Jeremy Clarke Jeremy Clarke

Low Life | 6 June 2009

The voice of reason

My old BMW failed its MOT on a bald tyre and no spare. On this particular model the tyres are metric safety ones costing £200 each new, and that’s if you can find any. However, I eventually found a set of five on eBay, in used condition, with plenty of tread left, and won them for £31.

They were in Lymington, near Bournemouth. I rang the seller to establish contact and arrange to pick them up. The phone was answered by a calm, measured voice reciting the six-digit telephone number in the old-fashioned manner. Judging by the noises off, he was speaking from a mechanic’s workshop. I said I’d be along to pick up the tyres tomorrow afternoon. He said it was best if I rang him for directions when I was approaching Lymington. Underlying his words was a degree of calmness and courtesy one doesn’t normally expect from a busy workshop mechanic answering a landline in mid-afternoon.

Next morning I set off early. I took it easy. On the way I visited Thomas Hardy’s cottage at Higher Bockhampton. Muck spreading was in progress and Higher Bockhampton and even the interior of Hardy’s cottage reeked of well-marinaded cow manure. After that I walked the three miles of footpaths and roads Hardy took to school in Dorchester and back — part of the way was along a Roman road — then I resumed my journey across Wessex. It was a lovely day and I felt unusually happy.

To reach Lymington I had to drive across Bournemouth. I entered the outskirts of Bournemouth at rush hour. The roads were gridlocked. I rang the mechanic to ask for directions and to warn him I might be a bit late. He answered his phone in the same patient, calm manner and gave me clear and well-rehearsed directions.

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