by Colin Campbell
FRIENDS of mine were on holiday in Orkney when their car broke down. I haven’t driven for 15 years and have no knowledge of or interest in cars. If I won a Porsche in some competition I wouldn’t even sit inside it before trying to sell it off for half price in a raffle.
However I do know that their vehicle is one of those bigger, semi Range Rover jobs with all the fancy new gadgetry of the day.
The problem wasn’t a cylinder head gasket or a leak in the oil tank. The steering somehow jammed and became immovable, as did the handbrake.
They did what probably anyone would do and called out a local mechanic. When I was driving, a mechanic at a local garage could fix literally anything. All that had to concern you was the bill, and that would usually be pretty reasonable.
But up in Kirkwall the mechanic despite his best efforts could make nothing of it. And so the high spirits of their Orcadian holiday rapidly disintegrated.
To cut a long story short, it was necessary for a transporter to be despatched from the mainland across the Pentland Firth to take the vehicle back south. They were obviously insured and the vehicle is still under warranty. So the costs of the problem will not be too high but the hassle is at a miserable level.
Apparently there are only two of the manufacturer repair garages in this wider area, one in Inverness and one in Dundee. So Dundee is where the vehicle has gone, as that’s closest to where they live.
I met them at Farraline Park for a quick coffee during their long haul homeward trip, which had involved catching a 5am bus to get the ferry over to Scrabster, a long, winding bus journey to Inverness, and then a lengthy onward bus trip home. As they boarded the south bus I cheerfully said I hoped that didn’t break down as well. Just as well they weren’t relying on the new Sturgeon rail service.
But along the way through a series of frustrating phone calls they’d learned that both the Inverness and Dundee repair shops are heavily backed up with vehicles, and it could take several weeks before theirs is fixed, maybe at a minimum.
Shortage of mechanics? Brexit? Most of the Poles gone home to fix cars in Warsaw? Who knows, but that’s the way it seems to be.
Cars and other vehicles are now so packed with gadgetry and so sophisticated in their construction that rolling up, old style, and expecting a grease monkey with a box of tools to sort out anything seems to be a rapidly diminishing option.
In their case, we speculated that the mysterious problem may be resolved by someone with a set of codes and some kind of digital computer. But it is specialised work. And if there’s a shortage of specialists around then it’s a problem.
Our family when I was a youngster had a Morris Minor which often had to be sparked into life by a starting handle.
I’m not often in cars now, but when I sat in a friend’s new BMW not so long ago the spread of gadgetry in front of me looked more like the flight deck of a plane ready for take off.
These advancements in technology are no doubt wonderful when they work but when things go wrong it all comes to a prolonged, stressful, frustrating, juddering halt. As my friends and no doubt many others have found out.
Maybe it’s the curse of modernity, when the pressure to advance technology and make things ever more sophisticated and complex is relentless. As are the price rises.
But I do know my father had a decent ability to assess problems under the bonnet, and if our Morris Minor spluttered and slowed as we trundled along at a decent 35mph, in all and any circumstances he’d have us up and running again in less than half an hour.