Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Ode to an MOT

Yesterday I had a poem of a morning – an epic or a sonnet, certainly not a haiku – in taking my car for an MOT, its failing, then my pursuing the means to pass today. One finds god – if god is humanity and joy and humour – in so many places!

Best Beloved tried to pay the car tax the day before yesterday and my little white jalopy was refused because it needed its roadworthiness certificate. So, that day, between collecting Sophia from the swimming pool and going to the bus station office to find out why the bus driver had not picked her up on Saturday, I made an appointment at the garage for yesterday morning at 7.45.

The car failed the emissions test, and “You have to replace the front light and the interior handle of the driver's door.” I drove to the main dealer garage at the industrial estate, where the chief mechanic sucked his teeth at my problem. “To change the catalytic converter will be at least 300 Euro,” he said. “A cheaper temporary option is to use petrol additive. It sometimes works – for a while.”

I drove all the way back across town to order the spare parts. A young man with red hair, a nice smile, and good English looked at my MOT form. “It failed,” he said. “Now you have to fix it – or buy another one.” He looked up the parts that I needed. “The lens will be eighty-seven Euro, the door handle, nineteen.” A catalytic converter, he agreed would be at least three hundred, plus labour... “And the car's not worth that!” The parts could come from Limassol or Nicosia and be here by tomorrow “unless, of course, you can find them in a breaker's yard.”

“Do you know which yard might have them?” I hazarded, seeing my morning disappearing in a procession of broken car lots.

“Iakovis,” he answered. “Diamond, up by the market. Here is the mobile number of his brother, Marios. Tell him that you're looking for a EE101 right-hand lens.”

“But you're not supposed to be telling me this, are you?” I asked. “You're supposed to be selling me a new one...”

He winked. “Call him, and if he doesn't have the parts, call me back. But you should be able to get them for less than half price.”

I called from the car. Marios answered on the second ring. A helpful voice, patient with my less-than-perfect Greek: “Let me have a look... Yes. We have one. The price? Forty-five Euros.”

Back upstairs my red-haired angel said. “Good! It's a shame to spend too much on an old car like that...” and waved away my thanks.

I found Diamond with no trouble and parked on the pavement outside. In the office a youth in a hoodie with a commando cap pulled around his ears sat behind the desk. No, Marios was out right now, could he help me? A shout came from the back: “Is that the lady for the headlight?” and another young man, shaven-head, olive complexion, hazel eyes and the kind of lashes that Mediterranean men take for granted and western women spend a fortune emulating, emerged from behind a pile of engines. “Just a minute, I'll go to the storeroom and get it for you. Have a seat.” He drove off.

I asked the hoodie-youth about the handle. He rummaged for a moment then held one up. “I'll put it in for you.”

Lashes came back with a box. “It won't take a minute...”

“Before you start,” I said. “Marios told me forty-five Euro for the light, but I only have thirty. I live out past the airport and didn't have time to go home and get more money. I can bring it when I'm in town this afternoon.”

“No problem at all,” he asked where I was from and how long I'd been in Cyprus, and finished the job in five minutes. “Marios thought that you needed a whole light – that would be forty-five Euros. You only needed the side part, so it's less. Call it forty-five euros for the handle and the installation, and bring it when you're ready. No rush.”

“What's your name?” he asked, accepting what cash I had. I told him and he said “I'm Petros, this is my brother Benji, and Marios is my brother – and Iacovos, too. We're all in the business! Have a nice day...”

Off I went to the petrol station for some fuel additive. “No, love,” said the owner. “None left. They're going to bring it later today... Ah, wait. Take this.” He handed me a bottle unlike the other bottle I have to use on the van's old engine, and I asked was he sure it was the same stuff and how much did I need, explaining about the MOT and the emissions problem. “If you're three-quarters full, dump the whole lot in, go for the test this afternoon, and you'll be fine. I had another customer with the same problem last week and this worked a treat.”

I looked at the price and pulled out some Euro coins. He waved them away. “Nah, love! It was open, see? Call it a present from me!”

I dumped the whole lot in and went home to breakfast.

If I were young and good-looking, I could cynically ascribe all this helpful benevolence to men's natural inclination to assist a pretty girl. But I'm middle-aged and 'expeditionised' with mousy hair going grey and wrinkles. I guess human nature can be pretty good, after all.


  1. It's one of the things we really like about Cyprus. I don't know how many times we've been told where we can buy something more cheaply, rather than at the place we're asking. Only yesterday I had a bank clerk tell me it was ridiculous for one of my sons to have to pay €2.50 per bank statement - much better to cancel and use online banking, which is free. Maybe they see us as naive foreigners, but in many countries that would be a flag to rip us off... here it seems to encourage chivalry and generosity.

  2. ... and sometimes you're even offered coffee, too!