Mayday winner: crisis in a Capri

With a case of wine to award to the most bonkers anecdote, we asked: are you dafter than James May? Proving that age makes us no wiser, here is Paul Leonard's winning entry

Picture the scene: it was the late 70s and we were living in Wood Green in north London. My wife Carol was at home with the kids (babies in those days) and I was driving back from where I worked, at this huge international telephone exchange centre in Burnt Oak. I was heading home slowly along the dreaded North Circular in our Ford Capri.

We’d had the car since being at university and it was really on its last legs. One of the guys who worked for me did a bit of car mechanics in his spare time and he was doing wonders keeping the old Capri roadworthy, especially as things were beginning to fail on a pretty regular basis.

I hadn’t washed the car for some time, but with my pal having just completed his latest little miracle of engine rescue, I thought I’d treat the thing to a car wash as I needed to fill up on petrol at our local petrol station.

It was as busy as ever during the evening rush hour and there was a bit of a queue for the automated car wash. But eventually it came to my turn and I headed in, pulled on the handbrake, switched the engine off and wound the window down (no electrics in those days) so that I could press the start button.

The machine whirred into life. There was a second or two’s grace with the old machines before the water jets kicked in, to allow you to wind up the window. I started to turn the winder and, as it felt a bit stiff, gave it a stiff yank. You’re probably ahead of me now.

Not only did the bloody handle come away from its door fixing but the sodding pane of glass dropped into the bowels of the door. I’d only gone and broken the whole window mechanism. Aw shoot.

My instinct was to re-start the car and drive out of there. But the large mechanical water jets had already swung in front of the car, and the huge brushes were swooshing their way around the back of the car. Aggh.

Next thought was to step out of the car but the jets were already up to full speed and I figured I’d get absolutely soaked if I did that and horse-whipped by the brushes. So there was nothing for it but to sit it out and try to minimise the effects to myself and the insides of the car.

Ha! I had an evening paper and held this up to the open window, rather hopefully. I could sense the guy behind me looking on with interest and thought the newspaper trick would not only prove an effective barrier but also make me look rather cool and nonchalant amidst a tiny drama.

Have you any idea how much water those jets throw out? The newspaper disintegrated in seconds.

The strands of the brushes were now lashing inside the window frame. In desperation I reached down for the rubber floor mat and held it up as best as possible against the tsunami coming in through the window. In my rear view window I could just about see a small crowd of folk pointing and looking on in amusement.

The first pass of the brushes wasn’t too bad; it was watery but mostly soapy. There was a brief respite as the huge brushes reached the front of the car but then came the second pass, with the soap-free rinse-down. About 50 gallons were heading my way.

The rubber mat was too floppy to provide any real protection but it didn’t do a bad job and as the brushes headed back to their rest position I fired the car into life and headed out as quickly as possible. I wasn’t about to be humiliated by stopping to look at the damage in the garage forecourt; I just headed for home.

I parked the car and swept into the house rather than risk bumping into a neighbour. I walked through to the dining room/kitchen area, where I could hear Carol and the girls.

I walked in and Carol stood there open-mouthed before convulsing in laughter. I hadn’t fully realised it but my suit was completely drenched down one side and pretty dry on my left-hand side. The line separating dry from wet went straight down my body. I looked like a before and after character from a launderette ad .

Not for the first, nor the last time, I was the cause of much laughter and hilarity in my own home. Childish? I’d say I was acting quite responsibly but all my family reckon I have the sense of a nine-year-old at times. Ah well.

See the original article: Mayday! Mayday! James May is 50