Something happened last month that restored my faith in the human race. In fact, it happened twice. Someone, a complete stranger, changed my tyre for me without having to be asked.
The first time, I'd taken off on a short trip to get milk. Leo was with me in the car because, Lord knows, even popping up to the servo to get some milk is an adventure when you're three. After a few minutes I noticed a hideous burning rubber smell.
Now, I'm no mechanic, but even I know that when a car smells like burning rubber it's not a good sign. When I followed my nose to the source of the odour I saw my tyre was flat, down to the rim, and about 4000 degrees in temperature.
I had absolutely no idea what to do. I was stuck with a preschooler, a molten-lava wheel and lapsed (of course) membership to one of those roadside-assistance thingies. When I'm in a situation that I can't see a way out of, I get hot and sort of huffy. And I'm not afraid to tell you that by now, I was hot as hell and huffing like a Biggest Loser.
Enter Paul: kitchen designer by day, anonymous wheel-changing superhero by, er, day as well. He waltzed over to my car, asked where my spare was and got to work.
What struck me about the kindness of these two gentlemen was that they absolutely did not have to help me. They both had things they were doing
I was flabbergasted to see that lurking under a secret trapdoor in my boot was an emergency tyre. And all this time I thought my boot was a mobile storage facility for kid-size hard hats, dried-out packets of baby wipes, half-gnawed rusks and a stroller I've used twice. Who knew!
If you've never seen someone changing a wheel (as I hadn't), imagine yourself with a stranger who is writhing around on the ground in a fashion not dissimilar to those wildlife warriors who try to tag crocodiles. Those tyres sure do put up a fight, by the looks of things. But Paul got me all sorted out. He even called his mate at the local tyre shop, so when I arrived there they knew what sort of tyre I needed and I was fixed up and on my way in no time.
I was actually teary when I thanked Paul for his kindness. It was the kindest thing anyone had ever done for me.
Until a week later, when I was turning into an eight-lane freeway and I heard a bang. My first instinct was to check my head for a bullet hole (don't you worry, I've seen Underbelly). My second was to utter under my breath, "Not another tyre!"
So there I was, stranded again for the second time in a week with a flat tyre and no idea. I should have paid attention to Paul, but I seriously didn't think I'd need to so quickly. However, within five minutes a handsome fellow with a 10-year-old son had pulled over, taken my keys and was reversing my wonky vehicle into the service road. Again, I pushed aside the rubbish in my boot to reveal the by-now well-worn emergency wheel and he set about changing it for me.
This time he made me work for it a little bit, and I had to loosen a nut. This involved me bending over, bottom in the air, whispering "Righty tighty, lefty loosey" at the rims so I'd get the direction right. Eventually, the wheel was changed and I was on my way. I looked at the handsome man's son and said, "Your dad is a hero, you realise?" He just shrugged and went back to playing his Nintendo DS.
What struck me about the kindness of these two gentlemen was that they absolutely did not have to help me. They both had things they were doing and could have easily just stuck to their schedules. I've done that. Plenty of times. I've seen someone in a broken-down car looking frantic and I've thought, "Well ... what can I do?"
Now I'm paying it forward. I paid a lot of attention when the handsome stranger was changing my tyre and, having also done a crash course on YouTube, I'm confident I can now change a tyre without creating a dangerous situation à la Wacky Races. And next time I see a woman with a flat tyre, gesticulating wildly while on the phone to someone, I'm going to pull over and change her wheel. I bet it'll feel really good.
This article first appeared in Sunday Life.