I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to ‘floor it’ in a 2CV, but not much happens when you do. And not much of the floor was left anyway. However, we got a bit of a lean on a corner, with Bert bellowing commentary like Murray Walker at Silverstone. Then, the car just burbled to a halt. ‘Did you put any fuel in?’ I asked. ‘A gallon,’ Bert said.
Just at that moment, my wife drove alongside. The game was up. Not only was the surprise element blown, but there was no way I could give one careful lady owner a car that she’d first encountered broken down on the most dangerous bend in the locality. I’m still getting texts from Bert to say ‘she’s running sweet as a nut now’.
I don’t know whether he would sell his granny, but I do know that he traded the cost of his brother’s funeral with the undertaker for a second-hand Volvo estate. Having slept in the back of a K reg model, I can see the logic for both parties, but, as CJ may also have said: ‘I didn’t get where I am today by tearing money into small pieces.’
It is the quixotic nature of our health-and-safety culture that it tries to forestall every eventuality. On our site, the renovation of a listed steading and clock tower at the farm, there are usually only four of us present—derry, Pete, Craig and me—but we all treat the situation as if we’re building The Shard. We sign in religiously. We salute each other in hard hats. We beep when we reverse. We erect officious notices to each other.
We are so conversant with first aid that Craig can now perform a tracheotomy. There was a dodgy moment when the first-aid kit was found to contain a half-empty bottle of whisky and little else, but that turned out to be the reserve kit and the real one was located.
The scaffolding is signed off every week and we reckon we would survive any site inspection. However, one eventuality Her Majesty’s Inspector of Health and Safety hasn’t considered is ghosts. The tower, it appears, is dangerously haunted. Derry, who has a touch of ‘the sight’ about him, has seen the shadowy figure of a woman on the stair. Peter has turned off the lights, unplugged them and found them still to be lit. Derry and Peter were recently astonished by a loud banging on the scaffolding as if someone were jumping on it, although no other mortal was present.
The local building conservationists are keen on us preserving every original feature, which presumably includes the ghosts. But where does this leave us with the safety wallahs? Should a man who is nine floors up on scaffolding be backing away from a phantom? We should be told.
‘The first-aid kit was found to contain a half-empty bottle of whisky and little else
Joe Gibbs lives at Belladrum in the Highlands and is the founder of the Tartan Heart Festival