What gear are you in?

This is an embellishment of a joke my mother told me ages ago. You have been warned.

So there’s a fellow, call him Nigel. He’s a middle-aged bloke, kind of quiet. Actually, he’s a bit of a swot and not very popular with the ladies. Or with anyone, for that matter. Just an inoffensive guy with glasses and a shiny pate surrounded by a fringe of ginger hair, the sort who sits quietly in the corner of the HR office and gets his work done quietly and efficiently, if not brilliantly.

Now Nigel’s hobby, his one spark of life, his raison d’être, is his car. It’s not much of a car, an old Triumph with just a bit of rust — Nigel didn’t go to public school and land a peach job in Pater’s ministry — but he’s inordinately proud of it and he lavishes all the care on it that his lordship might on a prize racehorse. In short, it’s the thing that gets Nigel out of his mother’s duplex in Slough on the weekends.

And so one weekend as Nigel’s motoring along the M4, needle spot on the posted limit, he notices a bit of an odd noise from under the bonnet. Nothing harsh or grinding, understand, but just a kind of a whine or a whir that he hasn’t heard before. And it puts him in a bit of a tizzy as he’s been saving up for mum’s retirement home, but at the same time he is absolutely scared pantless at the idea something might be going wrong with his beloved Matilda (as he affectionately refers to the coupé in his thoughts).

Gripping the wheel as he tries to calm himself and bring his heartrate back to Earth, Nigel eases off the throttle. Ignoring the blasts from the horn of the Rover following him, Nigel putters along to the next exit, where he immediately pulls over at the first café and telephones the garage.

And Nigel says to the mechanic, “You see, there I was, motoring along the M4, needle spot on the posted limit, when I noticed a bit of an odd noise from under the bonnet.”

And the mechanic says, “What sort of odd noise?”

So Nigel continues, “Nothing harsh or grinding, mind you, but just a kind of a whine or a whir that I haven’t heard before. And it’s put me in a bit of a tizzy, because frankly I’m scared pantless at the idea something might be going wrong with my beloved … with my motor.”

The mechanic thinks about that and he asks, “What gear are you in?”

Nigel says, “Well, I’ve got on my khaki trousers and a jumper in British Racing Green, of course, and then a kind of a houndstooth jacket …

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