Dukes, Daves And Driving

In the light of the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh, known as Phil the Greek to we schoolboys back whenever, I was recalling my own skirmishes with the Duke of Edinburgh award. It wasn’t a success and I never even managed bronze. I partnered up with my mate Dave for the hiking part, which failed because we called in to a pub and foolish disclosed that fact. That we were 16 and still short of it being legal may have contributed. In recalling it, it also brought memories of the road trip I undertook with Dave in 1975, which had similar disasters. Enjoy….

Dave The Mechanic

In the long hot summer of 1975 (no, ok, that was 1976, but where would we be without rose tinting and 1975 had its share of warm days) my holiday comprised a kind of grand tour around the UK with my best friend, Dave. We had little in common really beyond a love of beer and being in the same maths set but friends we were.

Where we really differed was in the sphere of things mechanical. He loved them, I broke them. His particular focus was his car, a fragile bipolar Ford that he lovingly stripped and fripped while trying to persuade me Frank Zappa really was singing and not self-waxing his buttocks.

Since I knew zip about the workings of the internal combustion engine he could bullshit me with a baffling dialogue of pidgin Haynes every time the magic stopped and we pulled onto the side of the road.

In truth Dave loved a good breakdown so he could spend time tinkering.

I sort of knew a significant part of my holiday would comprise verge-perching so I brought several books and cassette tapes to wile away the hours.

Of course, reading and rewinding crappy C90 tapes takes you only so far given the likelihood of occasional showers during a British summer especially if one occasional shower decides to bump against a few others in an overly friendly cloud hug.

By the end of our third week our tour had taken us to Caerleon in Wales, Manchester and Carlisle in the West and Huddersfield, Hull and Beverley in the East. It was a drizzly Monday and we were cruising down the M1 heading for Coventry. Mud was competing with the Mahavishnu Orchestra with background notes of the Blue Oyster Cult and Caravan as our musical interlude when we began cruising to a halt. Dave steered us to the hard shoulder, barely able to hide the grin in his voice. ‘Total loss of power.’ Even I could work that out. I sat in my seat staring at the oily raindrops, once again putting a bet on which one would reach the bottom first while Dave unloaded the boot of his gubbins.

‘It’s the reversing spraggle-doggit. It’s recrabbling and needs a fres-pizzle at torque N.’ Or something like that.

It’s darkest before dawn; you need to reach the bottom before climbing back up; there is always a light at the end of every tunnel. So many clichés, so much wasted hope.

But even occasional showers have silver linings. Or perhaps pewter, but at least something almost shiny to cling to. A jam sandwich pulled up behind us and a comfortably sized constable who, in years, was clearly a classmate of Methuselah, climbed out and waddled our way.

As soon as I saw him, I knew I needed to join Dave at the bonnet end, if only to translate from Greasish into English.

‘What’s up, lads?’

Dave began to explain.

I butted in, ‘We’ve broken down. Not sure why, officer.’

Dave glared. Constable Gnome nodded and spoke into the radio on his lapel. ‘Hello, Doris. Couple of likely ones, broken down near junction twenty.  Can you sort out a tow?’

Dave made a sort of hiss that both Darth Vader and Hannibal Lecter might have mimicked. ‘I can fix this.’

‘You’ve twenty minutes, kiddo; then you’re towed.’

Dave dived into the Stygian depths while Constable Orange and I exchanged pleasantries. From time to time Dave popped up like a tungsten sprung meerkat to check on his enemy and then returned to the bowels of his car. Sadly he was still freediving when a rusty truck pulled up in front of us. A slick and strutting youth, no older than us, stepped out, rollup limply dangling from his lips and sauntered over.


Dave shielded his baby from the Gaze From the Dark Side. ‘I’m nearly there.’

The Pimpled Protagonist leant over the radiator and sucked in a breath. ‘That’s yer problem, mate.’ A stubby finger pointed at a gaping hole, the size of a florin, in the engine block. How Dave had missed such an obvious flaw was as mysterious as anti-matter or the continuing popularity of Cash in the Attic.

‘There’s a technical term for that,’ he smirked, looking at each of us. ‘Yer fucked.’

