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Pick a Peck of Pakowhai

Most lunchtimes Jake the Dog and I drive to Pakowhai Park so that Jake can run around off the lead, sniff at things and try to herd the other dogs. None of them pay him any attention, which he finds incredibly frustrating, but nevertheless he continues to try very hard because that’s his super power and he simply can’t help himself.

For the last year or so, busy men in high visibility jackets have been digging up large sections of the road around Pakowhai Park. The traffic system is being completely re-organised – three new roundabouts and a whole new road will completely alter the approach to the park when they are finally finished. But while the construction is going on, navigating the roads in order to get to the park is a frustratingly slow, complex and occasionally dangerous process. Potholes appear and disappear without warning. Yesterday’s two way stretch is today’s single lane and traffic builds up waiting impatiently for a man carrying a STOP sign to turn it to GO so that they have permission to proceed. There is much shaking of fists and the occasional hoot. Loose stones and gravel are everywhere and vast clouds of dirt and dust envelope every vehicle. Commercial car washers are doing a roaring trade.

One day, as Jake and I were making our way to the park, something went CRACK! very loudly.

"What was that?" asked Jake, startled.

"A flying stone has hit the windscreen," I said. "If you look carefully you can see the chip in the glass."

"That will have to be fixed," said Jake. "Chipped windscreens are not safe."

"I’ll arrange to have it done as soon as possible," I said. "Meanwhile, let’s go for a run in the park."

"What a good idea!" said Jake, and so that’s what we did.

When we got back to the car after our run, we found that the chip in the windscreen had turned into a large crack that travelled about four inches down the windscreen. "Oh dear," said Jake, "that looks ominous. I wonder how they’ll manage to fix it."

"I’m not sure they’ll be able to," I replied. "But it’s definitely a job for the experts, and quite an urgent one as well."

Jake got in the car and put his seat belt on. I did the same and we drove carefully home. I was a little dubious about driving with a cracked windscreen. Was it going to shatter without warning, showering me with glass crystals? I parked my car in the garage and rang a windscreen specialist for advice.

"Who are you insured with?" asked the nice windscreen specialist. I told her and she checked up on the details of my policy. "Oh look," she said, "you’ve got a glass clause in your policy and there’s no excess on the coverage. So whatever we have to do to your windscreen won’t cost you anything. The insurance company will pay for it all. Isn’t that lucky?"

"Yes it is," I said, starting to feel a bit better about the whole thing.

"Now," she said, "describe the crack for me. How big is it?"

"It’s about four inches long," I said, "running vertically up and down the windscreen from the original spot where the stone chipped it."

"Something that size definitely means you’ll need a whole new windscreen," she said. "Is the crack obstructing your view of the road?"

"No," I said. "It’s just behind the mirror so I really don’t see very much of it unless I squint."

"Perfect," she enthused. "That means you are quite safe to drive the car. We only get worried when the crack is across your field of view. It tends to be rather distracting and that makes driving more than a little bit dangerous."

"But isn’t it still dangerous to drive with a big crack like that, even if it is out of my field of view?" I asked. "What happens if it gets worse and the windscreen shatters?"

"Run your fingernail across the crack," she said, "and see if you can feel it."

I did what she said and I couldn’t feel anything at all. I could feel the original chip where the stone had hit the windscreen but the glass around the crack itself was perfectly smooth both inside and outside the car. If I hadn’t been able to see the crack, I’d have sworn that there was nothing there at all. I reported these finding to the windscreen specialist.

"That’s good," she said. "It means the outer layers of the windscreen are intact and only the inner layer is actually broken. So you’ll be quite safe to drive with it until we can get the windscreen replaced. The outer layers will protect you, though you may find that the crack gets larger as time passes. Once the integrity of the inner layer is breached it will start to lose tensile strength as the crack puts pressure on it and so the crack will gradually expand."

"OK," I said. "That makes sense. So when can I come and get my new windscreen?"

"We don’t have a free appointment slot for another two weeks," she said. She named a date and time. "How does that suit you?"

"Righto," I said, "put me down for that. Why is there such a long waiting list?"

"Because we are getting about 300 broken windscreens a week," she explained. "There’s a lot of road works going on around Pakowhai Park and our work load has more than doubled since they started."

"Tell me about it," I said. "That’s where mine got damaged."

"I’m not surprised," she said. "See you in a fortnight."

Over the next few days the crack gradually increased in size, just as the lady had said it  might. But it didn’t continue to grow vertically. Clearly it was bored with that direction, so it turned through ninety degrees and began to wander horizontally. From where I sat in the driver’s seat it looked like a very large upper case ‘L’. Perhaps if I waited long enough, other letters might appear. Maybe an alien entity from between dimensions was painstakingly writing a message to me on my windscreen. ‘L’ – what could it mean? I discussed the riddle with Jake.

"Perhaps it’s going to be an advert urging you to watch re-runs of I Love Lucy?" suggested Jake.

"Maybe it will be an advert for Liquorice allsorts," I said. "I hate Liquorice allsorts."

"Whatever it is, it’s bound to be an advert," said Jake. "Adverts are everywhere these days. They are almost impossible to avoid. When you get the new windscreen installed, make sure that it’s got an ad-blocker fitted as standard. We don’t want this to happen again." It was sound advice and I determined to take it.

Eventually the great day dawned and I took the car to have its new windscreen fitted. It was an early morning appointment, the first of the day. I left the car with the fitters and wandered off to have breakfast and coffee at a convenient café. Then I went window shopping for an hour or so. Finally it was time and so I went back to the fitters and picked up my car. It was wearing its brand new windscreen very proudly. I drove home and took Jake for a run at Pakowhai Park.

"That windscreen is very clean," said Jake. "I’ve never seen visibility like it."

"Yes," I agreed. "It’s almost like there isn’t a windscreen there at all." As I spoke, a fly crashed into the windscreen and spread its multi-coloured insides all over the glass. "Oh, look!" I said to Jake, "there really is a windscreen there after all."

"It looks much more normal now," agreed Jake.

About a week after the new windscreen had been fitted, Jake and I drove to Pakowhai Park as usual.


For what it’s worth, this is essentially a true story. Smith & Smith really have been completely overwhelmed with windscreen repairs caused by the roadworks at Pakowhai. They did a magnificent job fitting my new windscreen. They sorted out all the insurance details for me and their efficiency, courtesy and helpfulness were just superb. If ever you need your windscreen repaired, make sure you go to Smith & Smith. I promise that you won’t be disappointed. And yes, about a week after I got my new windscreen the Pakowhai roadworks struck again and my new windscreen got a chip in it so the whole rigmarole had to be gone through again. Fortunately this time the chip did not turn into a crack so the windscreen just needed a repair rather than a replacement. This too, according to Smith ! Smith, is not unusual. They have had quite a lot of repeat business from those damn road works. I think everyone will be very happy when they are finally finished and the men in high visibility jackets have gone back to wherever it was they came from...


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