Within 15 seconds of driving off, however, we were flagged down by a passer-by, who pointed out that we’d got the one thing worse than a parking ticket - a puncture. Now I’m fairly ashamed to say that my first reaction was to ignore it. I’m not very good at this sort of thing, I’m not very manly, I just thought we’d head off anyway, pretend everything was fine: “It’s still round”, I cried. “Surely three wheels are enough?”
Mechanics is not one of my strong points. I got married just over a year ago and 6 months into the marriage my father-in-law took me outside and taught me how to change a tyre. I think that says quite a lot both about my own car-know-how and the lack of manly experiences Duncton and I have shared. Luckily the passer-by who flagged us down insisted that we should actually change the tyre and even offered to help. He was a mechanic. All was not lost.
In fact, it turned into a bit of a laugh. We’d been saved by a good, friendly, and fairly butch Samaritan! We were all getting on really well and it turned out that our engineering saviour, the Samaritan, had earlier seen a suspicious-looking lorry pull up next to my car. Unable to squeeze past, the driver had shouted at my vehicle, shook his fist, then realized it was empty so got out, walked round to the back and bent down menacingly beside it. Sure enough, when we (well, the Samaritan) had removed the tyre, there was clear evidence of a slashing.
We’d been slashed! Now, I have to say, that my first reaction was probably wrong again. I couldn’t help getting even more excited. It was better than just getting a puncture from driving badly. I felt like a victim. I sort of felt like I’d been involved in a stabbing. I had definitely been involved in a knife crime. I was a statistic. It was a story.
Tim, the Samaritan and I all got stuck in and started slagging off the lorry driver: “I hate that lorry driver”, that sort of thing. The Samaritan was angry anyway because his double-parked car had just been towed away by the council. He now had to pay £200 to get the car back and he was £12 short so was waiting for his brother to come down with the extra money. “I hate that parking warden”, said Tim. We were having a good old rant.
By the time the wheel was changed I’d decided to express my gratitude to the Samaritan by giving him some cash. Not the full £12 - I thought that would make me seem even less manly than I already felt. £12 would have said: “Thanks ever so much Samaritan, I literally couldn’t have done it without you”. I gave him a fiver. Thus retaining a tiny bit of dignity: “Cheers mate, there you go, a fiver. Ta”.
And off we went on our merry way. We’d turned an annoyance into a thirty minute adventure. We’d won. We arrived at the London’s Wetlands Centre, which cost a fair amount of honk but did include the sighting of an East Indian Wandering Whistling Duck. A very cool duck (it wasn’t actually wandering or whistling, it was washing – but still, a very cool duck).
It wasn’t until one week later that we realised all was not what it seemed.
The following Tuesday, Tim was casually looking out of his grimy Kentish Town window when he caught sight of a man who looked remarkably like the Samaritan. Tim was on the verge of heading downstairs and saying “hello”, “wasn’t that parking warden an arsehole?” and “don’t get me started on the lorry driver!”, when he noticed the Samaritan start to act a little suspiciously. As Tim watched, he coolly wandered round to the back of a parked car, crouched down beside it, then did something probably naughty and continued to lurk. He was definitely lurking.
Within five minutes the car’s owner, a middle-aged woman, returned. And as she was driving off the Samaritan flagged her down in exactly the same way he’d flagged us down the week before. He then proceeded to help her change the tyre, while, presumably spinning the same yarn about the lorry and his own car.
Now Tim knew what to do. He immediately got out his phone and called… me. Well, he couldn’t call the police, they wouldn’t have been interested. And I was definitely interested. Tim talked me through the next fifteen minutes at the end of which the grateful and unsuspecting lady gave Michael ten pounds (making me feel slightly better about my stingy donation the previous week).
It slowly dawned on us. We’d been diddled. The Samaritan was no more than a modern-day pratdigger.
His whole story was a lie. To be honest, the lorry bit should have rung alarm bells – there was easily enough room for a wide vehicle to pass ours, and even if it couldn’t, we should really have heard the driver shout or honk. The clues were there. There were gaps in the tale. But he carried it off so well. I couldn’t help but feel a vague respect for the Samaritan – it was a wonderful scam.
Still, it was not over yet. Tim had noted the lady’s registration number and we determined to get her money back. One week later again I returned to Kentish Town – by train. I sat by Tim’s window for eight hours. And sure enough, after eight hours… he hadn’t shown up. A frustrating day. He’d given me the slip.
The moral of the story? Always ask the Samaritan for his membership card.