Planes, Trains and Broken Down Automobiles

Things you don’t want to see when your on the M11, about to hit the M25: these lights:

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Especially when combined with the oil temperature gauge shooting up to the red and the car losing most of its power.

Me: Shit! Indy, wake up! I think the car’s breaking down!

We were heading to Reading to finally secure a place for Indy to live during her second year at uni. Breaking down wasn’t part of the plan.

The five miles to the nearest services couldn’t have felt any longer. At one point I didn’t think we were going to make it up the slope off the motorway. In 5th gear we topped 20mph. In lower gears it just got worse.

There are times when being the responsible adult is just horrible.

By some miracle we made it into the services car park. The warning light had started to flash. (Surely a very bad sign.) The oil temperature gauge was going crazy. (Also really not good.) For the last 5 miles all I could think about – well, besides ‘shit, we’re going to breakdown right here on the verge!’ – was the programme I’d watched the night before about the crashed Air France flight and how it had been attributed to not knowing how to avert disaster. The car was starting to smell a bit dodgy. I prayed it wouldn’t burst into flames whilst we hatched a plan/ate KFC and Krispy Kreme donuts.

I’ve suffered from having a fire-melted car before and the insurance companies really don’t like it. And that time it wasn’t even my fault.

But at least we weren’t stuck on a verge trying to restrain Noodles from running into three lanes of incoming traffic. But there was a 2 hours limit on parking before extortionate charges came into effect.

There’s one person a girl wants when anything practical goes wrong: her dad.

Me: Dad, the car’s broken down. Do you think I should just try to put more oil in it? Or should I call breakdown services?

Grandy: Just call them. I have no idea.

No one said the dad would actually be helpful.

I like speaking to mechanics about as much as I like talking to tech support or building contractors. Anything that involves technical jargon and expense and I want to bail out.

Green Flag Man: There’s no water in your water tank. When was the last time you added water?

Me: You have to add water? I knew about petrol and oil and can do the windscreen wash. But water?! My dad usually sorts it all out for me.

(I can be such a girl sometimes I appall myself.)

He showed me how the water he added to the tank bubbled ominously. He also then discovered water was pouring from the water tank until we stood in a puddle. Neither good signs.

Green Flag Man: Looks like your head gasket’s gone. You ain’t goin’ anywhere.

Now, there’s technical jargon made easy. But shit.

Even worse, thanks to Husband getting me to cancel my AA membership in favour of the free cover with bank account we could only be towed within a 10 mile radius.

Green Flag Man (sucking his teeth): To get you home’s going to cost…£216.

Me: Looks like we’ll be moving into Birchanger Services.

As it turns out, the car has essentially moved into Birchanger Services. After the Green Flag Man suggested that I would likely be ripped off if he took me to a local garage, I made arrangements with the duty manager for the car to stay there for up to a week without charges or fines. So it turns out my car’s going to get a better holiday than I’ve had this year. After I turned into a simpering, pathetic girl again.

Duty Manager: Would a couple of days be ok?

Me: Oh. I don’t know. See, my husband’s away with work until Thursday night.

The implication being that I couldn’t possibly make arrangements myself. I hated myself even more. Even though it got me more time for no cost, which is what I wanted. Yet I swear I could literally hear the cogs of feminism being turned backwards as the words tumbled from my mouth.

Green Flag Man: Y’know, if you had national cover we could have towed you home for free.

Me: Yeah, I know. I had had national cover, but then my husband made me cancel it because he got free cover.

Green Flag Man: That’s the problem with those free things. They’re crap. He should have upgraded.

Me: He’s tight. [A knowing look from Indy.] And I didn’t even think to check.

Green Flag Man: Good luck to your husband. I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes tonight.

Me: Ah, luckily for him he’s away for a few days. Otherwise he wouldn’t be seeing a happy face when I get back.

Green Flag Man: Cor! Narrow escape for him! Good luck getting home.

The Green Flag man then deposited us down the road at Stansted airport. There is literally nothing so depressing as being dropped at an airport without then getting to fly somewhere. (Even if horrible things happen to planes sometimes and knowing my luck today it would have been our flight for sure.)

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Still, having to dodge all the wheelie cases and ashen-faced people (what hideous form of lighting do the use in airports to enhance that living dead pallor?!) only to catch a train wasn’t fun. I kicked myself for not being the sort of person who always packs a passport. At least I could have then bought myself a cheap ticket and hidden out in Duty Free, spending money I can’t afford on luxury cosmetics whilst pretending it wasn’t just the worst day ever.

£38, two hours and a cancelled house viewing later we were back home.

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Worse, Indy now thinks that perhaps it was a sign and she shouldn’t be going back to university. And it would cost more than £216 to get the car home if we hired a local tow truck. (Although we have a plan in hand.)

Heaven only knows how much the repairs are going to cost too. Or even if it’ll be worth having it repaired. I could end up completely car-less as a result of this, which a family trip to the out-of-town supermarket this evening proved. (Honestly, it was the glacé cherry to my awful day – and I don’t like glacé cherries!)

On the bright side, at least it was sunny. And Noodles got an unexpected ride on a couple of trains and in a tow truck. We at least made it to somewhere sensible before the car died on us. (Birchanger Services did seen to be an elephant’s graveyard of broken down cars.) And, err, there is nothing else. The day was a nightmare. Oh, I suppose we got to eat Krispy Kreme donuts.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some chanting to do, whilst I rock in the corner. Tomorrow will be a better day. Tomorrow will be a better day. Tomorrow will be a better day…

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11 thoughts on “Planes, Trains and Broken Down Automobiles”

  1. I love this quote:

    “There are times when being the responsible adult is just horrible.”

    So true. And I laughed about you calling your dad- I didn’t have that kind of dad, but my husband is definitely the “fix-it” kind of dad. My daughter only lives 40 min away, but she calls him all the time for the most minor of problems.

    You’re so funny!

    1. I think it may be my personal life’s motto. Which may be why I’m always so poised to defer any responsibility at the first sign of trouble.
      Bless my dad – he once got a call from me (early mobile phone days but pre-sat nav) to say that I was sat in an Asda car park and completely lost. He couldn’t help…but sometimes it helps just to say out loud that things are going wrong.

    1. It’s being stranded that’s just the worst. Although trying to cope without a car is a nightmare too. Public transport is just so user-unfriendly and expensive. Luckily though, most of the time Shank’s pony suits me just fine.

  2. I’m SO sorry you had one of those days – I’ve had plenty of them myself, so I know how awful it is. I’ve had the fortune/misfortune all my life to have a father and a husband who are brilliant at fixing cars…but that means we always drive ancient wrecks that have had their life extended way beyond comfort. My husband springs for the very best roadside service going because we literally end up getting towed at least five times EVERY YEAR.

    I hope everything is better today…

  3. I “did the head” on my first car, it was fixed and the radiator and hoses replaced and the car went for another 8 years ’til I sold it! Definitely worth fixing if it isn’t too old 😉

    1. Most of my other cars have been ancient rust buckets. One was literally only worth £50 – the insurance salesman laughed at me on the phone. This one’s 12 years old – I’ve had it for 3 1/2. And it’s been no trouble until now, so I hope it can be fixed and keep me on the road for a good while longer.

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