larger, older, frumpier woman appeared who looked like she might have to be nice to me and handed me a list of minor improvements that came to £113.
‘That’s what it needs to get through its MOT,’ she said, sheepishly.
‘Fine, then just do those bits,’ I said.
Later, as I stood at the counter with my final bill, I realised they had charged me for the MOT even though I had an advert from my local paper promising a free one.
‘No,’ the pretty girl said,’ we’re not doing that no more.’
‘Yes, you are,’ I said, preparing to slap her round the face. ‘You’re advertising it, so you’re doing it. Or you’re breaking the law.
‘And by the way,’ I said to the back of her head, as she flirted with Gary, who was being played for a fool in his sweaty white shirt and black polyester trousers, ‘your friend’s little Wi-Fi doesn’t work either.’