Hundreds of feet under water, at the very bottom of the sea, resides a fish known as Sinanecja horrida. He has a coarse, leathery skin and is often regarded as the most horrible looking fish that exists on the planet. Two bulbous, beady eyes poke out from his plump and mottled head which is joined, in turn, to an even more bulbous and equally mottled body. He is a creature who is ugly and distasteful in the extreme, repulsive to humans in both visual terms and in the nutritional sense as he tastes horrid as well.
Fortunately, for Sinacecja horrida his vile appearance does not come without its rewards. The reasons for his aesthetically repulsive appearance are founded on tried and tested evolutionary disguise tactics which enable him to catch food with ease. The fact that we humans find his lumpy physique and repellant looks distasteful bothers him not. After all, a lady Sinacecja horrida will still love him. She’s been hit with an ugly stick too.
He waits, still and silent, amongst the deep sea foliage awaiting his latest meal, confident that any unsuspecting fish (of appropriate size and flavour) will not realize that he’s there. Then, when the unlucky piscine in question floats within adequate striking distance, he lunges. In the blink of an eye, Sinanecja horrida’s prey is gobbled up, head tail and fins in a matter of seconds without ever knowing what happened. The last thing that poor mite will see is a huge mass of pimple-ridden flesh enveloping his entire body, then before he knows it, his frail form will be crunched, slashed and pulped just prior to being swallowed down in one. Sure, the poor little tiddler was told by his parents long ago about the dangers of swimming too close to clusters of rocks and dense weed. He had been warned about the evils which lurk within the most harmless looking areas. But he failed to heed that warning. To him, Sinanecja horrida’s hideous form looked normal and safe. It looked like something he sees thousands of every day. This is because Sinanecja horrida looked like a stone. That is why he is also known as the stone fish.
On dry land there is a comparable example of Sinanecja horrida, just as hideous and perhaps more vicious than its oceanic relative, but few people are aware of the dangers. Let me tell you a story.
I am a student. I am studying illustration and hope one day to be illustrator. If and when I achieve this goal, my job will be to create images for clients in exchange for money. It’s quite straight forward; they will ask me to do something, I will do it and in return they will give me money. Fair and honest. That’s what millions of people across the planet do every day and it’s what makes human society function.
Being a student, I currently don’t have an awful lot of cash. I’m not on the bread line by any means, but I really do have to watch my pennies. Unlike most students I am lucky enough to own a car. I’m what is annoyingly classed as a mature student’ (even though I am only 26 for goodness sakes) and the ownership of an automobile is a material relic of my past working life. It’s handy though and I use it to go to the supermarket, visit my family and ferry my friends about.
The problem with cars, as anyone who has ever owned one will tell you, is their expense. Road tax is expensive and so is petrol. At around one pound per litre I could buy a carton of freshly squeezed orange juice for every ten miles that I drive. Then there’s the servicing (though I must admit that this is something I don’t regularly have done due to the cost and lack of legal necessity) and of course we mustn’t forget the insurance. The fact that I drive at a pedestrian pace and the only sounds which emanate from my stereo are the dulcet tones of a whole raft of radio four presenters matters not to car insurers.
Because I am male and still lucky enough to be classed as a twenty something’ I am automatically labeled a boy racer’ and they consequently rob me blind.
All of these things cost money. They are things that I need to pay for however and I therefore set money aside for them as it’s all part of owning a car. There is one thing that I am yet to mention though, and it is the crux of this whole story. The final, but by no means any less significant expense of owning a car is the MOT.
I don’t pretend to know much about cars, in fact I can openly admit to you that I know very little about them. If for example I was to open my car bonnet and discover that it was empty, I would simply come to the conclusion that my car was somehow powered by magic, hocus pocus if you will. I’m no mechanical handy-man and have never purported to be, but I do know a thing or two about driving. I am able, for example, to start a car. I can then progress in a straight line and when the time is right, bring that car to a safe and sensible stop. I can turn corners as well and, at a push, park a car as long as I am given adequate space and time. I am also aware that cars can be dangerous if I make a mistake doing any of these things and that’s when my car is in fine working order. If it did have any structural or mechanical problems with my vehicle I can see potential pitfalls, and that’s why I find it difficult to argue with MOTs.
