When Noel and I broke up I was pretty philosophical about things. Sure, being on my own would be hard; it would take some getting used to and I was really going to have to learn to manage my finances with an iron fist - but as long as my trusty car held out for another few years I could cope with pretty much any other expense. Well whaddya know? It didn't. Things come in threes as they say and last week's 'three' was the final straw. Once again I was driving home from Auckland and had only just got onto the motorway when I noticed the temperature gauge was almost off the scale. What on earth?! I had barely driven anywhere! Not only that, I had only got it serviced last week as an extra precaution and the oil and water had been filled up as required.
Flabbergasted, I veered off the motorway and mercifully found a mechanic who confirmed the engine had indeed overheated but there was no way he could check what was happening until it had cooled enough to be able to handle. So I had no choice but to sit in my car for an hour like an idiot until he came back and found that the water tank was completely empty. How could that be? 'Must have a leak somewhere', the mechanic said and filled it to the brim with a LOT of water. 'Good luck, I hope it gets you home OK!' So did I! I cursed myself inwardly for not remembering to join the AA yet. 'You might want to think about getting a new car', he added helpfully as he shut the bonnet.
By some miracle it did get me home but it was a pretty stressful trip and next morning I did remember to join the AA, I wanted no more repeat performances! I then trotted down the road to the mechanic who had replaced my tyre a couple of weeks before. By this time my engine was no longer leaking but had developed a rather worrying whining noise and I was mortified to discover that the steering wheel was now groaning and creaking loud enough for the whole street to hear with every turn. 'These things are a mechanic's nightmare', the old chap sighed. 'I should know, I had one! I'll put some fluid in it as it's dry as a bone but if you want my honest advice, take it to the nearest dump love. It's only going to keep costing you money; the next thing will be a new engine or head gasket and you're looking at thousands for that!'
Well there you go. One of my worst nightmares had come true. My car was stuffed. What on earth was I going to do? I had no money to buy a new one. How was I going to get the boys to all their sports trainings? How was Liam going to be able to take his driving test in a few days with no car? For the next 24 hours I felt rather sorry for myself. Goodbye social life - not that I really had one. Goodbye independence. Goodbye freedom *sniff* (cue the violins)...
The next morning I woke up to a grey, rainy day and once again was contemplating my carless fate. I honestly didn't know what to do. I mean, how does one go about getting a car?! And then I remembered what my mum said after my dad passed away. 'I had to do all sorts of things I never knew I could do. You soon learn when you have to'. Indeed she did - jings, she moved to the other side of the world by herself! And bought a car. If she could do it, then I would learn too. I would find out how to get me a car. Now, where to start? Who should I ask? And my mind wandered back to a Hidden Gem from years gone by. Noel and I had bought a car from him years ago and had been impressed by his honesty, flexibility and genuine willingness to help. Come to think of it, my mum had bought a car from him too! And from then on, every year without fail, he sent us Christmas cards. A nice touch - and a smart one, because even now, so many years later I still remembered those Christmas cards and knew who I wanted to find me a car. I could have gone somewhere a lot closer but I knew that he would look after me and not rip me off. But I hadn't seen him since the kids were tiny and we had moved away! He probably wasn't even there any more. There was only one way to find out.
I picked up the phone and called Fairview Motors in Hamilton. 'I don't suppose Greg Sharplin still works there does he?' I asked nervously. 'He sure does!' came the cheery reply, 'I'll put you through!' Hooray! Greg still remembered me from my Te Kauwhata days and was a huge help as we discussed suitable prices and models. He was even willing to give me money for my old car and let me use it as a deposit! Two hours later, Liam and I were standing in the car yard and he was desperately trying to talk me out of buying a bright red sewing machine on wheels with black tinted windows. 'But it's so cute! It looks like a ladybug!' I reasoned with him. 'But Mum, I have to drive it too! It's embarrassing!' he pleaded. 'Well show me another alternative then!' I grumbled - and then we both saw it.
This is - well, I don't know who she is yet, we can't agree on a name! Ali likes Dora, as in the Explorer. I thought about Shirley, as in Valentine, one of my favourite movie heroines and Liam likes Betsy because that was the name of one of his late grandfather's first cars. But whatever her name is, she's mine and she's shiny and beautiful and economical and best of all purple and even bester still SAFE. And my luck being what it is, having just spent $79 on an AA membership I got given a free one with my purchase! So now I'm doubly safe! And Greg, as always couldn't be faulted - never pushy and always goes the extra mile. Even the office lady said 'He's not like your normal stereotypical car salesman at all!' And that's the thing about Hidden Gems isn't it. If they're good to you, you'll be good to them, win-win.
But now of course the pressure is really on. I have a new house to buy and now a new car, which really hadn't been part of my plan and having to pay for it doesn't exactly fill me with joy. But considering my old one had cost me almost $2,000 in as many months, I think my money is far better spent this way. And really, all I need is a house and a car, anything else is just a bonus. And how many times have I said I love a challenge? Just as well isn't it!