THE carbon meltdown had begun with a mere inconvenience. There was no hint of the apocalypse that was to unfold over 48 hours in one of Glasgow’s multi-storey car parks. In the midst of it you wondered if this was your time of reckoning for a lifetime of negligence in your duty of care to the planet’s resources.
It had started innocently over lunch with a journalist who specialises in style and entertainment, a sector whose principal charisms rarely choose to bestow their favours upon me.
My dining companion has always been inspired by Lily Bollinger’s attitude to champagne. “I only drink champagne when I’m happy, and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.” She was immediately into her stride with the bubbly stuff and made it clear to me that she’d consider it rude if I left her to drink alone.
Having had an austere and abstemious lockdown I felt I deserved an indulgence, and so an early decision was made to ditch the car and return to it at a suitable hour the following day. The fate of nations can come to rest on mundane whims and mine was about to get its haw-maws rattled.
The first hint of trouble ahead came on discovering that I’d left my lights on. If only that had been the extent of my problems. A mere flat battery would have been a blessing.
I phoned my friend Peter, a Maryhill taxi-driver who possesses the street wisdom for which that neighbourhood is renowned. Based on the scant information I provided he divined that the problem was somewhat more complex than that.
Nevertheless, he suggested I get out the jump-leads and solicit the help of another car-park customer. Already sensing the first squalls of an approaching storm, my language began to deteriorate accordingly. “I don’t have any jump-leads,” I said, “and besides, I wouldn’t know how to f*****g use them.”
As a child I’d been haunted by a passage in a book in which the protagonist is electrocuted to death by a pair of these implements. I’ve avoided them ever since.
And so, Peter kindly agreed to purchase a set for me at an outlet in Possilpark (I’m now the owner of brand new jump-leads that come in a fetching red bag). With a gnawing sense of foreboding I kind of sensed the car would remain impervious to the defibrillation, and thus it proved.
Never mind, I’m thinking; I’ll call the breakdown service which comes with the warranty I’m confident automatically renews itself without me having to fill out a form with numbers and words I always find difficulty sourcing. Of course, the warranty hasn’t automatically renewed and had expired two days previously.
The Nightmare on Bath Street had thus entered a second day and I’ve begun to cancel weekend plans as a means of making good the hourly accumulation of parking charges.
I’m also rehearsing how to handle the embarrassment of causing vehicular mayhem in an enclosed space with a low roof.
“It will require two call-out charges,” says the kind recovery assistant on the phone: “one for a vehicle small enough to enter the car-park and one for the actually recovery truck we’ll use to tow it to “a garage of your choice”. No garages have ever existed on the menu of choices I retain for life’s small emergencies.
My brother now enters stage left in this festival of chaos. He knows about cars too. And he agrees to be present at the proceedings, thus sparing me the disdainful looks that people with technical intelligence always display when they are in the presence of primitive roasters such as me.
Our Damian gets there early and calls me with news that he describes as both “good and bad”. The car has simply run out of fuel. Knowing that I do not possess such a thing as a “jerry can”, he purchases one. (I’m now the owner of a brand new, £18.99 jerry-can which comes in a fetching shade of green). He sticks two litres of petrol in it; pays the parking ticket (£73) and drives it out on to the street.
I’d bought £40 of petrol the previous day. How could this have happened? At that moment a chill descends. On parking the car, I’d walked away from it with the engine still running. My only excuse is that I’d been playing selected work from the back catalogue of Metallica, turned up to 11. The audio frequencies of my brain may thus have been a bit scrambled. And a few other senses besides.
If climate wrongdoing were to be reckoned according to the Catholic hierarchy of transgressions, this is as close to a mortal sin as it gets. I’d be knee-deep in the rosary and lighting candles.
My carbon footprint, which I’d recently reduced to a dinky size five and a half, now covers an area the size of Coatbridge and maybe also Airdrie. I’m a disgrace to the planet.
My next call was to my daughter, Siobhan – an advocate of sustainable clothing – who was last week named as one of Cop26’s ‘Climate Champions’. She’s delightful, our Siobhan, but this call was ‘testy’ at best.
I feel compelled to make amends for my gross act of climate barbarism and seek from her a suite of reparations I might make to mitigate the damage. I’m up for sponsoring a pair of wee snow leopards in that Tibetan plateau. And maybe some tree-planting in Sutherland.
This won’t really butter the parsnips, though. “It would be like stealing your mum’s life savings and paying her back with a Happy Meal,” she says. I have been tellt.
Only one measure can make good my carbon vandalism: I must ditch the car for all non-essential journeys (ie: most of them) and restore my broken relationship with public transport.
This will be my Cop26 pledge. But the snow leopards might still get a turn.
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