It seems logical to me that in order that we can avoid accidents, or at least crank their occurrence down to a bare minimum, regular checks on ageing cars is a must. Faulty brakes or bald tires can present obvious hazards and I would never suggest that such defects shouldn’t be recognized and rectified. But a recent experience has alerted me to an entirely different purpose for annual car safety checks, and it’s a purpose to which I wish, in future, to play no part.
The problem is that it’s a real headache when an MOT is due. Now that I have moved to Cambridgshire from Suffolk and had not, until recently, managed to locate a reliable and cheap garage, MOT time is somewhat of a conundrum. Where should the driver, uneducated in the whereabouts of garages and the quality of service they provide, seek assistance? I don’t really know that many people in Cambridge who own cars because, as I said, I’m a student. I don’t know of any web forums where such information can be gleaned either. Therefore, in the end, I opted for a good old fashioned internet search. I simply Googled the acronym MOT.
The first search result that you will receive if you type MOT into Google, and I appreciate that it’s a sponsored one, is for Kwikfit. Aah yes Kwikfit. I remember the adverts on TV. Lots of friendly looking chaps in blue overalls, white of teeth and warm of smile. They used to dance on the advert if I remember correctly. They used to dance about in a friendly, salt of the earth’ kind of way, and they used to sing; You can’t do better than a Kwikfit fitter, we’re the boys to trust’. Yes, that was it. They seem like a pleasant bunch of fellows. Boys that I can trust’. I think I’ll go there.
At the time I needed to have my car taken for an MOT I lived along Histon road in Cambridge. By lucky hap there is a Kwikfit along Histon road and it was easy for me to drive my car there, leave it for the necessary, and then return when it was done. I could then pay the nice amiable chaps in blue, I thought, and drive off with a smile on my face and a song in my heart, confident that my car was road worthy and legal in the eyes of the other men in blue; the police. So that’s just what I did.
I hopped into my car, started the engine and eased out of the road-side space in which the old girl was parked. I remember smiling. The car felt good as I drove off and I felt happy that I wouldn’t need all that much work done. There were a couple of things that I knew needed attention, the exhaust was making a slightly strange, low pitched cough for one, which a friend had informed me was probably the result of a hole in the pipe. He told me that it wouldn’t cost much money to right so I wasn’t that bothered. Also, the thermometer gauge had, for some weeks, been rising rather high when I was stuck in traffic. Again I had been told by the very same friend that this was most likely due to the car’s thermostat having expired. The in-built thermometer wasn’t letting the car’s fan know when to kick in. That, I had been assured, would not cost much to fix either. Other than that, the car ran like a dream and with not much over fifty thousand miles on the clock I was relaxed in the thought that the impending motor efficiency test would not blow my wallet to smithereens. I had budgeted for about two hundred to two hundred and fifty pounds. And that wasn’t going to break the bank.
I rolled into the parking bay outside the Kwikfit station, turned my engine off and walked into the garage. To the far left hand side there was a smallish building containing several blue chairs (they apparently carry their blue colour scheme right the way through from overalls to seating) and a counter. I entered through the door and, as there was nobody present at the counter, sat in a seat. There were two other people in there and they too were sitting down. Suspended from the ceiling was an expensive looking flat, widescreen LCD television. Below that sat a vending machine which dispensed chocolate and crisps. Everything looked clean and modern thus reinforcing my belief that I had made the right choice. Things have changed I thought, gone are the days of greasy, dodgy little garages run by burly men with dense beards and red complexions. This is the future of car maintenance.
