“Everybody knows that red or black pumps are for diesel... don’t they?”
I’ve done some stupid things in my life, but this has got to be the most magnificently, stupendously stupid. Though the man who came to rescue me was very comforting.
“You’re not stupid,” he said, “You’re just a person who’s made a mistake.” A jolly expensive mistake it was, too. I blame God. Everybody was driving around perfectly happily with their unleaded petrol. Why did he have to go and invent diesel?
I also blame Shell. The pumps selling diesel have always been colour coded red and/or black, haven’t they? So when, in a moment of inattention, I reached for the red pump, I assumed it was diesel. It was only when I returned the nozzle to the holder thingy that I noticed the ghastly words ‘unleaded petrol’ and my blood ran cold.
I wasn’t alone. In the car were my daughter, our little terrier, who was having an attack of ominous farting, several lavender plants, and a wilting Morning Glory.
My mind reeled. What happens if you put the wrong fuel in? The words ‘engine is ruined’ surfaced from my memory banks. The filling station people kindly put a cone behind me and told me to ring the RAC, with whom I have a breakdown contract.
Having a cone behind your car is almost as embarrassing as having to wear a big letter ‘A’ for adultery. (This is a literary reference, not a personal memory.) I rang the RAC, in penitential mood. But it soon became clear that penitence was not going to be enough. The woman on the line, who had given up leaving spaces between words, informed me that “there is a charge payable by debit or credit card which you sign up to when you took out your contract with us you poor sap that’ll be two hundred and twenty pounds.”
Two hundred and twenty pounds! Not counting the seventy pounds I’d already stumped up for the wretched unleaded, not to mention the seventy I’d have to stump up to fill up with diesel afterwards.
“Do you want togo ahead ?” she demanded restlessly. Well, of course I wanted to go ahead. They had me over a barrel – of oil, in this case. What was the alternative? Could we all set off on foot, heading for the A38 with an armful of lavender plants and a stinking mutt?
Once I’d agreed to stump up big time, she asked for my registration number and then rattled it back to me in some kind of dreadful code. “‘Is that Kamschakta Novitiate Oregano?” she demanded. Or something. Instantly I was in a monastery garden in Eastern Asia. I had to scrape the associations of these words off my brain before I could confirm that their initial letters bore some relation to my registration plate.
Once I’d stumped up, I was assured that help would be arriving. Now for about 40 minutes we had to endure the satirical glances of other customers who came, helped themselves to the correct fuel, and then departed. We comforted ourselves by assassinating their characters based solely on their clothing, hairstyles and demeanour.
A flashy orange van pulled up nearby, adorned with ladders, ropes, a block and tackle, etc.
“There he is!” I cried foolishly.
But it was just a window and door company. Much as I’d like to replace the car doors with solid oak and the windows with limestone mullions, it didn’t seem the right moment somehow.
Another orange vehicle pulled up nearby, equipped with ladders, ropes, oxygen cylinders, etc.
“It’s really him this time!” I cried foolishly. But it was just a private car belonging to a man with some kind of behavioural problems. Everybody nowadays seems to want to make their vehicle look like an RAC rescue van. Perhaps they like to accelerate past stranded motorists giving them the finger as they pass.
Eventually the real RAC man arrived. He reminded me slightly of Lord Byron, poet and serial seducer. He assured me that I was the fourth he’d attended to that day, and that, over the course of a year, he might provide his services to almost a thousand. Very like Lord Byron, in fact.
The wrong fuel was sucked out of my car into a tank in the back of his truck and then the right fuel put in. It’s that easy. You do have to live with the shame for the rest of your life, though.