To boast is to put yourself up. To put yourself up is implicitly to put another down. No one likes to be put down. So no one likes a boaster. That said, I am about to boast.
Some women boast but the great majority of boasting is done by us men. Like elephant seals on the mating beach or young lions on the Serengeti we feel the urge to roar our virtues to the world because if we don't the poor old world will never know about them.
The event about which I am boasting began with a phone call that no man could have resisted. It came from a brace of damsels in distress. Oh Joe, they begged, please help us.
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The word damsel suggests a frail and pale-limbed creature much given to swooning. Neither of these damsels was thus. Each was a sturdy woman who has carved her own way in the world, known fortune and misfortune, been let down by men and come out the other side with wisdom and endurance. Nevertheless they sought my help, so damsels they were for the moment.
One had been visiting the other. When she went to leave she noticed she had a flat tyre. Now both damsels are practised changers of tyres, and they unhesitatingly went to it. They dug out the jack from the awkward alcove in the boot and they scraped their knuckles on the gravel as they wound it up a bit, and then they scraped them again as they remembered to wind it down a bit to put the tyre in contact with the ground while they loosened the nuts, and they fitted the wheel brace over the first nut and loosened it, and the over the second, third and fourth nuts and loosened them, and over the fifth nut and it wouldn't budge.
They heaved and they swore in a quite undamselish manner but the nut proved stubborn so they stopped and panted and thought for a bit and wondered whether they knew any knight in shining armour without a proper job and who would therefore be around in the middle of the day and they alighted, oh happy happy chance, on little me.
Oh Joe, they said as they described their problem on the phone, we need your strength. Who could resist such flattery? But though they didn't know it, they didn't need my strength - which is little greater than theirs. What they needed was the ace that lurked up the sleeve of my shining armour, that had lurked there indeed for almost half a century.
'I shall be over in seconds,' I said.
One summer's morning in 1977 I was heading up the M6 in England having hitched a lift in a tanker laden with molten sugar. Somewhere between Birmingham and Manchester it blew a tyre and slewed across a lane of traffic before somehow coming to a halt on the hard shoulder. When the driver and I had recovered the power of speech, we climbed on the grassy bank above the motorway and I taught him to catch grasshoppers while we waited for assistance to arrive. When it did, I watched the men go to it on the mighty wheel of the lorry and as they did so I learned a trick that I tucked up my sleeve. That'll come in handy one day, I thought to myself. And the day had now come.
'Hello damsels,' I said as I arrived at the scene of the disaster. They looked at me with the spaniel eyes of gratitude. I studied the unbudgeable nut with feigned care, tapped it with a finger, stroked my chin. 'Ah yes,' I said, 'no problem. I shall loosen it with one hand.'
The damsels were too polite to scoff, but the glance that I saw them share suggested that scoffery was not a mile from their minds. I went back to my car, fetched a length of steel pipe that I had brought for the purpose, and slid it over an arm of the wheel brace, thereby extending it by a metre or so.
'Are you ready?' I said.
The damsels nodded.
I leant gently on the pipe and the nut turned. And at that moment the birds sang, the damsels clapped and the sun burst through the clouds and sparkled on my shining armour as if on a suit of diamonds
'It was Archimedes, I believe,' I said, 'who first commented on the multiplying power of levers. 'Give me somewhere to stand and a long enough lever,' he declared, 'and I shall move the earth.''
But the damsels were too busy swooning to listen. Days come no better.