I sat in my blue chair, stared at the television and waited. I then watched the television for a while longer and waited some more. After that, my eyes still trained on the television, I carried on waiting. But nobody came to the counter and, apart from the small scattering of men tinkering with cars over the other side of the garage, outside of the building I was sitting in, no smiling, blue clad chap could be seen anywhere. I wasn’t too bothered though as Jerry Springer and a collection of hillbilly Americans were amusing me on the television. I was keen, through the disclosure of some previously tested DNA samples, to discover whether or not Jake really was the father.
Eventually, after an approximate fifteen minute wait, a blue man emerged from a door, close by to where I was sitting. He floated across the room and positioned himself behind the counter. Now, I never actually found out where he had been or what he had been doing through the door from whence he came, but if the pungent smell which followed him out is anything to go by, he certainly wasn’t ordering spark plugs.
Can I help you’ he said. I looked at the other two people sitting near to me and they met me with blank stares. I deduced from this that it was I who was to be seen to next and that these poor souls were probably stuck watching the Jerry Springer show to its conclusion while they waited for work to be done to their respective cars.
I explained to the blue man that I needed to have an MOT carried out on my car and that there were a couple of problems of which I was aware and that therefore needed to be remedied. He informed me that the best thing to do was to carry out the MOT and then tackle any deficiencies afterwards and I could see no argument to the contrary. Unfortunately, he said, the garage was very busy at present and it would be several days before they could perform the test. This didn’t matter one jot as my previous MOT didn’t expire for another couple of weeks, so I arranged to bring it in the following week. Monday at twelve?’ he said, enquiring as to whether or not this would be convenient. No problems I said, Monday at twelve would be fine.
At about eleven forty-five on the Monday morning, I left the house and drove my car to the garage. Like I said, it was only five minutes walk along the road, but I left with enough time to allow me to take the car to the petrol station opposite Kwikfit as it was low on fuel and I wanted to ensure that there was enough juice in the tank for them to be able to test it.
Once I had fuelled up’ I took my car over to the other side of the road, parked it in the same place I had the previous week, and entered the reception room.
Hi, I’ve got an MOT test booked today’ I said to the same blue man who was responsible for both the original booking of the MOT and the whiff he decided to fill the room with just prior to when the booking took place. He looked at me with a furrowed brow and began to thumb his way through a ruled A4 note book which sat in front of him on the counter.
MOT you say? What car was it’ he said, his brow as furrowed if not more so than it had been seconds earlier.
It’s an Astra, it’s booked in for twelve o’clock’ I said, my mind beginning to toy with the very real prospect that I had got the wrong day or the possibility that the blue man had forgotten to write it down and I would need to re-book and return at a later date. What happened next took me quite by surprise.
Your late’ he said.
My brow began to match his in furrowedness.
I rolled back the sleeve on my arm and glanced at my watch. It’s twelve o’clock isn’t it?’ I said, a little confused.
No’ he countered It’s five past twelve’
Well my watch says that it’s one minute past’ I returned
The blue man looked at his electronic till. It says five past on here’ he said I can have a word with the mechanic, but he won’t be happy’
He then disappeared off towards the car tinkering area and left me to ponder what had just taken place. Did we really just have a disagreement about a four minute difference of opinion? Was it actually that important to the running of their operations even if I was five minutes late? I was and still am adamant that I wasn’t late however and just before he returned, I removed my mobile phone from my pocket to cross check my wrist watch’s time with that. My phone’s display informed me that it was twelve o’clock exactly. If I had had more time before the blue man walked back to the counter, I would have phoned the talking clock and had At the third stroke, the time sponsored by Acurest will be . . .’ playing through the loud speaker on his return. But I didn’t.
It’s OK, you’re not so late that it can’t be done’ said the blue man stating, what was to me in any case, the blaringly obvious.
I bit my tongue and thanked him in the ridiculously polite way that English people do. He told me to return in an hour to discuss the results of the test. I smiled thinly and left the garage.
