The back of my Granny's house looked like a breakers yard for cars, mainly thanks to Uncle Mike and PJ. You were never sure which car was running or which was being cannibalised for parts. In the end, it all added to the madness that followed the boys everywhere.
PJ was very fond of one particular car, a brown Hillman Hunter. Admittedly he spent nearly as much time under the bonnet as he did behind the wheel but he never gave up on the thing. One evening, the hunter came limping into the yard, grinding metal screaming from under the car and black oily smoke pumping from the back of it.
Mike stuck his head out the kitchen window and yelled, "What yea done to the thing now?"
PJ got out and slammed the door hard, looking furious, "Flamen clutch is gone," he yelled kicking the tyre.
"I'll make the tae and we'll have a look," said Mike, closing the window to keep the clouds of sticky smoke out of the house.
As the two boys walked around the car, mugs of steaming tea in hand, they mulled over what could be done.
"You'll be going nowhere in that," said Mike, taking a sip of his brew.
"I have to get into work tomorrow," PJ moaned.
"You'd have more luck pushing a fart back where it came from than getting that thing running by the morning," commented Mike wisely.
"What about the old Mini?" asked PJ nodding toward a carcass of a car up on four blocks.
"Nothing to lose I guess," said Mike, rolling up his sleeves. A few hours later and the Mini had been fitted with a battery that still held a bit of a charge, four scavenged wheels, one a bit smaller than the other three, new spark plugs and a general clean up.
As PJ syphoned petrol from the Hunter and poured it into the Mini he turned to Mike and said, "If this doesn't work you'll have to drop me to the job tomorrow."
"Jesus lad. I've got to be on the far side of Cashel before eight! Not a chance!" Mike would work all night on a car but there was no way he was getting out of bed a minute before he had to in the morning. With fingers crossed they turned over the engine. It whirred and whined and coughed and spluttered but failed to start. Mike shook his big bushy head at the engine as they tried one last time. Whirr whirr whirr went the engine and Mike lost the rag.
"Start-up yea bitch," he yelled and hit the distributor cap an awful slap of the hammer he was holding. That seemed to do the trick because the little car coughed into life and idled away like an asthmatic with a sixty Rothman a day smoking habit.
The next morning the car failed to start again, that was until PJ hit the engine a slap of the hammer and off she ran. Weeks passed and the hammer became as necessary as the key to get the little car going. Work on the Hunter was slow, as the necessity of the job dwindled while the Mini was getting PJ around. He found, wink wink, a clutch that would fit the car but never actually got round to installing it.
One afternoon, PJ was trying to get the Mini started but no matter how many times he bate the distributor cap, the bloody thing wouldn't turn over.
Granny popped her head out the window and cried, "Hey, what's all the caterwauling?"
"Blasted car won't start and I'm taking Maggie to the pictures tonight," said PJ, throwing the hammer at the engine. With no other option, PJ set to work on the Hunter. He managed to get the car jacked up at a forty-five-degree angle with planks rammed against the wheels to keep it up. As he began undoing the bolts keeping the gearbox in place, he was hit by a quandary. He needed a second set of hands. There was nobody around but Granny, so Granny was called into service.
As PJ loosened the last bolt, Granny was holding the end of a rope, which snaked its way over the car, in the open passenger window and was tied around the gear stick.
"Hold her, hold her now Mammy!" he yelled and Granny braced herself to take the weight of the gearbox. The last bolt dropped into his hand and PJ yelled, "Lave her down, more, more, a bit more. She's out!"
In any other house, having your fifty-year-old mother acting as a hydraulic lift might seem strange but not this one. PJ manoeuvred the replacement part into place as the car wobbled precariously over his head, granny holding a torch so he could see what he was at. Eventually the repair was made and Granny was back on the end of the rope again.
"Pull! Pull! Another bit! Hang on and I give this a slap," PJ cried from under the car and a hammer blow rang out into the evening sky. Something gave and the gearbox slid into place.
"That's it, Mammy, now hold her there while I get a few bolts into this thing."
After a few minutes, a sweating PJ appeared with his hand still brimming with bolts and a smile on his face. As he wiped his brow with the back of a greasy mitt he asked. "What time is it there, Mammy?"
Granny looked through the kitchen window at the clock on the wall. "Ten to eight."
"Jesus, I have to pick Maggie up at nine. He gave a quick look at the nuts in his hand and tossed them into the glove box of the car and began getting the four wheels back on the ground. Half an hour later, a freshly washed PJ turned the key and prayed. The faithful old hunter started up the first time and purred away into the night.
The nuts were soon forgotten about and the Hunter became a regular sight on the roads once more. That was until a month later, the whole gearbox fell out of the thing doing sixty miles an hour on the way to a job in Dublin. Mike and PJ blocked the countries only dual carriageway for nearly an hour and had to explain to the Guards why the gearbox was only held in by two bolts.