Zen saves Panda

Years ago, at college, a programming lecturer of mine recommended Robert Pirsig’s ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ to me. Of course I didn’t bother reading it, anymore than I read anything else that was on the reading list but I should have. I did eventually read it, many years later…

Bella’s been immobile. Nothing wrong with the old girl’s engine but the brake lights just wouldn’t work – either of them. I’d had a similar problem just a few weeks ago and it transpired that both bulbs had burnt out. Actually one had burnt out quite a while ago but nobody had told me about it until the other one had gone as well and rendered me and Bella an unwitting menace to other drivers. So this time around I checked to see if the bulbs had gone; they hadn’t. With the lights on for night driving, the rear lights worked and besides, on visual inspection the filaments were intact. It also looked like the parking light wasn’t working either … the mystery deepened.

Next on the checklist of things to do in this situation was to check the fuse box, I did and nothing doing there – they were all fine, still, I changed the relevent fuses. Now the way these things work, the left hand cluster of lights are on a separate circuit to the right hand cluster, so if the fuse goes for one cluster it does not affect the other one. However, both cluster’s break lights refused to switch on.

So I sat in the car pondering my next course of action. Do I phone up the AA and get some ‘very nice man’ to come along and end up fixing something that may turn out to be really trivial thus making me appear to know nothing about cars, (true, I don’t but that’s not the point). Perhaps I could ‘phone a friend’ … no, same stubborn refusal to admit my ignorance and ask for help. Maybe I could drive the car to a garage, manually switching the fog lights on and off as and when I braked … well, apart from it being expensive, dangerous and illegal I didn’t have enough faith in my hand-eye coordination to embark on such a risky journey.

I hadn’t started kicking anything yet and the tears of frustration were somehow, tremendously bravely, being kept at bay, as I remembered Pirsig’s book. It asks the question ‘what is Quality?’ … and then proceeds to provide an answer. I can’t remember what that answer was but I do remember that the protagonist in the book was a lecturer who has some sort of breakdown, (mental not mechanical). and then he re-invents himself as a freelance technical writer of computer manuals who travels around the US on a motorcycle and has another breakdown, (mechanical not mental). The book is about the motorcycle journey, madness, Plato, Aristotle, fixing bikes and Quality. (Don’t all rush off at once to get a copy.)

No, it wasn’t the book’s content that inspired me … it was it’s title! I decided to apply a bit of Zen to the problem, I had to become at one with my car … Bella and I had to become one and the same … I had to reach into my inner Panda. And what do you get in a Panda? … wires! Wires connected everything and that’s where the problem and thus the solution lay.

Two hours had passed already when I had this epiphany. If the problem wasn’t in the bulbs and it wasn’t in the fuse box then it could only be somewhere in between. I unscrewed the rear clusters and looked at the wiring, a red wire connected to both rear lights and a white wire connected to the parking light. I followed the wires through Bella’s side panels and on towards the fuse box. Both wires connected to the same relay which in turn connected to the fuse box … BINGO!

Two apparantly unconnected problems were connected. Well okay, technically speaking they weren’t connected. The wires had disconnected from the relay and upon reconnection, the rear break lights glowed into joyous, connected life.

… So, what had I learned from this ripping adventure? – that if you have a breakdown, save yourself a lot of time and get professional help … quickly!

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