I returned early, eager to rule out any possibility of any further altercations. To my surprise, the MOT was already finished which made me wonder why there was such an issue with me being late in the first place. I was again left to watch daytime TV for several minutes before anyone materialized. When the blue man finally did grace me with his presence the following occurred.
Right!’ he said with a tone suggestive of bad news to come Unsurprisingly, your car didn’t pass’
I emitted a brief mmmm’ which encouraged him to proceed. He went on to list a number of problems that the mechanic had uncovered within the mysterious confines of my car. They were;
1/ Front windscreen washer provides insufficient washer liquid
2/ Nearside rear stop lamp not working
3/ Near front lower suspension arm rubber bush deteriorated resulting in excessive movement
4/ Exhaust system has a major leak of exhaust fumes
And as far as the problem with your thermometer rising goes’ he said with a pained expression the mechanic thinks that your head gasket had gone’
Thinks? I presumed that someone who was trained in the field of car repair and maintenance would know if a head gasket had gone’. I relayed my confusion over the vagueness of this statement back to the blue man.
When our mechanic thinks something, he’s nearly always right’ assured the blue man.
I recall feeling slightly envious of this mechanic. Clearly he was in the wrong job gifted, as he was, with an almost wizard-like ability to diagnose a car’s fault without any conclusive evidence. This breath-taking ability could make him a fortune on the cabaret circuit.
I stood and stared at the pink and white printout he had slid to me across the counter. When I said earlier that I knew nothing about cars, I was exaggerating slightly. I do know that the demise of a head gasket is not a good thing. I know too that it costs a shed load of cash to get it replaced. I suddenly felt depressed.
So it’s probably not worth getting it fixed then’ I said morbidly.
Well’ he said gazing thoughtfully past my line of sight and pulling a facial expression which was only a full set of teeth short of a gurn How much is your car worth? Can’t be that much’
I suppose about a thousand pounds, maybe eleven hundred’ I replied.
He then scrunched up his face and looked at me as though I had just valued a pebble at that price.
mmmm, if your lucky’ he disclosed thing is, if you get your suspension done, your exhaust sorted and all the other bits and bobs fixed, then your car packs up . . .’ He left the sentence open for me to complete in my own mind.
I didn’t reply. I was reeling from the news that my car was dying. It was similar, although far less severe, to the time I discovered that a large lump which drooped ominously from my dog’s belly was a malignant tumor. It was at this point, when I had hit rock bottom, that he hit me with the killer blow.
Basically, to have the council come and pick your car up will cost you seventy five pounds plus VAT. If you’d prefer though, you could just leave it here with the keys and we can get rid of it for you for free. Apart from the 34.99 for the MOT that is.
I can’t be certain, but I think he even gestured one of his hands towards me as though to twist an imaginary knife.
Oh’ I said at a complete loss for a more inspirational or constructive response I see’
I went on to talk to the blue man for a few more minutes but had already made a very clear and steadfast decision not to give’ my car to Kwikfit. The reasons for this are obvious, or at least they are to me. Despite my polite, unfazed response to the blue man’s behavior concerning the claimed’ five minute lateness when I had originally brought the car in an hour earlier, I was secretly vexed. He had planted a seed in my mind which had consequently sprouted feelings of dislike for Kwikfit and everything it stood for.
I should point out that I have worked in several roles in my pre-student days where customer service was of utmost importance, from simple shop floor duties as a sales assistant to store management. I know that the quality of the service advertised by a company is a significant part of that company’s success. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a restaurant, a DIY shop or an off licence, if Joe Bloggs walks in off the street, buys a product from that company and the product is useless, he will probably never go back. What’s equally as important however, and this should never be underestimated, is the polite and friendly nature of that company’s representatives. Joe Bloggs may well eat in a restaurant and the food may be the best he has ever tasted, but if the waiter treats him like dirt he will never go back. In a similar vein, I had been initially impressed by the outward appearance of Kwikfit and the simplistic ease that it purported to offer, but the service I had gone on to receive was not as it advertised. If Kwikfit was a restaurant, I would never eat there again.
