Ted Connolly remembers his amateur roadside rescue exploits.
THE school that I attended before venturing into the big, wide world didn’t have a careers teacher. No such luxury (and talking of luxury, neither were the school gates crowded out with dappy mums in their four-wheel-drives, taking their little darlings to school). Instead, we were advised to do the best we could with O-levels and, maybe, A-levels, clear off and get on with it.
Thus, I achieved eight O-level passes (not good grades, it must be admitted) and dropped out of A-level English and Economics because, well, they were getting boring and a) I could already speak the language and b) I didn’t have any money to make an understanding of economics of any great use.
I applied for many jobs – in those days, it was all done by conventional mail, no such thing as the internet – and particularly fancied a career in the motor industry, preferably working on cars, as opposed to any sort of managerial role. Thus, I wrote a beseeching letter to the AA (Automobile Association – my beer-drinking wasn’t that far advanced at the time) and asked if there was any chance of becoming a patrolman. The thought of tazzing around in an AA van, free and easy and stopping occasionally to help somebody out really appealed to me. It seemed like the perfect existence.
Back came the reply, and a very polite one, it was, that there were vacancies for patrolmen, but I was simply too young. I was genuinely disappointed, but in the event, things didn’t turn out too badly because a month or so later, I landed myself a job on the local newspaper and have never looked back (in recent years, that’s more due to a stiff neck brought on by age than the need to avoid nostalgia).
But, disappointment aside, I always maintained that enthusiasm for cars and saw myself as some sort of knight of the road, stopping to help those in distress whenever my services were needed, like some sort of very young and podgy Batman.
Throughout the years, I’ve rescued literally dozens of stricken motorists and some of those rescues have stuck in my mind. Shortly after getting the job on the local paper, I was on my way to work when I spotted a geezer with his head stuck under the bonnet of his PA Cresta. I stopped and he explained that the battery had gone flat. I instructed him to push it using the driver’s door pillar, while I shoved from the rear. When the speed got to a reasonable level, he should jump in, select second gear and drop the clutch. It worked a treat, except that the Cresta fired up with such ferocity that it shot off and I fell flat on my face in a puddle. Honestly, the bloke didn’t even wave.
Weddings aren’t really my thing and when a friend asked me to attend the reception of his, I went along with great reluctance. It was boring. Honestly, the guests were fuddy-duddies, the beer was naff and everybody was rocking around to some disco tripe that a hired DJ had the audacity to charge money for playing. And then, as if by divine intervention, one of the guests said his goodbyes, returned not long after and announced that his car was overheating. From memory, it was a Mark 1 Escort, although I could not be 100 per cent certain. Anyhow, he had about 50 miles to go and nowhere was open for him to call out a mechanic.
Puffing up my chest to its full 42 inches (and my waist to 10 inches more), I announced that I would see him all right. There were no obvious leaks and the radiator was correctly filled, so as a temporary measure, I removed the thermostat, told him to take it easy and to stop at the first signs of overheating. I am presuming he got home OK, because I never heard any more about it.
A naughty, very naughty, part of me enjoyed walking back into the reception, with grease stains down my white shirt and on the cuffs of my one-week-old, light fawn Burtons suit and with equally-as-oily roll-up dangling from my lips, and seeing the expression on the faces of the old turkeys in their floral hats, who were drinking Snowballs and jangling their cheap jewellery in an attempt to look posh and impress the world. It was wonderful.
However, the most memorable of my heroic deeds involved two elderly couples in a 105E Anglia estate. I ought to mention that the night before, while walking back from the pub., I somehow lost a tenner, probably while extricating myself from the next door neighbour’s hedge. But back to the rescue and I was just leaving a garage run by a friend when I spotted the aged ones try sort out a puncture. They didn’t have a clue, so I offered my assistance. Well, their car jack had gone straight through the jacking point on the sill (yes, rust, in case you hadn’t guessed), so I popped home, dug out my trusty trolley jack, went back and changed the wheel.
And you know what? They were absolutely delighted, to the extent that one of the blokes gave me £10. I argued against it, but he firmly insisted. Back then, a tenner was worth having, even so, I didn’t want it, it just kind of pleased me to help them out. Ironic that I’d lost a tenner the night before and had been repaid. It is also ironic that the people who I helped out would have been about the same age that I am rapidly approaching, but at the time, they seemed like codgers (actually, that’s about right, come to think of it).
Would I stop to help anybody these days? The answer is, no. Partly because I haven’t a clue how to fix a modern car and partly because I’d feel sort of vulnerable without youth and a degree of recklessness to help me through. Oh, and if you drove a PA Cresta, had a hot-running Mark 1 Escort at a wedding reception or remember giving some greasy oik £10 for sorting you out, thanks. You’re part of my mostly-treasured history.