COLM O'REGAN: What happens when your car breaks down on the motorway

The cars were going by so fast, they created little pulses of air that buffeted my car. It looked almost bullied. As if they were boys in a secondary school corridor and my little car has just dropped all its study notes on the ground. Just looking for an understanding glance from another pupil.

But there is no understanding. Just people giving a fleeting glance that says “I’m glad it’s not me” It was me. Broken down on the side of the motorway.

Broken down is a familiar experience from childhood days. Our Fiat Mirifiori were fine lumps of cars in some ways but they would sometimes break down, chiefly on the way to the seaside. Sometimes a push would sort you out, sometimes not. The pushing of a car locks pusher and pushee in an interesting dynamic. For the average – especially male – human, getting a car moving is a triumph of strength. It’s proof that not all muscles have atrophied since you’ve been tamed behind a desk. But there comes a question how long to push for. You blame the driver for not being able to start the car “after you did all you could for them”. For the pushee, there comes a moment where you just want the helper to go away because you’re progressively being pushed into a more dangerous position.

No one stops, nor would I expect them to or want them to. A car on the side of the road might be up to something: an insurance scam or searching for a bag of drugs that yer man swore he left near exit 14. There are hardly any hitchhikers on the non-motorways apart from idealistic continentals and the odd disorientated man on a Monday who’s wearing Fridays clothes and doesn’t really know what happened since but he thinks he left his coat in a flat in Bunclody. You’d pick him up in the hope he would provide inspiration for the Dark Rural Novel that’s been bubbling up inside you but instead he just spends the whole journey muttering about “begrudging bastards”.

And with the trust gone, I would be nervous of whoever did stop, What’s their game? Maybe they’re one of the infamous motorway gangs warming up before one of their sprees while on bail.

The cows looked uncomfortable in the field nearby as if they were wondering what I was staring at them for. No one ever looks at cows in a motorway field. I imagined a heifer saying to another “I wonder is he the AI man”.

It was artificial assistance of another type I needed. The breakdown assistance man was on the way. At least I finally ‘got the use’ out of the insurance. The insurance that went up by 40% this year because of a variety of dipsticks raising all our premiums through scams, suing pubs after they fell on an imaginary wet-patch after 10 pints, or the Quinn insurance 2% levy we’ve to pay until The End of Days.

The car is gone, just shy of its 20th birthday and 200,000th mile. I don’t know whether that’s significant or not. I wasn’t going to get it a cake. I visited it one last time in a garage near Clane before I emptied it of the all the stuff that cars accumulate over the years. I could hardly look it in the headlamp.

Currently I’m driving a brand new rented car. It’s not the same. With its efficiency and air conditioning and complicated radio and displays telling me when to change gear. “I’ll be the judge of when to change gear and just to show you who’s boss, I’m going to drive in 6th gear at 20 miles an hour and judder around the place like my last car did just before it died” I tell it, silently in case it replies.

Goodbye old car. Happy scrapping.


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