Manners maketh the motorist

I am on a mission. It may well be a one woman mission at the moment, but gather round brothers and sisters and let’s see if we can’t get something going here.

I want to instigate a ‘Just Say Thank You’ campaign for drivers. I’m trying to get past the irritation of giving way to another motorist but not being acknowledged for it, and instead have decided to lead the way in manners. So even when it is I who has been ‘patiently’ waiting (whilst muttering under my breath and drumming my knuckles on the dashboard) for an oncoming car to negotiate whatever obstacle is blocking our mutual path, it shall be me that will pop up my hand above the steering wheel briefly yet politely as the car passes. This is in the hope that I can instil a new habit around these parts of automatic ‘thankyous’.

Now we know that by and large the British are boringly polite, I can get at least two ‘pleases’, a ‘sorry’ and an ‘if you wouldn’t mind’ into the average sentence. And yes, I do hold the door open for other people. I think it’s the right thing to do, and my grandparents would rotate in their graves if I didn’t. I’ve also brought up my daughter to say the ‘please, thank you, you’re welcome’ mantra: she doesn’t get what she wants without those magic words. There was a time that I wondered if these words were an automatic response, did that mean that they were not meant sincerely, did it lessen their importance? But I don’t think so as politeness gets you such a long way, they’re like the grease in the conversation engine; they show respect to the other person. Don’t forget Aesop’s fable about the sun and the wind: who had a wager to see which one of them could disrobe a man; the wind blew fiercely and the man pulled his coat tighter around him, and the sun shone brightly and the man gladly took off his coat.

There are more advanced driving pleasantries which I’m not sure Mallorca is ready for yet, such as the one where you are being overtaken by a lorry on a motorway, and after they have got far enough ahead you give them a little ‘flash’ with your headlights and they know it’s safe to move into your lane. I once almost killed myself with that one driving at night when I changed my car headlights from ‘flood’ to ‘dim’ and the lorry overtaking me at the time took it as a signal to pull in front, whilst running me off the M1 into a ditch at the same time.

Perhaps together we can spread it around: just keep saying ‘Thank you’. I am hoping that in much the same way as Pavlov’s dog started to salivate whenever a bell rang that just the sight of another driver giving way will instigate an automatic Automobile Association salute. Alternatively I might just become known locally as that nutty woman in the Kangoo who likes waving.

(first published Euro Weekly News 27th October 2011)


I’m not being funny about it, or anything, but I feel a bit intimidated when I walk into a garage. There’s something about mechanics which makes me feel uneasy, I’m not a dolly bird so it’s not like they’re undressing me with their eyes, I just get this impression that they are laughing at me: ‘silly woman, she doesn’t understand engines, let’s rip her off!’ It’s not cheap to run a car in Spain, but we don’t really have many other choices, the public transport if you don’t live in Palma isn’t all that, so to get from A to B you have to have a vehicle. The Mallorca roads seem to wreck tyres as well, I’ve been a driver for 24 years and I’ve never seen tyres literally shred and fall apart before. Well, now I have.

We hadn’t had the car serviced for a while, we need it daily and it’s not easy to give it up to a garage who may have it for a couple of days (they always seem to take longer than they say they will be), but the faithful Kangoo was beginning to make noises about it being time for a bit of loving. So, I bit the bullet and booked it in with a new garage I’d seen on Facebook, FIX-it Mallorca. Well, actually firstly I went to check them out in Son Castello in Palma, and asked for a quote. Amazingly I was greeted with a smile, in English and given a written quote for my car’s rehabilitation. It took me aback to actually get any of those three things, but all of them? Come on, surely that’s too good to be true? FIX-it it turns out is also the first garage in Mallorca where if you can repair your own car you can rent a space and literally do it yourself, not an option for me, but if you’re handy with a wrench it’s good to know.

Well, the big day dawned for the Kangoo, and incredibly we got there on time to drop it off at 8am. ‘I’ll call you when it is ready,’ said Arnie, a big handsome Dutch guy (handsome is not relevant I know, but he is, and rather charming as well).  I waved ta ra to the car, fully expecting to see it in three or four days (as per the norm), but he was as good as his word, and he called at 1pm the same day to tell me it was ready to pick up (and popped a couple of jokes in there as well about re-spraying my car Dutch orange). There were no scary extra costs on the bill, and it’s running like a dream (as much as a van pretending to be a car can be that is).

