AIDA AUSTIN: What would be your first thoughts as you run from your smoking car?

‘I’ve seen car explosions. I saw poor Apollonia go up in The Godfather," writes Aida Austin

9.40 p.m. I’m jogging along the side of the road away from my car. I am aiming for a safe distance from an explosion, should one occur. I look back at my car. It’s parked lopsidedly just up from a bend in the road, half-way in a shallow roadside ditch and a sky-blue suitcase lies unzipped on the grass behind it, with contents spilling out. Smoke is billowing from the back. I keep jogging. The going’s tough in flip-flops. I glance over my shoulder again. The smoke is no longer billowing or black. Now, it’s more like steam. Plus the sparks have stopped flying up from underneath the back wheel. Cutting the engine must have helped. And the soft veil of drizzle that’s just descended over Cork. Things are looking good, I feel, but I jog on all the same; it only takes one spark to ignite a fire when conditions are right and there might be a residual spark flickering somewhere under the car where the rain can’t reach. Like near the petrol tank, where things are dry and hot.

Darkness has fallen. It is hard not to catastrophise in the dark. I mean, I’ve seen car explosions. I saw poor Apollonia go up in The Godfather. Just like that. Bits of car flying everywhere. I must remember to duck. No. Dive. Into a bush, like Michael Corleone did.I jog on another few yards; I can’t stop mulling over the old saying, “there’s no smoke without fire”. I suspect this might be one of those old hypotheses originating from hard fact that stands up well to testing. I need to position myself well away from the testing area.

9.45pm. I stop jogging. Here is good. I have everything I need now. I can still see the testing area but am at a safe distance from it. Plus, I have my diving bushes. I wonder if I should cover my ears.

A car pulls up. I am grateful that it’s pulling up at this precise moment, when I am preparing to cover my ears and not after it. The car has three boys in it. They look about the same age as my sons. My only hope is that they are as kind. “Do you need some help?” the driver says, “is that your car back there with the… the… what’s the blue thing?”

“Thank you so much for stopping,” I say, “I’m waiting for my car to explode but I think the critical moment’s passed. The blue thing is my suitcase. I’m just back from Lisbon. I took it out to save it but I couldn’t run with it so I just left it there.” “I’m just dropping my brother to the bus station in Cork,” he says, “but I’ll be back for you as soon as I’ve dropped him.” The passenger in the back seat leaps out of the car. “Sure I’ll wait with you,” he says, “till he gets back. We’ll wait in your car.”

We walk back to my car together. I walk very slowly, anxious to postpone having to introduce him to my old, neglected Nissan. We arrive at the car. He looks at my battered Nissan, then down at my unzipped suitcase. If my Nissan fails to tell him everything he needs to know about me, then my suitcase will fill in the gaps.

“I always wondered what items I’d save from a fire,” I say, by way of distraction, “and now I know.”

“So what did you save?” he says. I show him what I hold in my hands: a new yellow beaded bird from Artisans and Adventurers, London, a Mac mascara and a phone with a dead battery. “Ok,” he says, “just hop into the driver’s seat and turn the ignition on for me there and we’ll see where we’re at.”

“That’s exactly what Apollonia did in The Godfather,” I say, “she turned the ignition on and BOOF: game over.”

“Ok,” he says, “first things first. I don’t suppose by any chance you have a triangle?”*

I could not be more surprised than if he grew a second head. “Last time I played one of those I was five,” I say.

*Warning triangle: A safety kit for alerting oncoming traffic about disabled vehicles.

I’ve seen car explosions. I saw poor Apollonia go up in The Godfather


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