Tuesday, 7 July 2009

From the wilds of Scotland, back to reality

My journey home, let me tell you about it...

On the Thursday night before, my companions stayed up late and made a determined effort to finish the alcohol while I got an early night.  Fair play to them--if I wasn’t the designated driver, I would have stayed up with them even though I don’t drink.  Drain the cup to the dregs and pay the piper in the morning!

I did what last minute packing and tidying I could while they paid their dues, and got them out of bed as late as was reasonable.  Between me, the one human being and them, the three kind of human zombies, we got most of the odds and ends packed and ready to be loaded into Stevie, our car.  I went out to bring him to the door, to make the loading as painless as possible.

This is where the story starts.

Stevie wouldn’t start.  No matter how many times I tried, no matter how many prayers I sent, all I got was a clicking from.... some part of the engine.  Panicked phone calls to parents later, we decided it was probably a flat battery.  We tried a bump start.  We tried many push starts.  Have you ever pushed a car along an old, gravel country road with grass growing down the middle and rabbit holes in the way?  If you haven’t, two things:  First, it’s hard and leaves you with painful shoulders; second, you can’t get enough speed for a push start.

We called the caretaker of the cottage and told him we’d be late leaving.  He said that was fine, and he’d bring jump leads.  He was good to his word and we were very grateful.  Our bonnets’ opened, he secured the leads to his battery and, after a moment of deliberation, to Stevie’s.  Sparks few and smoke poured off the terminals.  “Try your engine!” he urged.  “Quick!”  I leapt into the driver’s seat and, my eyes on the smoke pluming out of my battery, turned the key.  “Nothing!” I yelled.  He pulled the leads off, and frowned at me.  After a few moments’ frowning, he reconnected the leads, this time to the opposite terminals.  “Give that a try,” he said.  I did, and there was the glorious sound of the starter motor firing, and the pistons moving.

Despite being behind schedule, we decided to take the more scenic route and drive around Loch Lomond.  There were still dregs to be had.  Allegra was directing me and told me to turn right at the next T-junction.  I pulled up, indicated, braked, clutch, put the handbrake on and said, “Oh.”  “Huh?” Allegra asked, and then looked up.  “Oh,” she said.  The Rest and Be Thankful Pass, through which we were looking forwards to driving, was closed.  I pulled into a lay-by and asked the lone high-vis-jacketed man on guard if there was a way around, and what had happened.  F15 Tornado crashed into the hillside of the pass.  We took the diversion, contemplating the irony and the extra hour of driving.

There a couple of hours of beautiful scenery, fiddly driving and rain before the story picks up again on the M8 just outside Glasgow--which is a shithole.  If you live in Glasgow, I apologise--no one should have to live like that.  There was a hefty tailback, and we were crawling along, my left calf getting increasingly painful (you drivers will know why).  Then Stevie stalled.  And wouldn’t turn over.  I turned the key and got... nothing.  Allegra and I swapped seats as I pushed Stevie onto the hard shoulder.  I wandered a little way off, and found out what those orange SOS phones on the side of the road do.  They put you through to a disinterested sounding man with a London accent who gives you three options:  Number one, join the AA; number two, join the RAC; number three, have the police come out and call a local garage who will then give you a stonking bill.  We deliberated, and eventually went for number two.  Now, my friends, that’s good marketing.  “Ah!  I see you’ve got a gaping hole in your femoral artery!  Well, you can join BUPA, join PPP, or the police can drop you off at a GP surgery.  Or you could just keep on bleeding.  Talk it over, you know, I’m in no hurry...”

A hundred-and-twenty quid and half-an-hour later, the RAC van turned up, jumped the battery (again) and lead us off the motorway and outside a carpet warehouse.  He did things with leads and cables and meters, and then told me to try the engine.  I did, and Stevie breathed again.  The RAC man told me it was a problem with the alternator, he had fixed it, and as soon as he had deposited his paperwork with us like a cat using a litter tray, we were free to go again.

