Having woken one morning recently to discover we had been robbed while we slept - actually it took us two hours to realise, as we kept persuading ourselves that there must be another reason for that window having been left open and that cushion torn, that computer not being where we'd left it, that painting no longer hanging where it belonged, (or indeed anywhere at all in the entire house), et cetera - I was feeling a little bruised.
In a way one of the things that made me feel particularly bruised was the realisation that, having finally accepted that we had been burgled, I was actually, at least on one level, faintly relieved. There has been so much shocking news popping up so often lately that a mere break-in seemed almost small beer, compared to other worse possibilities that I discovered were lurking in the back of my mind.
All in all, the event was not cheering and so, when, shortly after the break-in, someone mentioned something about how we will all soon be watching the collapse of Western civilisation, my instinct was to nod, gloomily. If people can break in while you're in bed and take your stuff, where will it all end, I thought. The enemies are everywhere. No one can be trusted. Threats lie behind every bush.
Luckily though, the next thing that happened was my car broke down.
Mind you, I didn't immediately realise I'd had a stroke of luck when I stuck the key in the ignition at a motorway petrol station in Hampshire and discovered that the engine would not turn over. There was no cheery yell of "Hurray" issuing from my lips. On the other hand, having already put up with my house being turned over by strangers, I didn't feel enormously upset either.
I was fairly sure it would turn out to be a problem with the battery, so I began approaching total strangers to see if any of them had jump leads. None did, but that didn't matter. They all reacted sympathetically and were astonishingly eager to help. A man with a vanload of coffins began burrowing away in various cupboards behind his driving seat. A young fellow with a battery pack, on his way back from a festival of some kind, had a go, apologetically, as, just as he'd said, it had been used to charge too many mobile telephones over the weekend and was as flat as my own battery. Eventually, the Filipino who ran the service station discovered a set of leads on a shelf somewhere at the back of the shop. He came out and told me that, as they were terribly expensive, he was going to open them for me and use them and then put them back in the packet again. It turned out they were five pounds ninety nine, but he wouldn't hear of me shelling out.
So amid much cheeriness and general helpfulness, I got going again. I drove into Fleet and stopped at Ravenscroft Motors, which I'd discovered from Google Maps was the closest car mender to where I was.
Everything in there was frantic. Mandy on the front desk was fielding about eight telephone calls a minute, but she still found time for me. The boss came out and I explained my situation. They studied the worksheet and agreed they were incredibly busy. That didn't seem to matter. There was no, "Sorry, can't help" in their tone, just a sense of, "Now, how do we manage this logistically." It was amazing. They were naturally kind. It didn't occur to them that I'd bowled in, unasked, unannounced and rudely expecting them to disrupt their schedule. They simply saw me as someone they needed to assist.
And soon they worked out how to do it. They sent out James. James was probably in his late twenties and the kind of young man that, if you had daughters, you'd like them to find to look after them for the rest of their lives. He was friendly and helpful and had the whole thing diagnosed and sorted within ten minutes. He betrayed no hint that I was a nuisance. The only problem was they didn't have my kind of battery in stock. He told me this with the worried look of someone who has experienced the odd unpleasant customer. Would I mind waiting? How long, I wondered, my heart sinking as I imagined a night at the Premier Inn I'd spotted on the way into town. "I'm afraid it could be an hour", he said apologetically.
An hour! The whole thing was fixed in a single hour. Everyone at the petrol station and at the mechanics behaved as though I hadn't irritated them with my interruption to their busy lives in any way - at the petrol station, I almost had the glimmer of an impression that I'd provided an interesting interlude, (but that's crazy, surely). Furthermore, I got the opportunity to post something in Fleet Post Office and have quite a good cup of coffee, listening to a small girl who'd just finished her first ever day at school explain to her father about who everybody agrees (after one day) is by far the best teacher in the world.
Civilisation may not after all be on the brink of collapse, if there are still so many people prepared to put themselves out for a stranger. I don't want it to happen again any time soon - especially as I've just paid for a replacement - but that flat battery actually cheered me up.