Westcombe Hill, SE3
I didn’t really need to buy a new car battery. In fact, strike the “really” bit of that last sentence. I didn’t need one at all. But I did want to poke around the mews behind the shops at the top of Westcombe Hill. I just can’t resist entrances to other worlds, however workaday they might appear.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered that a friend was having problems with his battery so I marched through the entrance, past the dog-eared sandwich board, cobbles beneath my feet, into the little back yard that must have once sounded to clip-clop rather than vroom-vroom.
To be honest, it’s difficult to really get much of an idea of how this little brick-built jumble must have looked when it was workshops and stables, there are so many parked cars and white vans squeezed in there. Problem is, it tends to get locked up at any time when they’re not parked in there, totally hidden by thick rusty gates. But it’s neat, freshly-painted and remarkably quiet for somewhere that must have all kinds of interesting small businesses tucked away in there, quietly beavering away at whatever they do.
I walked into Blackheath Batteries, my usual carapace of nochalence, reserved specially for dealing with teeth-sucking mechanics, buttoned firmly down. Several gents of almost sterotypcial car-parts-dealer appearance were standing around in anoraks, drinking orange tea and ‘having a laugh.’ Gulp.
I asked my question, quite proud that I actually remembered the make and model of my pal’s car – not a given in the Phantom universe. And then was stunned. They listened to me. No, they didn’t have the battery I was after – it was an unusual one that needs to be sourced from the manufacturer – but they weren’t going to let me go that easily. How old was it? (“errrr….”) How many miles had it done? (“umm….”) How often was it started in this month? That month? Maybe my mate should try this. Or that. Don’t do that because it doesn’t work, whatever the AA man tells you. Get a new battery only as a last resort after you’ve tried all that because that sort are really expensive…
These guys knew they weren’t going to make a sale out of me. They’d already told me they didn’t stock the item I was after. But they still wanted to help. They spent time thinking about and discussing the problem, giving me advice (some of which I might even remember) and not sucking through their teeth once.
I am impressed by this old-school, friendly local business. Forget Kwik-Fit and all those other chains. Visit guys who know what they’re talking about and actually give a damn.