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When we were in Scotland for several months we bought a cheap car for the duration and sold it before we left for home. Much cheaper than renting. Our wee Volvo (360 GLE, I think – if not, I’ll hear about it) took us all over the Highlands. We’d get in the car and just drive, taking small, mostly one-track roads to wherever they went, which was often right back where we started, sometimes hours later, and almost always a surprise. And every one of them was paved, no matter how narrow or how far out in the middle of seemingly nowhere they were. It’s a travel technique I highly recommend if one has the time. Just remember which side of the road you’re supposed to be on.

On one of our journeys I realized how often I looked at the speedometer when I noticed that the needle was resting on 0, and then noticed that I kept involuntarily looking at the speedometer for the rest of the trip. When we got back to our rented old gate lodge, C1 determined that the speedometer cable had broken. We needed that speedometer because we would have had a hard time selling the car without a working speedometer (MOT and all that), but I wasn’t willing to order and buy a new cable, especially since we were going to be leaving in less than a month. Instead, we searched for a junk yard.

We found one in Inverness (about 15 minutes from where we lived), where for the first time I saw cars stacked on top of each other. The stacks were four cars tall, and the cars were not crushed. Not knowing junk-yard etiquette in Scotland or if they’d object to having a young child wandering amid their stacks of cars and through their puddles of every manner and combination of automotive fluid, Captain OCD stayed in the car with C2 while C1 and I tried to determine where the office might be. There was a beat-up old trailer, maybe about 100 square feet, and a concrete (obviously fresh) pad or patio project that looked as if there’d been the threat of a domino-like crash of junk cars and the crew had been forced to abandon the job and run for their lives. Some of the formed-up squares had been surface finished, but others were only partially filled with concrete. Scattered about were buckets of drying concrete and concrete-encrusted tools. We saw no people in the yard.

There were a few small half-framed structures that suggested future walls, but we couldn’t find a door to the trailer. There was, however, a section of siding missing that exposed a narrow opening between two studs, so we squeezed through that into what looked to be an office of sorts. We asked the woman sitting there, who didn’t seem surprised to see two Americans squeeze through an opening in her wall, about looking in the yard and were told we could do so, but no one would help us because they were in the back having their tea. “In the back” was about five feet away, where we could just barely see, through the thick cloud of cigarette smoke, several very dirty guys – the kind of dirt one can acquire only when one doesn’t bathe or wash clothes for days at a time – sitting at a table. The space was so small that there was no room for cucumber sandwiches, scones, and Earl Grey for all the cigarettes and pint bottles. I’ve not found any examples of this type of tea in Tea with Jane Austen, but maybe it’s a Scottish thing.

They had abandoned their concrete job for their tea break. If you’ve never worked with concrete, that’s a little like pouring half the batter in a cake pan when the tea-break whistle blows and putting the half-full pan in the oven with the intention of taking it out and pouring the rest of the batter in the pan after your break is over. Except that you can’t because the batter left in the bowl has solidified into, you know, concrete. 

We found our donor car, the second in a stack of four, which made it easy to work under the car, but a bit dodgy to get inside to open the hood and work at the speedometer-end of the cable. But that’s what 14 year olds are for. My job was to stand there and will the car to not fall off or have the cars on top of it collapse. And to tell him to hurry. Tools would have been nice, but C1 found a bar with which to whack parts apart, so we made do. Because the lack of tools precluded any delicate wrenching, he removed more than the cable, but the one guy we finally noticed in the big shed, where all the tools were, didn’t seem to mind, or to pay us any attention whatsoever.

When we got back to our gate lodge C1 installed the cable and we sold the car for not much less than what we’d paid for it. In the process, I, a big fan of junk yards that give customers the run of the place, gained one of my favorite memories of our time in the Scottish Highlands.