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Friday afternoon after work I was at Rally Motors, in a slightly grimy part of town, the main road lined with used car dealers and empty offices and shops, the buildings looming grey and unpainted against a cheerless sky.  The Landy was purring away in the yard while the motor macs ran the last checks on the repairs to the radiator and the new clutch, and I was in the showroom waiting where a huge Harley Davidson, low slung and solid chrome, leaned on its stand beside a stripped down body and chassis from the 1940s. A second car, also stripped but truly resplendent in a glossy tangerine lacquer, stood beside a bench on which a hand-built motor rested.

These guys love their cars. The showroom walls are papered with cutaway diagrammes of 1930s Fords, phaetons and coupes, showing the lubrication points; large full-colour prints of ’58 and ’59 Chevies, all jet fins and gleaming chrome and white-walled tyres;  a blue Impala and a red T-Bird stand in the yard.

Out in the freezing cold, there is some horseplay going on – two appies are bent over a third, somewhat older guy, grasping at his legs and arms. He is hunkered down on his haunches, refusing to be lifted, and the other two guys are trying to hoist him into the sky. Just a couple of kids full of high jinks on Friday after work, I think, their warm breath hanging in the icy air. Except that the guy on the ground is black, the other two are white.

Ok, so maybe there is something slightly paternalistic here, but it’s not obvious to me, watching from the showroom doorway, stomping my feet and trying to keep warm – and I find myself thinking, not so very long ago, easily within my memory, white boys like this would not have been prepared to lay so much as a finger on a black skin, except maybe to administer a fat klap.

Is it in small spontaneous moments such as these, I wonder, that we notice the granularity of change?

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