A rat in my manifold

THERE is a rat’s nest on my manifold.

Actually, around my manifold. On it and under it and surrounding it. A kind of multi-storeyed, well appointed rat house with built-in reverse-cycle central heating.

That knocking I heard last week wasn’t a tappet – it was a rat, hanging pictures.

It was my mechanic who discovered it; not that it needed much discovering. It was sitting there — an untidy tangle of grass, twigs and chewed paper that very much resembled… well, a rat’s nest, actually — exposed to the full gaze of anyone who popped the bonnet and lifted it.

My mechanic told me: “Well – you only had to pop the bonnet to see it.”

He said it in a way that implied that if you didn’t look under there on a frequent basis then you deserved everything you got, which (he added bluntly) included chewed wires, severed hoses, a fire in the engine space and air conditioning that spits rat’s poo instead of ice crystals.

I expressed suitable horror. I even said something like: “God! He must’ve built it bloody fast.”

Implying, without actually lying, that I looked under their only yesterday, to check the oil and water and generally frown at technical and mechanical stuff as if I knew what I was doing.

I didn’t fool him for a nanosecond. You could tell from the absence of a nod, or a smile, or any kind of sympathetic gesture. My mechanic has a workshop in which every tool is in exactly the correct spot all the time. I think he undoes nuts with his fingers and thumb. He can’t ever use a spanner because they are always where they are supposed to be… the 10mm metric nestling in the toolbox in the space marked: “10mm metric” and so on.

He must hate me.

This business with the rat has made me re-evaluate my view of cars. I’ve always looked on them as a means of getting from here to there. I didn’t know they were a window on the soul!

Next time I’m in the business of interviewing anyone, whether it’s for a job, with a view to marriage, or to provide me with financial services, I’m not going to read their CV or check out their references – I’m going to demand an immediate tour of their car.

If anyone had ever tried it with me I would have spent my entire life unemployed, unmarried and insolvent.

If my car were my underwear my wife would have had me shot by now.

It contains chocolate and ice cream wrappers. Not neatly stowed in handy receptacles, but blowing around in a cloud that seriously impairs one’s forward vision every time one opens the window.

There are so many water bottles rolling around on the floor that one day I’m going to take a corner and the bloody car will roll as the weight of half a tonne of water transfers suddenly to the outside edge.

There are plastic bags and dead pens and the trodden, muddy cardboard packaging from four‑packs of Guinness; lengths of old rope and three five-baht coins from Thailand (where I’ve never been). And, oh yes, rat poo.

It smells of wee, too; but I don’t think it’s rat’s wee. I think it’s a combination of the two-year-old grandson and the 110-year-old (in dog years) dog.

When I was speaking to my mechanic my whole body language said: “What bad luck – that a rat should have chosen me.” But now I’ve had time to reflect I realise that it wasn’t bad luck. It was inevitable, like magnets slamming together.

It’s a meeting, if not of minds, then of personalities.

For about 24 hours I thought this might be some kind of epiphany, like happens in television dramas, where the characters see the Error Of Their Ways and change forever.

Then I realised that that’s the kind of thing that happens to people like my mechanic. Slobs don’t have the energy or the organisation for life-changing realisations.

And besides, even rats have to live. I began to wish my mechanic hadn’t tossed out the nest.

I said so to my wife.

“It’ll probably come back,” she said.

“How do you know?”

“Because you do,” she said.