About an hour later, we stopped to get petrol.  It was all going well until I urged Stevie to walk on.  You can guess what happened.  We pushed him away from the pumps and put in another call to the RAC.  Allegra had been the cheerfully optimistic wind in our sails all day.  At every pothole, she had a smile and a happy whimsy which made everything seem, you know, okay.  While I was on the phone to the RAC (it took a while... I waited five minutes to get through, had half a conversation, and then my credit ran out...) something happened to her.  The one hour’s sleep she managed to steal from the night before, the burning pain in her arms and shoulders from the red wine, the money we’d had to spend on a car we’re planning to replace in the next couple of months, the rain...  It all condensed into a ball of, ‘fuck you, world! Fuck You!’.  We pushed Stevie up the forecourt, and down, up, and down...  I think the universe decided to reward us for our--Allegra’s--sheer bloody mindedness.  Two-and-a-half hours of motorway later, the RAC man called to say he was on the way.  We told him he wasn’t needed.

After nine hours, we left Scotland.  The entire journey back to North West Wales was supposed to take nine hours, tops.  As ngaio said, sometimes it just takes nine hours to get out of Scotland.

We stopped... at some point so I could have a break from driving.  The motor ran while we swapped seats.  I napped in the back for an hour-and-some before taking the wheel again.  Tez was deposited without further incident, some time around midnight.  His mother gave us tea and his father jumped Stevie back into life, and we were on our way again.  Fifteen hours or so after we’d set off, we pulled into Bangor.  We parked Stevie at a local garage (because there was no way we could get him there if we stopped again), and slept on ngaio’s sofa bed for the night.

I explained the problem to a young lad at the garage, he put a couple of wires on the battery and said, “yep, you were right, dead as Jacko.  A new one is... fifty quid.”  He looked up at me, awaiting my decision.  I was caught:  Did I pay for a new battery, or did I lie on my living room floor as the blood drained out my artery?  Having taken all my tools out the boot to make way for holiday packing, I asked him to install it for me and spent a quarter-of-an-hour looking for my wallet.  I had to drag ngaio back to the garage to pay in my steed if it had been sacrificed the previous day at some point.

If I was writing this on Saturday afternoon, as I was planning to, this would be the end of the story.  I’m not writing this on Saturday afternoon because our ISP had cut us off for not paying the bill, and after Stevie’s bills we couldn’t afford to make it up to them.  Can’t afford to.

The story picks up on Monday morning, on the way to work.  There we are, on the A5, chatting about what Stevie had taught us during the trip on Friday.  There’s a clunk.  I put my foot down to accelerate, and get nothing.  So I change down, and try again.  Nothing.  As I’m pondering this, Allegra’s eyes have gone wide.  “Dylan, there’s smoke coming out the bonnet--pull over!”  She was right.  White smoke was coming out the bonnet like bad eighties special effects, and was being blown into the cabin through the air vents.  Something was dripping through the passenger’s footwell onto Allegra’s feet.  I pulled over, tried to put the hazard lights on and failed.  Opening the bonnet, I found that the battery had welded itself to it.  We called the RAC as traffic pulled around us.  The A5 is a single carriage way, tightly weaving through the Welsh landscape, and we were blocking it.  It wasn’t long before we had a police car flashing blues and twos either side of us, directing traffic.  The RAC man turned up, and gave us a tow back to the garage.

When we got there, I popped the bonnet and he took the battery out.  Acid dribbled out of it in a steady stream.  “Your battery’s fucked... your electrics probably fucked, too.”  The manager from the garage came out, and agreed with him.  “There’s no restraining bolt holding the battery down,” the manager said.  “It just bounced up and hit the bonnet.  You’re lucky it didn’t explode.  The lad who fitted it isn’t in today, but I’m going to have A Word with him...”

I’ve had a car for the last ten years.  Public transport is something of a foreign world to me.  When I was a kid, I took the bus all the time.  A lot has changed in the last ten years, including where I live.  ngaio is a regular busser, and Allegra is a smart cookie, so they arranged transport to and from work while I was hiding in the internets. 

The garage are replacing the battery and fixing the wiring for me at no charge.  It’s amazing.  They’re wonderful.  It’ll be ready to pick up Wednesday night, but we’ve already got weekly bus tickets so we’re going to bus it to work and back all week.  Between the alternator being fixed (which had been on the fritz for a while), the battery being replaced (which randomly discharged overnight in Scotland and was probably on the fritz) and the wiring being replaced (which had been on the fritz for a while), I’m ending up with a better car then when I started.

Almost.  The brakes are grinding, which I’m told is a bad thing.

So, in conclusion... does anyone know a good--and by good I mean fuel efficient and reliable--and by reliable I mean German--erm--3 door, 1.4 ltr car I can get second hand for between £1,500 and £2,000?

1 comment:

Jo Thomas said...

A good holiday but not such a good return, then! I hope better luck follows.