05 Jan New Year's Blues
So, I had New Year’s Eve all planned out. Our first New Year’s in our new home. Hanan’s dodgy and recently dislocated knee would have a rest, my brain would be gently marinated in champagne, and the last two chickens that had survived Christmas at Waitrose supermarket would be roasted. I had (almost) figured out which wine to drink, and I had in mind an 8pm bedtime for the boys and 9pm for me. Yes, I know the only person that you all know who actually sleeps at 9pm is your grandmother, but I get 3 nights off a year OK? (New Year’s Eve, my birthday and Christmas – and, as a confirmed agnostic and previous Muslim, I had to fight for the latter).
Then our dear friend Katherine called. By the end of the call we had been convinced to abandon the raw chickens and drive to her place with our children for an early dinner. Well, I channelled my own inner socialite and realized that I had been perhaps too hermit-like for my wife and children. Thanks to me, they had all slept through the turn of the millennium, while everyone else had been witnessing a once in a thousand year event, or sitting in a bunker waiting for the world to end, so maybe it was time to re-evaluate. It’s fine to be a reclusive novelist when you’re around 75 and have won a Nobel prize or three, but I was clearly enjoying the fruits of the eccentric artist far too early.
So we jaunted off to Katherine’s, which is always a pleasure, and feasted on crab risotto, prawns, lovely wines and good company.
It all went brilliantly well until we left. Hanan drove home. She had tried out her previously-dislocated knee for five minutes in the car on the way there and had insisted it was fine and that I could have a glass of wine. Like the feckless wife I am, I took her at her word. And the knee held up well throughout the half hour drive home. As we pulled up outside our house, I felt in my pockets for the house keys. Nothing. Frantically, I searched my bag, the car, but I knew it was pointless. They’d been in my pocket.
‘I told you to leave the keys in the car!’ Hanan said, rubbing her knee.
‘Did you even take them out of the house?’ she asked.
‘Of course I did!’ but my protests were muffled as I scrabbled around the floor of the car feeling for keys but coming up only with lint-covered plasticine, a piece of lego and a toy car. I conveniently ignored the fact that I had forgotten the keys about ten times over the course of our relationship.
Then Ethan piped up from the back, now that he was bored of riling up an exhausted Luca.
‘The other children were playing with your coats,’ he threw in. ‘Because I hid my chocolates underneath it.’
Hanan swung the car around and we headed back to Katherine’s, a good 30 minute drive. The keys were indeed there. We collected them and grimly set off home again. By now it was close to midnight, and my dreams of an early night had evaporated under the fiery glare of my wife, nursing a now painful knee (having driven one and a half hours back and forth in search of our house keys), and two overtired children whinging in the back seat.
It was not quite the romantic, appreciative turn of the New Year I’d imagined. As we drove up the steep hill about 3 miles from home, the fireworks began over the London Eye and the bridges. There is a small area on that hill where you can see back and watch those very fireworks and as Hanan caught them in her rear view mirror, she smiled.
‘We’re here, we might as well watch them,’ she said. Deftly, she swung the car around, drove back down, and promptly hit a kerb stone. The tyre screamed, the car ground to a halt. I got out. The tyre was as flat as a pancake. We tried grinding up the hill but it was no good.
‘Happy New Year!’ I offered.
Before my wife could throw me out of the car, a young man wielding a beer can approached the car and tapped on the window.
‘I’m a mechanic,’ he said. ‘I can sort it out for you. Where’s the spare tyre?’
Naturally, my wife looked at me for clarification, since in our house I am not only tech support but in charge of all things mechanical.
I didn’t have a clue where the tyre could be stored but drifted towards the back of the car and popped open the boot, guided by a something I might have picked up from my dad 30 years ago, or else watched in a TV show only 20 years ago.
‘What is all this stuff?’ Hanan asked, appalled.
The boot was crammed with carrier bags full of books to be donated to the charity shop up the road (but I hadn’t gotten around to it yet) and stuff I had been planning to take to the office (but I hadn’t been there over the holidays). No sign of a tyre. I poked around, knowingly, but by now, Ethan had used the iPhone as a torch and the mechanic had figured out the spare was under the car. 45 minutes later, he was sweating in the zero degree temperature, trying to raise the tyre off the ground with the pitifully small jack.
‘Would a bigger jack help?’ Hanan asked.
‘Yeah, but…’ he shrugged and kept going.
‘Why don’t you find us a bigger jack?’ Hanan asked me. There were so many answers to that question from ‘It’s after midnight on New Year’s and everything’s shut’ to ‘We’re on a quiet road miles from any garage’ that I just shrugged. With the air of one tired of having to explain the obvious, Hanan pointed me in the direction of a magnificent house across the road, with lights blazing at every window. Feeling somewhat sheepish, I sloped off and walked towards it.
Smartly I knocked at the door and tried to look trustworthy and yet nonchalant. A tall blonde twenty-something woman answered my knock. That kind of thing usually happens to Hanan, not me, but I quickly blurted out the highlights of our sorry tale, and her French boyfriend appeared. We all trailed out to the car, where the mechanic was in the first stages of cardiac arrest but the car was still not off the ground.
The Frenchman went straight for the spare tyre and squeezed it.
‘Zees tyre ‘as ‘ad it!’ he said.
Hanan looked to me for translation which is odd, since she speaks fluent French.
‘The tyre’s had it,’ I said.
‘It’s flat also,’ he confirmed.
The mechanic stopped jacking up the car. The blonde went back for her car keys and insisted on driving us all the way home. We staggered into the house at one a.m.
‘I’m hungry!’ Luca said. Well, it had been several hours since his last meal. Hanan made toast, we wrestled them into bed and lay down ourselves around 2.
Hanan nursed her very sore knee and I tried not to count the few hours till I had planned to be up.
‘You know, it was lovely being out, but I think next year we should stay home,’ she said.
‘Really?’ I asked.
‘Yes. We could have a nice roast chicken. And an early night. What do you think?’
I think I wish I’d thought of that myself.