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Mud On the Road

Coming to this page in 2017: the perils of loose cows and my expert advice on how to break down in multi-storey car parks, nurture your tiger worms, survive your inner poet, manage your alter egos and wear your black rimmed spectacles with pride. Plus, shaggy dog stories, boxer dog stories and the appalling state of the nation's teeth.

In-Car Karma


     We're looking after our neighbours' cat while they are on holiday. We just got back from our own trip to a sun-drenched island and while we were away the neighbours with the cat took care of our bantam hens – feeding and watering them, letting them out into the garden each morning,  making sure they were tucked up safely in their hen house every evening; generally enabling me to sleep easy in my bed in Malta, over 1,000 miles away.
A Luzzu fishing boat in a blue, blue sea
Holiday Bliss in Malta

     When another neighbour heard about the mutuality of our pet care arrangements she exclaimed, in an emphatic,  Spirit of the Blitz voice:

      'Ah! Reciprocity. Marvellous. That's how it should be.'

     This morning, while clearing broken boughs and branches and twigs and leaves from the drive of a third set of neighbours, I thought about this whole reciprocity thing.

     The third set of neighbours had emailed me to say they were away in the USA and had heard about the storm and wanted to know had there been much storm damage in Stockbridge?

     Very little that I am aware of. But I went to inspect the third neighbours'  house and saw that their driveway was dense with foliage from a brittle overhanging ash tree and that to leave it there would signal to any lurking or opportunistic thief that they are away and the contents of their home are ripe for the plundering of. 

     You should know I have a fairly rancid view of the local criminal fraternity.

     My 'leave-all the-doors- unlocked-we're-in-the –charming-countryside-attitude' was dealt a death blow one dark evening last winter when some lowlife punk stole my bicycle saddle from right outside our sitting room window: inches from under our noses and the noses of our three big barky dogs. 

     I had that bike saddle for ten years. I cycled all over London on that saddle and parked my bike up in streets far meaner and scarier than the by-ways of Stockbridge and in all that time no-one laid a finger on it.

     I now regard Stockbridge with a baleful eye. It may not rank as one of the top ten criminal hotspots in the South of England but, should a Midsomer-esque murder spree, riots and rampaging break out then I for one will not be surprised. 

     Back among the fallen branches on the third neighbours' drive I pondered Reciprocity.

     I am not sweeping the drive in anticipation of any kind of quid pro quo from the third neighbours. Simply, it seemed churlish not to give up ten minutes of a day once we knew the house was empty.

     But perhaps this reciprocity thing means that my good deed now puts the third neighbours under some kind of obligation. Like a variation on the Sicilian Cosa Nostra? I.e. I've done them a favour and now they owe me.

     If that's how Reciprocity works then it's rather dangerous. Because, seen in that light, the flip side of Reciprocity could mean allowing your honeysuckle to strangle the neighbour's prize rose specimen because their cotoneaster has come through the fence and choked off your clematis.

     It could mean a blood feud, like in an early episode of the magnificent Peaky Blinders when Thomas Shelby is forced to shoot Danny Whizz-Bang to satisfy the Italians because Danny Whizz-Bang  went off on one and accidentally knifed an Italian waiter.

     Now we're  into an eye for an eye territory. And that's not pretty.

     Which is why I prefer the system I call In-Car Karma over Reciprocity any day: no obligations, no favours, just good deeds and kindnesses shown to the world at large with the vague promise that, if you do as you would be done by, some day some of the good vibes will find their way back to you.

     I've been trying the In-Car Karma thing and it works. Take the sun-drenched island of Malta for example where we had our recent and wonderfully sun-drenched holiday.

     One of the great pleasures to be had in Malta is hiring a car and pootling about exploring the island's intricate villages, walled cities, Neolithic ruins, beaches, chapels and wild places.

     But car hire and driving in Malta is not without risk and hazard. So for years now, when faced with an oncoming vehicle in the congested and narrow old streets of the island's largest town, Sliema, I have, mostly, opted to give way.

     I am happy to give way. After all, I am only half Maltese and in this context I am all tourist. I am driving a hire car and I know that, while there's a fifty per cent chance we might just about scrape past each other if we suck our cheeks in and never mind the wing mirrors, there's also a fifty per cent chance that we won't. Make it. At all. 

     Then we and our cars will come to grief, will become horribly conjoined and my too brief holiday in the sun will be clouded by insurance claims and regret.

     It's true that, in the brief instant when my car and the oncoming car are facing each other down, like two hot, angry bulls, pawing and stamping and snorting, and the other driver is eyeballing me and I'm eyeballing her right back, I am tempted, fleetingly, to put my Jeremy Clarkson foot hard down and go for it. 