Dave was broken. We helped him to the passenger seat in the truck where he curled, foetus-like and reviewed his career options. I felt for him, of course, but, at the same time, I knew I’d no longer be made to feel totally inadequate. Clouds, silver linings and all that jazz: sort of depends whether you are inside looking out or outside looking in.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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51 Responses to Dukes, Daves And Driving

  1. Poor Dave. It’s like the stereo didn’t work and it was taken apart only to discover it wasn’t plugged in.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. V.M.Sang says:

    Great story, Geoff. It takes me back to similar events in our old 100 E. Once we spent the night on the forecourt of a garage, having been towed there courtesy, like you and Dave, of the intervention of the police. (We were on the M6 when we broke down.)
    We’d been away for the weekend and I put on all the clothes we had in the suitcase. It was, I think, October or November and cold. I tried to get some sleep, while my other half tried, unsuccessfully, to mend it. The nice men at the garage were more successful when they arrived next morning.
    And the music you mention also takes me back to those days when cars could be fixed by an amateur mechanic. Simpler times in all respects.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My first car was a 100E. I loved how the windscreen wipers, vacuum driven, would come to a stop when going up a steep hill!

      Liked by 2 people

      • TanGental says:

        Most of my early cars did that asthmatic dying schtick on hills. How many cars have I helped over brows, I wonder. Like jump starting…

        Liked by 1 person

      • V.M.Sang says:

        Oh, yes! I’d forgotten that for the moment. Great in a rainy, hilly area. We had 3 gears, and had to double declutch if we needed to go into first while in motion. Great times! Yes, things are easier now, but is it as much fun looking back at cars you can’t mend yourself, and no tales of breakdowns?

        Liked by 2 people

      • I once broke off the gear lever of that 100E (she was called Amanda), right down at the bottom when I was half way round one of the old Ripon roundabouts on the A1. I was able to unscrew the housing, take out the remaining shaft and insert a large screwdriver to use as a makeshift gear stick until I got a replacement from a scrapyard!

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        I recall being on a hill in Rye in Sussex when dad yanked the handbrake so hard he snapped the cable. My brother and I – 14 and 16 – were dispatch to take the weight so he could hill start and then follow to act as handbrake until we reached a flat bit where he tried unsuccessfully to repair it while mum went in search of a phone box to call the AA and see who sorted the problem first.

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        Double declutching!! Oh joy! I think I founded a religion inn praise of synchromesh gears….


    • TanGental says:

      Yes, more enjoyable in a way. Great story though

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Chel Owens says:

    I’m with you on the engine repairs. 😀 Poor Dave. Great story all around, especially in how you told it. I’m taking notes.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. trifflepudling says:

    Bless, and it’s such a cool photo of him too! Maybe he should’ve taken off his sunglasses before looking under the bonnet …

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hilarious. Tangental at his best

    Liked by 1 person

  6. noelleg44 says:

    A great tale, Geoff, which begs the question, what happened next? Did you hitch hike home?

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      We were towed to somewhere near Northampton from memory where he managed to haggle a new block for forty quid and then persuaded his dad to send us the money. We spent an uncomfortable 24 hours before we headed off to Rugby and some of his engineering friends. I have vague, excessive beer numbed memories of a cat called Cooking Fat (apparently a homage to Dr Spooner) and doing donuts in Sainsbury’s car park in someone’s old mini. I may be wrong – it could have been Tesco’s.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Mary Smith says:

    Poor Dave. I felt for him.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. As a car builder in my youth, I loved this one, Geoff. I know how dave felt.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Elizabeth says:

    Amazing what we thought was normal in cars in those days. We had a hole in the floor of our VW bug but just kept a rug over it! That car was also when I realized what “steel belted” tires meant. You guessed right–I saw the metal. I would have bristled at anyone saying “you’re f—ed” even though we clearly were!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Marsha says:

    I love this phrase, “fragile bipolar Ford” I had a “fragile, bipolar” Chevy. I smiled throughout this story even more at the way you mold together words like playdough. You put pink and blue playdough in the same sentence, massage it, and turn it into a purple word that perfectly completes the word sculpture. Wonderful story at “poor” Dave’s expense.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. George says:

    Brilliant. This had me grinning from start to finish, the wry descriptions are spot on—Ford should have released a model called the Bipolar—the warm seventies nostalgia, the music (on C90’s), and (sorry, Dave), the schadenfreude.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. V.M.Sang says:

    This story seems to have brought many fond memories to a lot of people. Thanks, Geoff.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. willowdot21 says:

    Lol read about you and Dave before. 💜


  14. I had to suffer through learning how to change a car tire, Geoff, and that was more than enough for me.

    Liked by 1 person

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