We used to live in northern Italy, close to the Mediterranean and the French border, where we still have a house and a car, so a couple of weeks ago we flew out, spent a few days tidying up the garden then loaded up the car with stuff we wanted in England and drove it back to our present home in Leeds. In a couple of months time we’ll take the car back, carrying anything wanted down there.

The all-motorway route avoids the Alps by tracking along the coast down nearly to Marseilles, then heads up inland. This is the quickest route but far from the shortest, and of course you have to pay motorway tolls. So instead we took the old Napoleonic route up from Nice to Digne, then on to Sisteron and eventually Grenoble where we re-entered the motorway network. The road winds up and down through the mountains but there are spectacular views along the way so it’s quite enjoyable.

Before we started we did the usual checks; oil and water levels and of course tyre condition. I’m no expert but there seemed to be ample tread depth for the entire return journey so no need to put on the spare set of wheels we had from a previous car of the same model.

All went well till about 2pm when we hit the motorway at Grenoble, about 400km into the journey, at which point the road noise started sounding odd. A white van drew alongside and the driver jabbed his finger at the front passenger side wheel, so I (the passenger) stuck my head out of the window and saw the wheel running on a flat tyre. A motorway exit was coming up so we pulled over to the inner lane and took it, stopping on the nearest safe piece of roadside. The tyre was completely flat and the sidewall badly scuffed but I was able to partially reinflate it with the electric pump I always carry, so we edged gingerly to a car park just round the next corner, by which time it was completely flat again.

So there we were, on the edge of Grenoble with about 500km to go, a car loaded to the roof with miscellaneous bits and pieces and a flat front tyre. We don’t have a roadside assistance insurance package but fortunately it was a fine day so I started to unload with a view to fitting the spare, which was of course underneath all that luggage. Just as I started another car drew into the car park next to us and the young woman driver – who turned out to be Russian with a fair command of English – asked if she could help. Her car was fully loaded for a picnic with her young son but she unloaded a camping table to make space for Anna and off they went to find a tyre service centre. Half an hour later they were back; it turned out there was one about a mile away. The mechanic there said there would be no problem driving the car that far as long as we stayed in first gear, so we limped there with all the hazard lights flashing.

By luck, no damage had been done to the alloy wheel, so no problem fitting a new tyre. Of course we’d need two as it’s illegal to drive with mismatched tyres, and he just happened to have in stock a pair of Pirellis of that size, at €100 each, which I considered quite a fair price considering it included fitting as well. With the car up on the ramps he then pointed out the rear tyres weren’t looking too healthy either. In all 4 cases the wear had been mostly on the edges, possibly a consequence of driving on mountain roads, so I sighed and said “OK, let’s have all 4 then”. However, he didn’t have a full set of any make, so that meant Pirellis on the front and something else on the back. Then he disappeared into his stock room and came out with a pair of Chinese Hankook tyres that had been taken off another car but appeared to be in as-new condition, and offered us these for €20 each including fitting, payable in cash. Deals don’t come much better than that so we readily agreed.

Within 2 hours of the original incident we were back on the road to complete our journey.

Now consider. Given that something pretty serious went wrong in the first place, how many other things went spectacularly well for us to be on our way in under 2 hours, fully re-booted, for only €240? I made a lucky 13 list:

  • The tyre burst on the ring road of the only large city we’d passed in 400km.
  • The handling of the car was barely affected.
  • Another driver alerted us to the problem.
  • Grenoble is a big city with a good number of tyre service establishments.
  • We were right next to a motorway exit on a non-toll section.
  • There was a car park a stone’s throw from the exit.
  • It was a sunny day.
  • It was the middle of a weekday, during working hours.
  • A helpful motorist ferried Anna to the garage and back, delaying her own quality time in the park with her young son.
  • The tyre service establishment was only 1.4km away.
  • It was open and not busy.
  • They had 2 top-quality replacement tyres plus a pair of extremely cheap yet perfectly acceptable ones.
  • No damage had been done to the wheel.

If almost any one of the 13 items in that list had been anything other than totally favourable the outcome might have been very different. We could have burst the tyre on a narrow section of mountain road, miles from a garage, in the pouring rain, and so on.

They say bad luck comes in threes, but isn’t it amazing how lucky breaks come in chains like this? Many of us have experienced situations of a similar nature, like putting a wallet down in a public place and having a kind member of the public running after us with it. It really defies all reason, but fortunate coincidence is a powerful agent in human affairs and should be celebrated when it occurs.

So when things all seem to be going wrong, remember; sometimes it works the other way too.

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Unsplash

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