Never has a more true word been spoken at the phrase ‘laughter is the best medicine’ – unless you actually die laughing that is! My own little world has been a bit up and down as of late owing to the fact that, after a short illness, my father passed away very recently. It was all very quick and sufferance free for him thank the Lord and it has yet to really sink in that he’s gone, but one of the rituals of a bereavement is the receiving of cards and those ‘phone calls that come completely out of the blue. My father loved reading some of the rambles on this site so, Dad, if you have got a PC working up there by now, this one’s for you!
Well, as I mentioned, ‘phone calls come out of the blue at difficult times and one such call came just the other day from a chap I worked with in a small retail Rover dealer circa 1994. We were thick as thieves for the period we worked together and, because we lived miles apart, we only socialised at work – often getting roasted for our daft antics. The dealership was tiny but our workshops were busy five and a half days a week. Saturdays involved alternate workings from 8.00 till midday and my stint involved running the parts and service counter along with preparing Monday’s job cards – no computers in aftersales then!
The showroom would open up around 9.00am with two sales execs on duty and in the bays we would have two mechanics, one of whom my out of the blue pal reminded me about during my surprise and recent conversation – it’s a funny story I had completely forgotten about… until now. This particular weekend was hectic, there was the Mini’s 35th birthday party at Silverstone and with us being a nearby dealer just a few miles down the road, we were participating. After the doors and shutters were snapped shut a handful of us were to hotfoot it to Silverstone to have some free fun and japes to celebrate the rinky dinky Mini.
To help us out on a Saturday, a part-time lady who’s name eludes me would answer the ‘phones. A lovely woman who made one of the best cups of tea known to mankind but who, without insulting those woolly farmyard favourites, was as dim as a sheep. Even a simple knock knock gag would require her to dwell on the punchline for a while but she was jolly, pretty as a picture and great with customers. One of the duty fitters that day was a chap called Steve Templar, a man in his late 40s who was a time served mechanic of unsurpassed ability, spoke few words and owned no sense of humour in the slightest.
Everyone would call him Simon Templar on the QT and any reference or harmless skit towards the Leslie Charteris character of the same name would cause him to explode into a rage. However, whereas Simon Templar was tall suave and debonair with an eye for the ladies who solved international crime and drank fine wines, our Mr Templar sadly did mix with the jet set in a Volvo P1800 or Jaguar XJ-S. Steve was quiet, short and plump, had a very short fuse and drove a knackered old car – so the similarities ended with the surname. That said, their was nothing he couldn’t mend with his skills.
Lunchtime came and we were all ready to scarper – that was until our receptionist came trotting in the workshop all in a tizz because her immaculate old style Metro refused to start. Only Steve, myself, my new found valeting friend and a salesman were present, so with much protesting and grumbling Steve agreed to have a look under the bonnet. The stricken Metro was pushed into a bay and it was quickly discovered that the something in the distributor had failed. We had no part in stock after checking but, just as she was about to call for a taxi, I remembered something that could help.
A few weeks earlier, our battered Metro 310 van had blown its gearbox and so its dead 998cc A+ power unit was now sitting under a tarpaulin sheet in a dark corner of the stores. Grabbing a spanner and a torch (it really was that dark), I liberated the distributor and passed it to Steve who popped it in, set the timing roughly by eyesight alone and fired up the car. Vroom! Away it went and the scatty receptionist nearly pee’d herself with glee and relief, all taking barely 30 minutes to complete and our out of hours efforts were rewarded with a brace of £10 notes.
In total innocence she profusely thanked us again before driving away and quipped “between you both… you really are Saints” which caused the rest of us to burst out laughing. Steve just looked blankly and mumbled “just **** off the lot of you” – I could have sworn his halo slipped a fraction that day!
Dedicated to Charles ‘Alan’ Humble: 1940 – 2013