I told the blue man that I needed time to mull over what course of action I should follow in relation to my car. He didn’t seem too bothered by this and told me that he would fetch my keys. As I drudged over to my poor, sick automobile, I reviewed what had taken place. In a nut shell, I had driven my car to Kwikfit and Kwikfit were now offering to take my car from me. This is a car which I valued at around a thousand pounds. They were not offering me a thousand pounds however, oh no. Kwikfit wanted me to give them thirty five quid and my car in exchange for diddly-squat. They were expecting me to just walk home one thousand and thirty five pounds light. I smelt a rat. Either that or the blue man had been hiding behind his door again.
I opened the door to my car and sat in the driver’s seat waiting for the blue man to return with my keys. After a couple of minutes he trotted over and gave them to me with the accompanying paperwork which stated all the ills of my car. I thanked him (again in that humorously polite fashion seldom seen outside of the UK) and started my engine. A shiver of repulsion coursed through my veins as I was greeted by the deafening drone of Radio 1 which they had somehow tuned in to my stereo. I quickly hit the number four button on the presets, turned the volume down to an appropriate level and sank back into my seat. As I was about to shut my door, the blue man leaned over to say something to me over the noise of the engine. It was a sentence which at once cast great aspersions on the sage-like powers of the mechanic.
Er, about the head gasket’ he said hesitantly the mechanic says that he’s not sure about it, it might not have gone’
I stared back at him and said something pathetic like Oh, OK’. In retrospect I should have said something horrid about his mother or quickly released the clutch and ran over his toes. That’s what I wanted to do. After all he had, only five minutes previous, requested that I give him my car for nothing due to the relative certainty of a major fault of which now he was not quite so certain. I reversed the car out of the garage and drove home.
Back at my house I made a cup of tea and reread the refusal of MOT’ certificate. As I sat, sipping my drink and scanning the document I began to feel a little annoyed. Kwikfit, I thought to myself, had not done what I had requested. I asked them to MOT my car and in addition inform me what might cause the potential over-heating in the engine. In response they had given me nothing more than a strangely vague assumption based on the learned opinion of a mechanic who I never actually got to meet.
It was then, while I was perusing the printed details on the form, that the first fault’ that they listed actually came into focus within my mind. Front windscreen washer provides insufficient washer liquid? Hang on a mo. They’re referring to that gizmo which squirts water onto the glass and disperses the glued on corpses of flies and the like. But I’ve used that recently, I said to myself, rising to my feet and placing my mug heavily onto the kitchen surface. And I remembered that it had run out of water a few days ago and I had neglected to fill it up again. Was it really possible that they didn’t even check to see if there was enough water in the reservoir? I marched out of the kitchen and went forth towards the direction of my car.
After a few seconds of fiddling under the steering wheel, fumbling to locate the little lever which opens the bonnet, I finally found it, pulled the end and heard a metallic pop’ which confirmed its release. I climbed out of the car and walked round to lift up the bonnet. As I had predicted, as I revealed the car’s engine with all of its complex wires, pipes and jagged machineryness, the windscreen washer reservoir was indeed empty. Those buggers hadn’t even bothered to check that there was adequate moisture in the tank! I closed the bonnet and returned to the house.
It was becoming clear to me that Kwikfit had not carried out a thorough check of my car. Had they even checked it at all? For all I know, they could simply have sat on the bonnet and listened to the radio for forty five minutes. Thirty five pounds isn’t an awful lot of money to spend, it would cost more than that to fill my tank up with petrol, but when it seemed to disappear without any gain whatsoever, I felt cheated and angry.
