Since beginning to use the car, that for so long seemed to my neighbours to be an elaborate way of growing lichen, I’ve clearly joined some sort of conspiracy of drivers: Drives SUV to Squash has started smiling at me in that way he does that never reaches up behind his jam-jar bottoms; and Gazebo Boycie seems entirely unconcerned that I might mow down his children frolicking behind the car he parks right on the bend, presumably as long as I don’t keep them awake with the sound of my car radio. But the most effusive reaction of all is Graham Chuckle’s, which is coincidentally also entirely in character.
After having dragged a new battery up the hill, only to find it as incapable of starting the car as the old one, I was ready to try kicking either of them along the driveway. Graham Chuckle (I don’t think he’s really related to either of the famous Brothers) it was that wandered over with an air of casual interest, and saved me from at the very least a fractured foot. After a glance at the greenish crust that covered the positive terminal he said:
“Got a wire brush?”
“Got some Vaseline?” As I boggled at this he continued, “Great conductor of electricity, Vaseline,” and then trotted off to his own garage to get a tiny pot of the stuff. In the mean time I’d got the wire brush, and a huge amount of petroleum jelly, and begun cleaning the crap off the terminal. Graham returned and, proud to be a DIY initiate, I showed him the big ol’ jar I’d found, of exactly the same brand as his tiny lip-balm container. “Nah,” he said. “No point in wasting yer good stuff.” And with that he started smearing it over the now sparklingly cupric connectors.
He put both on the battery and wiggled them. Again he said something I didn’t quite catch first time: it’s a gift he has. “Fitments?” He clicked his fingers, like someone looking for matches or a screwdriver he’s just put down. I shrugged. “Your fitments,” he repeated, “that clamp these things on.” And he pointed to a couple of holes that might have fitted something.
I can’t find an exact replica of the Golf’s own, but a quick glance at other connectors available should show that they share a common structure: there is a ring of metal that accepts the stump of the battery terminal, with a gap whose width a bolt can be tightened to vary. This means that, whatever the make of battery, the connectors can be micro-adjusted to fit snugly on the terminals. Graham was in effect asking me for two pairs of nut and bolt that I’d never seen in the few days since I had first opened the car bonnet. Having had to originally remove the connectors with a hammer and pliers, I realised that the only “fitments” involved in this car’s main electrical source for some time had consisted of the green powdery by-product of battery leakage.
Graham shook his head. We tried to start the car anyway. “You’re getting a spark, but you need fitments for a better contact,” he hollered. He chewed his moustache. He hummed and hawed, and looked closely at the battery. Then, after clicking his fingers again, he disappeared into his second garage. Graham has a second garage, underneath our bedroom, two garages down from our own. When I saw the box he carried out of it, straining with the weight, I had an inkling as to why he was, as it were, twin-storaged. The contents looked like one of those miniature exhibitions at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, intended to encourage pupil participation by letting them get their hands dirty on fossil fragments. Six inches of rusty, dusty, dirty bolts were punctuated at occasional intervals by the gleaming stalks of car locks complete with keys, springs and metal bars, and seeming rather out of place and slim among these fat chunks of serious-looking metal, a number of jubilee clips (for holding hosepipes on taps, that sort of thing). When Graham spotted two smaller examples of this last breed sitting close to each other he cried: “Aha!”
Suffice it to say that we are now driving round with jubilee clips on our battery connectors. I’m not sure whether this is safe or not: certainly it’s safer than the vehicle that had passed umpteen MOTs with nothing at all holding the connectors in place. The clips are small and secure, and as long as we avoid “ha ha, letting them both touch the bonnet, ha ha, because then you’ll get a short and your battery might burst, chuckle chuckle chuckle” then we’ve got hundreds of miles of electrically ersatz but fully functional driving ahead of us.