You know you're in trouble when a car mechanic or repair professional sucks in air through his teeth with a whistling sound, and shakes his head.
If this is accompanied by an "Ooo," the news is even worse.
We have had a run of bad luck with our cars in the last couple of weeks. On Boxing Day mine got hit by a garbage truck. The ironic thing is that I had driven it over to my mother's as we were staying there for three nights, thinking it would be safer outside her place than parked outside ours. We live in a low socio-economic area and I had visions of returning to a car minus wheels, windscreen wipers and groovy wing mirror covers.
I woke up on 26 December to find the garbo had reversed down Mum's hill, collected my car on the way and pushed it nearly four metres down the hill, up the gutter and up over Mum's low sandstone retaining wall.
The driver had to return later that morning to do the recyclables run and we were waiting for him. He denied doing the damage but seeing we'd found bits of his mudflap on the road at the point of impact, and the dent in my car's poor rear matched the curve of his tyres, there wasn't much doubt. His boss visited the site and agreed his company would take liability. Cue calls to the police, insurance company, panel beaters, towing company etc etc.
This time of year in Australia everything shuts between Christmas and New Year, so it was only yesterday that I was able to get Minerva towed to the panel beater. I followed her up there in my husband's trusty Subaru and was relieved when the panel beater said he thought it would only be panel damage, not chassis damage. There was no air sucking, head shaking or Ooohs.
That done, and as the mercury was rising steadily, I headed down to the river for a swim in the baths. It was heading for a stinker of a day, so I enjoyed the cool water and shady trees. I swam around slowly, keeping moving continuously for a solid forty minutes before drying off in the sun and enjoying Douglas Adams' The Salmon of Doubt. Nearing lunchtime I decided to head home. I should have really dropped in at my Mum's for a shower and lunch, as she was only five minutes away, but I had some work to do in the afternoon so decided to think about that crisp salad waiting for me at home.
Ten minutes down the road the clutch pedal refused to lift up when I changed gear. Little alarm bells started to ring in my head. I flipped it up with my foot and continued carefully. The Subi was NOT happy and started to judder underneath near the front of the car. When I put the clutch pedal down again I had trouble changing gear so pulled it into neutral and coasted to the side of the road, coming to rest under a huge Moreton Bay Fig. Acrid smoke was billowing from underneath as I turned the ignition off. Bugger! The clutch!!!
I made the call to the road service people and settled down to wait for the second tow truck of the day. The tree was shady, I had a book but I was madly hungry and also penniless. Even if there had been a sandwich shop open in the vicinity I could only have looked and drooled. Thankfully I had a bottle of water with me which kept the hunger at bay a bit.
My driver arrived and I told him what had happened. He shook his head, sucked in air through his teeth and said "Ooo."
By then I'd figured for myself it wasn't a simple clutch cable replacement but something more serious.
We got the Subaru onto the back of the tow truck and headed for the mechanic's.
While my driver unloaded the Subi I went to chat to the booking staff in the blessed cool of the office and explained what had happened.
Shake of head. Intake of breath through the teeth. Ooo.
I have a theory that the slower and longer the shake of the head, the worse the news is. The mechanic is clearly doing a quick calculation of just how expensive the job's going to be.
The mechanic shook his head very slowly indeed and my heart sank.
The Subaru is an all wheel drive, you see; in order to muck around with the clutch you have to take all four wheels off and half the underbelly and it's a sort of double clutch arrangement or something.... not what you get with a two wheel drive car, anyway. I forget the actual term he used but the estimate was $1700 if they had to replace the entire clutch. Hopefully it will just be replacing the clutch plate itself and that may cost less.
The kind tow truck driver gave me a lift towards home as he had to use a loop road underneath the main road to change direction, so in the 37 degree heat I luckily only had about 400 metres to walk. I arrived home sweaty, salty and hungry and just a bit grumpy.
So now we are carless for a while. Apart from public transport we will be totally reliant on our bikes for transportation, not just pleasure rides.
Maybe it's the universe telling us to slow down, as we haven't had a real break these holidays. There have been people, and dinners, and lunches, and car smashes and all the faffing around that involves. My husband has been fixing our boat and messing around rather badly with fibreglass, which has been full on physical work for him; I have been sanding and painting outdoor furniture. We haven't had the time to fulfil our intentions of simply relaxing and doing nothing. Nothing. Just sitting and reading, or drawing and painting. This weekend we'll have no choice as any journeys we make will be very local.
I think it's bad carma.
I just hope nothing goes wrong now with the bloody bikes!