Sunday, February 14, 2010

How To Speak Cough

As I pulled up to the lights on my way to the train station, I noticed that the car in front of me was a Toyota. I wondered what it must be like to own a car that’s waiting for a safety recall. I imagined the driver nervously checking his accelerator pedal, trying to remember what the smiling lady in the Toyota video told him about slipping the gearstick into Neutral when his car goes hopelessly out of control (“That’s N for Neutral”, she purrs reassuringly).

All things considered, the Toyota driver seemed pretty relaxed as I pulled alongside. To think that just a month ago I’d nearly bought a Prius. As the lights changed I glided away in my new Mercedes. The feeling of superiority was short-lived. The car, scarcely out of its wrapping paper, was slowing down. I floored the non-stick accelerator pedal and the wretched machine promptly froze, right in the middle of a busy junction. It was rush hour, and on Radio Newcastle they were asking listeners to phone in traffic problems. As a chorus of irritated horns signaled the buildup of a pretty big one, I instead phoned the Mercedes recovery service, then the important client who was expecting me in London.

The first police patrol was very polite. They advised me to get out and stand at the side of the road. Apparently it was safer. It was certainly colder. My feet welded themselves to the icy pavement as I waited and watched the traffic get more irate. Then another police car pulled up. Apparently my tailback was stretching back to the A1. To any readers of this blog held up in Newcastle on Wednesday morning, I apologise. Then some more police on their way to unarmed combat training arrived; despite wearing shorts and trainers, they wrenched my car into neutral and manhandled it to the side.

The man from Mercedes took thirty seconds to analyse the problem. “You’ve run out of diesel”, he said. Which was nonsense: the fuel gauge showed one quarter full and the onboard computer said I had 120 miles left. It’s a problem with the coding, he said. Apparently the car, a C220 CDI, has two fuel tanks, and a computer pumps one into the other when it gets down to a certain level. Except mine didn’t, because of the coding. He said it was the third one this week. Sounds like another recall. That’s what the Mercedes service man said as I waited to have the thing repaired. A fault at the factory, it was. So will this affect all models? You’re not the first, is all he said. The coding cost me £250 in wasted train tickets.

Thank goodness humans don’t have recalls. Baby Izzy is already a one-year-old. I marvel at how everything works so perfectly as she grows into a little person. Mind you, yesterday I felt that irrational parental panic when Jo told me that a friend’s baby, who’s a week younger, is already walking and talking.

Izzy is still crawling and speaks Cough, a new language we invented together. She coughs; I cough back. She comes closer and coughs twice; I cough twice too. Then she brings her face right up to mine, till our noses almost touch. She takes in an enormous breath, turns bright red, then chokes out a loud, spluttery cough right into my eyes, before falling back in a fit of giggles. It’s our private game, and it’s better than any language I know.

Jo, quite rightly, wants her to unlearn it as soon as possible. Apparently it’s embarrassing in playgroup: maybe the other mothers think she has swine flu. But I want to enjoy every cough-game before she starts talking properly; before her perfectly written code begins to pump out the next phase of that miraculous, faultless transition from baby to child.

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