     But reason prevails and I give way.

     This is not submission, this is good manners and good driving. And then I sit and wait and hope that the other driver will acknowledge my immaculate manners, with a similarly gracious gesture in the shape of a wave of thanks.

     I have to say, however, often, mostly, in the past, they have not.

     By the way, this is not just about Malta. I have sought to promote this driverly good Karma internationally, not merely in Malta but also in Ypres and Nice and that most lethal of cities to drive in, Boston, USA. And  I go out of my way all year round, wherever I am driving,  to wave enthusiastically and smile broadly at other drivers. In places like Northampton and Southampton especially where the drivers seem peculiarly maddened and surly.

      In fact I like to wave so much that Shedley has taken to shrinking down in the passenger seat, hot with embarrassment at what he considers to be my crossing of a line between solicitous good manners and actual soliciting.

     But finally it worked. This October almost 100 per cent of drivers in Malta waved at me; many of them even gave way to me, impressed no doubt by our fire engine red Daihatsu Sirion, aka 'The Sirloin'.

     The good In-Car Karma that I have been putting out there all these years finally came back to me and wrapped me in its cosy hot water-bottle warm and fluffy embrace and now I am hooked. 

     (Only one man made the gesture of the fingers-in-the-teeth-of-his-mouth and that was to Shedley when Shedley stopped on a famously large roundabout  and then he slowly reversed on that roundabout and so the fingers-in-the-teeth gesture was, in my opinion, justified.  

     Though I commend and applaud Shedley for having, as The Driver,  the chutzpah to compensate for my woeful errors as The Navigator,  had I been the other driver towards whom we reversed I would have made the gesture of the fingers-in-the-teeth-of-my-mouth. As it was, at the time,  I was too busy gripping the dashboard and screaming.)

     So powerful in my opinion is the Good Karma system it even saved us from the big storm, saved us from crash landing at Bournemouth airport on Monday and magically transformed Ryanair into an exemplar of calm, non-aggressive and unruffled passenger service.

     Yes. Prior to going to the airport and flying in the teeth of Monday's Giant Storm and hurtling like pennies trapped in a spin cycle, towards Bournemouth Airport where the coastal winds were predicted to be 90 miles an hour, I gave myself a jolly Good Karma talking to.

     Judging by the hysterical press reporting coming out of the UK I accepted that we faced the prospect of a) dying mid-air b) crash-landing or c) being stuck at the airport for ten hours without food, water or adequate sanitation in place. I therefore undertook to remain serene and smiling no matter what the combined forces of Ryanair misanthropy and a Category 2 hurricane might throw at me and by George it worked.

     Thanks to me radiating benevolence to all and sundry and internally manufacturing good vibes, rather than angry letters, to Mr Michael O'Leary,  not only did we enjoy the smoothest and most comfortable of airplane rides that I have experienced in a long while, but also everyone we met, from airport staff, to airline staff and all the other passengers (to whom I was exceptionally polite and friendly in case they were in a position to save me if the plane broke up and we plunged into the English Channel) were either charming or highly efficient or both.


     Motivated by my recent experiences I now see that the possibilities of  Karma are limitless. 

     I have warned Shedley that I will no longer restrict myself to waving at other car drivers and sweeping neighbour's drives, but will extend my activities to: surrendering my place in supermarket, post office and petrol station queues; conversing with nutters in pubs; giving money to bad buskers; cheerfully taking on the chin, without complaint or hysteria, all instances of bureaucratic idiocy and incompetence. 

     I will do all this content simply in the knowledge that what goes around comes around; that, one day, when I am  mad and incompetent and stuck at the back of a queue somewhere, someone will be kind and talk to me and maybe give me money or, if I'm extra specially nice and really, really good, I might win the lottery instead.

01.11.2013
The Sun-drenched Island
St Agatha's St., Sliema, Malta
One of Sliema's narrow back streets 


Malta's Beach in the Town
'The Exiles' - Sliema Waterfront


Tigne beach in Autumn
The view across to the Grand Harbour entrance

Blue skies in October, Malta
Independence Gardens, Sliema Waterfront

A street in Valletta, walled city


Battery St., Valletta
Steps down to the water, Valletta, Malta's capital


The grandest of harbours
Entrance to The Grand Harbour, Valletta

Still wild and hopefully staying that way
Dingli Cliffs, looking out towards Filfla

One of Malta's wild places
Dingli Cliffs


A Malta sunset
Fisherman at Little Armier Bay


Looking out across to the smaller islands of Comino and Gozo
A Luzzu fishing boat at Little Armier





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