Now it’s kind of sad that good service is such a big deal that I am writing my column about it this week, but it’s true, it’s still something to shout about here in Mallorca. There was no fuss, no lies, no crazy ‘we told you to come back tomorrow’ none of it. Many businesses in Mallorca could learn a thing or two from FIX-it’s approach to their patrons: be friendly, tell the truth, be reliable, be a good price, value your customers, and do your best work. Which would you rather have, your current clients raving about you, or your ex-clients complaining? I know which one I’d choose.

Hook up with FIX-it here:

Take it easy

If you’ve ever been to our little village of S’Arracó then you must really have wanted to go. It’s the sort of place which you drive through and if you blink, you’ve missed it. I’m not saying that we’re a one horse town, as there are quite a variety of things going on here, and we even have shops which are open on a Sunday, but when I tell people where I live they look at me strangely, head cocked to one side. Where did you say? ‘It’s near to Port Andratx, if you’re on the way to Sant Elm, then you might drive through it’. Ahhh… they reply, still not entirely sure where it is. Which is quite nice really, isn’t it? We’re off the grid a bit.

As a quiet and friendly little village we have lots of families with young children and more than our fair share of cars speeding on the main street, and that’s where the Slow Down S’Arracó campaign comes in. It’s that time of year when the cars start coming through on a country drive from Andratx on their way to seafront paella in Sant Elm, and these cars don’t seem to notice that they aren’t on a winding country road anymore when they blast down our high street.

We live on the main road, and I don’t even let the cats out of the front door (especially not the old blind one we’ve just adopted, who is doing very well thank you for asking), we’ve had one casualty, a kitten who was run over last year, the driver didn’t stop. So failing dressing up as the Cadbury’s Caramel bunny and insisting that everyone ‘Take it easy’ we’re hoping that a few practical measures will mean the kids and the animals in S’Arracó will be able to cross the road.

So far we’ve had our moment of glory on the local telly, which was exciting, and now we’re preparing a petition to take to the council. What we’re after (and coming from London I have so shake myself to believe I am actually supporting this as they’re the bane of the motorist’s life in the big smoke) is sleeping policemen in the road, or chicanes built in the pavement. Anything in fact that will make the convertibles with their happy holiday making and ‘out in the country for Sunday’ drivers just cut down on their speed.

So, please, if you would visit this site—slow-down-s39arracoacute/# and sign the petition that would be most greatly appreciated. When there are enough signatures we’re off to the council for a chat. Well to be more accurate, Tomas, who speaks Catalan, is off to the council for a chat. Any progress will be reported back. Thanks for your support!

Wheels in motion

One of our cars has died. That sounds really grand doesn’t it (‘one of our cars’)? But it’s vital to have a car each, I wish it were different, but if you can’t drive in Mallorca you are well and truly stuck. The public transport is just not up to it, particularly when you live in a little village. It wasn’t even our car to be honest, we’d borrowed it (sorry Tony). But now we are back to being a one car family, and everything seems much further away.

We’re not short of offers of other cars, but they all share similar characteristics: either they are wrecks, and about to break down, or they’re too dear and we can’t afford them. Both scenarios involve large chunks of cash up front. Rock and hard place. What to do?

Ollie has toyed with the idea of getting a scooter, but that’s no good for school runs or transporting photography equipment, or two hairy dogs around in the rain. There’s also my romantic ‘owning a convertible’ dream to work through. How wonderful, driving in the sunshine with the hood down, something funky on the stereo, arm leaning on the wound-down window, taking in the view of the mountains whilst driving to a secluded restaurant for a spot of lunch. Well, I did say it was a dream.

In our real world my ideal (and actual) car is a kind of ‘grown up’ van: easy to clean, more or less indestructible and with enough capacity to take all the gear:  work and kid stuff, that I need to function on a daily basis. Thankfully, the mummy mobile, the Kangoo, fulfils those needs. But Ollie (Formula One fan and wannabe boy racer) has other ideas, but has never had a chance to get a car he would really like to drive.

I’ve got to admit, I don’t know much about cars. I know how to drive one, but despite appreciating clever car commercials on the TV (primary coloured paint splashing on a car – remember the ad, no clue what the car is), I couldn’t recognise one brand from the other: I am an ad man’s nightmare.  ‘We could get a new one’, I suggest to Ollie, ‘perhaps on a finance deal?’ A light appears in his eyes, and all of a sudden Jeremy Clarkson’s columns are being consulted for ‘best performing small car’. Many conversations are held with other boys about torque and something called ‘down force’. But even Ollie is a realist in the end, and there’s a trip planned this week to see what the dealers have in Palma. All I can offer is my opinion on the colour and whether the radio is easy to operate, and how far the housekeeping money is going to stretch… let’s hope it’s far enough for my Jenson Button to get what he deserves.


(first published 1.9.10)