I've had some pretty crappy days over the past couple of years, but last week had one of the worst of my whole life, and funnily enough after recently breaking a long blog hiatus to reveal I'd actually joined the police, it was a police officer who made a fleeting cameo in my afternoon and was instrumental in fucking it up.
The backstory is that since leaving the force I haven't had much use for my battered old Ford Fiesta that now sits forlornly outside my house, literally gathering cobwebs on its wing mirrors. After being driven only a couple of times in the preceding six months – to pick up my late dad from hospital then later help clear out his pad – it was needed again for a short-notice work assignment in the neighbouring county, which meant having to jump the flat battery.
No problem: my one local mate Andy (a driving instructor, who taught me to drive) was able to swing by during his lunch break with jump leads, and after we hooked up our engines mine instantly spluttered into life along with the radio and alarm with a turn of the ignition. Happy at the painlessness of the procedure, I went back into the house after waving Andy off to gather my stuff and lock up, leaving the engine running because of course if I switched it off it wouldn't start up again due to low battery level.
Incredibly, however, in the space of those few minutes a random passer-by on my quiet residential street actually got into my car and grabbed the keys – but he wasn't a thief. I heard the engine cut off while closing my front door and looked around to see a man opening my front gate with my car keys in one hand and an opened police badge in the other.
"You know that leaving your engine running is illegal sir," he admonished while handing over the keys. "And anyone could drive off with it?".
"Sorry officer, I left it running briefly cos my battery's just been jumped and I was about to drive off in it," I explained. "But you've just killed the engine so I'm at square one again".
PC Jobsworth must have been expecting some kind of gratitude or appreciation for his service because he appeared taken aback by this and simply strode off with a "Just looking out for you mate".
Now, the only small thing I could say in his defence is that he was 'proving' how easy it was for someone to pinch my motor. Indeed, in researching the legal aspect I came across a news story about ex-Man Utd footballer Paul Scholes whose Chevrolet Captiva was nabbed while he left it idling in his driveway one winter morning to defrost the windscreen. But that's exactly what I'd taken into consideration: I don't drive a Chevrolet. It's extremely unlikely that a roving car thief is going to make off in my cobwebby 2002 Fiesta on its last legs, and I live in a low-crime area, and even if someone did nick it in that tiny window of opportunity they wouldn't get very far with a flat battery.
However I have to say that it is this kind of petty busybody copper that tars the rest, unable to give his sense of duty and authority a breather at any time.
So anyway, there I was with a dead-again car that I needed to revive and Andy couldn't come back so I had to get on my bike and cycle into town to see if a garage would lend me a portable battery jumper. The first one I visited might as well have just laughed at me, saying the most they could do was sell me a new battery which I'd have to fit myself. So I decided to go to the Ford dealership where I've actually had my car MOT'd and serviced, hoping they would more readily assist a longtime customer.
The suited man at the service reception informed me that yes, they did have a portable kit, but it's not allowed to be taken off the premises. I pleaded with him, stressing my loyal customership and that I'd sort him out with a bottle of booze, and that actually did the trick – he said he'd drive round with it during his next break and jump my battery there and then.
Happy days, I thought, and not long after I'd returned to my street he arrived as promised. However a new problem materialised: I discovered that I had pulled off the little zip puller from my coat pocket in anger or frustration, no doubt during or immediately after the lawman confrontation, which meant my keys were trapped inside and I couldn't get them out. As I stood there furiously trying to prise the zip open with my fingers, Ford man waits patiently with his battery pack, a polite "ain't got all day mate" forced smile on his face, so I end up having to grab a pair of secateurs from my garden shed to hack a hole into the coat to extricate the keys.
"Not your day is it fella," he remarks while attaching the jump leads, and my engine sparks into life again.
I don't even have time to face-palm or headbutt the steering wheel because the front two of the blocked queue start to toot, obviously unaware of my predicament, so I have to jump out and start frantically ringing neighbours' doorbells in the hope that someone's around who can help me push the car back onto the pavement. No doubt if any of the drivers had exited their vehicle to help, that police officer would've leapt out from somewhere to inform them it was a traffic violation to do so.
As luck would have it the only person to answer their door is an elderly gent on the other side of the road who I'd never met before, but immediately grasping the problem he hastens to help push while I steer. Unfortunately the steep camber of the road – which is partly what caused me to stall in the first place; this certainly wasn't the first time – also means that it's difficult to overcome the increased inertia, and once overcome it's then harder to navigate the car back to safety. The best we can do is leave it diagonally against the kerb with its arse sticking out, forcing traffic to manoeuvre around it.
I was experiencing a variety of negative emotions at this point but had to hold it together, knowing I now had to return to the Ford garage in town and suffer the embarrassment of asking the man to come back and help me again. I've tried to blank out the scene from my mind but have to relive it again here. That timeless feeling of dread, reminiscent of having to find dad to inform him you've done something incredibly stupid, which is also going to greatly inconvenience him.
He was with a customer as I slunk back through the door, was still talking to him as his eyes alighted on my sorry self, wearing my coat with a gaping secateur rip down the side.
"What," came his tight-lipped question, probably knowing what was coming next. Upon hearing that I'd stalled the car he delivered an unmistakable "You fucking bellend" head-shake, then told me to go back and he'd be there when he'd finished with his customer. While back on my street hitching up the bonnet for a third time, I had hit a proper emotional low, in shock at how the afternoon had panned out, the absolute injustice of it. The appointment I was supposed to be honouring had to be postponed by two hours, and here comes Ford man with a distinct glare as he again rocks up with the battery pack.
"This is the last time mate," he says, going through the same motions. "So keep your revs up. And I'm a big whisky fan."
I promise him a bottle of Waitrose's finest, thank him again with almost a lump in my throat and get behind the wheel once more, this time not bothering with the U-turn and going the long way in the other direction, frenziedly revving the engine at each junction stop, eliciting concerned looks from passing pedestrians.
After that journey though the car's running fine again, just have to drive it a bit more often and have invested in a portable jump starter to prevent ever having to re-experience this.
But just to conclude this sorry tale, if you ever happen to read this my Cambridgeshire Constabulary chum who came walking down my street that day and straight into my car: thank you for your quick thinking and assistance, it truly made my day. Karma Police is one of my favourite songs funnily enough.