Jim O’Brien: Like my temperamental French motor, humans are imperfect — it’s what drives us

Among the drawbacks of working from home is the relative isolation. It is safe, secure and predictable, but the boundaries of the world can contract and expectations can become sanitised — same stuff, different day.

armers are accustomed to the predicament of the lone operator and are well used to spending most of their days in their own company.

They are probably more isolated now than they ever were. Increased mechanisation means they don’t need to call in extra help too often. For dairy farmers, the trip to the creamery was an opportunity to go beyond the gate.

My father loved to spend a few hours on a wet day in the forge. In later years, he’d visit the workshop of a man who made gates and straightened overworked and warped machinery parts.

It is good to have an excuse to get out, even if it’s only to cross-pollinate the content of one’s conversation. We have a diesel car that provides me with such an excuse on a regular basis. It has more mileage on the clock than the International Space Station and hardly a month goes by when it doesn’t end up in the garage.

Just when you think all its moving parts are going like a mouse’s heart, some red or orange light flashes to warn you of an impending crisis under the bonnet. The car is French and something of a drama queen as it struggles to embrace the onset of late middle age.

At the first sign of a problem, the dash will light up like the control room in a melting nuclear power plant. Sometimes a bright red warning will order you to STOP — ENGINE FAILURE HAZARD. The first time it happened, I nearly drove into the lake thinking I needed to cool down the central core before the thing exploded under me.

Over time, I’ve learned not to take the warnings too seriously. A bit of coaxing, patience and automotive TLC goes a long way towards humouring the machine and preventing it from taking itself too seriously.

I imagine if it was a human, it would wear a feather boa, smoke incessantly from a foot-long cigarette holder and wheeze its way through the day addressing everyone as ‘dawling’.

Its foibles regularly get me out of the house and down to the garage where a father and son team have developed an intimate knowledge of the innards of this Gallic machine. Sometimes major surgery is required, like the replacing of a clutch or colonic irrigation of the diesel particulate filter (the DPF to those of us familiar with these things).

At other times, it’s just the onboard computer acting up, necessitating admission for an automotive spa day. After a filter change, an oil replenishment and a coolant top-up, it drives home purring like a pampered Parisian cat.

On those days, after I sign it in for its therapies, I retire to the local Italian cafe where there is always someone more interesting than myself to talk to. I get to use my thin spattering of Italian while chatting with the genial host and, as I sip my espresso, I imagine I’m back in the Piazza Barberini with 40 years shaved off the speedometer and the promise of a Roman night stretching out before my supple young limbs.

As a family, we are not totally dependent on the French voiture. We also have an electric car, an ideal vehicle for living in a bubble. It is completely predictable and doesn’t afford many moments of unplanned encounter. In fact, it is too perfect — nothing ever goes wrong, the absence of an internal combustion engine means it doesn’t even backfire occasionally to break the monotony.

The only time it provides an opportunity for a bit of diversion is when you stop at a charging point to top up. Here conversations happen between the passing EV owners that inevitably revolve around how long it takes yours to charge and how long the charge will last.

An untrained ear eavesdropping on such chats would be forgiven for thinking the participants are comparing notes on the duration and intensity of their love-making. I suppose it provides a welcome distraction from the predictability of the perfect world.

The history of civilisation is, in many ways, the story of the human reach for perfection, the search to create an ideal world where angst, pain and uncertainty are no more.

It is interesting to note that one of the fastest growing sectors in the area of management is risk management.

But it’s the imperfections that make life interesting. They drive us into one another’s company and one another’s arms.

To paraphrase the great Leonard Cohen, it’s the cracks that let the light in. The faults and foibles of my middle-aged French motor afford me the joy of going for coffee on a Wednesday afternoon to babble Italian and dream of balmy Roman evenings that had a great welcome for the youth of me.

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