Later that day I was in Cambridge city centre where I bumped into a friend of mine called Matt. I explained the day’s proceedings and conveyed to him my annoyance through the medium of some carefully selected expletives. He agreed that it all sounded like a bit of a dupe and advised that I go to see a man called Dave. Dave, he assured me, was a good honest chap who was trustworthy, inexpensive and reliable. He went on to say that he had himself taken his car to Dave on several occasions and had always been very pleased with the result. Why this chance meeting with Matt, and the subsequent information he departed to me, could not have taken place before I took my car to Kwikfit, I will never know. What I do know is that I was lost for any alternative garage to take my unwell car to and a recommendation such as this should not go unheeded. So Dave it was.
I telephoned Dave the next day at his small garage on the other side of Cambridge. I explained the problems I had experienced and the necessity to have my car re-MOT’d. Dave seemed very pleasant, far more like the mental image I had conjured of the Kwikfit dancing men’. He was polite and chirpy and said that I was a fool for visiting Kwikfit in the first place. I booked my car in for an MOT at about nine-ish the following day. It’s important that I point out the ish’ element of the appointment as it stands clearly in stark contrast to the Hitlerian time regime I had experienced at Kwikfit.
The following day, I took my car to Dave’s workshop and, just to test the ish’ he had added to the nine o’clock arrival time, I turned up at about ten minutes past. To my delight, there was no petty argument about being slightly later that the arranged time. No shaking of heads, muffled tuts or sharp intakes of breath to display his displeasure. There was simply a smile, the passing over of some keys and the promise of a phone call later in the day when the test had been completed. I was beginning to feel happier already.
Some hours later I received a phone call. As I answered my phone I felt a tingle of fear over the news I was about to hear. Had I just wasted another forty pounds on what the blue man at Kwikfit had intimated was a lost cause? Was I to be told by a second mechanic that my car was to soon be taking its final leisurely drive to that great big car park in the sky? No, I wasn’t.
Dave told me that my car did need some work carried out which of course came as no surprise. But his conclusions were a little different to that of the clairvoyant Kwikfit mechanic. They were;
1/ nearside brake lamp needs replacing
2/ Both front wiper blades need replacing
3/ Replacement of rear and centre sections of exhaust required
The keen observer will notice that there’s no mention of suspension. No mention too of windscreen washers. What he did pick up on was the fact that the windscreen wiper blades needed replacing which was really quite sensible as in the event or rain, they didn’t actually wipe it off. The exhaust I was aware of and the brake light bulb was of no major monetary significance. Also, in reference to the over heating, I was informed that the head gasket had definitely not gone’. If it had, I was told, I would have found it hard to actually get the car to the garage in the first place. It would have been broken. In fact, Dave said that the car was running like a dream and that it flew through its emission tests. It would seem, from what Dave was telling me, that my car would live to see another day.
One hundred and eighty five pounds including VAT was the quote Dave gave me along with an assurance that the work would be completed by the end of the day. I sanctioned the necessary work and said that I’d be there to pick up my car before they closed.
When I did pick up the car, I paid and thanked him for the swift service. On the way home, the car sounded wonderful, freed as it was from the chesty exhaust cough from which it had been suffering. The thermostat refused to rise above a normal level too, unheard of I have learnt from a car with a faulty head gasket. The psychic mechanic’s reputation was taking a battering indeed. I had paid less than two hundred pounds to have my car fixed and made safe in the eyes of the law. Rather different, I think you’ll agree, from being advised to relinquish a car worth a thousand pounds to an idiot in a blue suite for free.
So we can consider ourselves lucky in many respects. We can get up in the morning, eat our breakfast and go for a stroll without the fear of being physically attacked and eaten by a stealth-like predator hiding in some undergrowth. We have no worries about being hunted by a creature that pretends to be a rock. But we must all be aware that there are predatory entities out there who see all of us as potential prey. You see the Sinanecja horrida is not the only thing that pretends to be something else before gobbling you up. Kwikfit are just the same really. They disguise themselves as a friendly and trustworthy garage service, not just like any other, but better and more professional. And when an unsuspecting customer, unaware of the cruel and vicious ways of the automotive world, drifts a little too close, they grab you and swallow you whole. You can’t do better than a Kwikfit fitter? Actually, I think that probably you can.