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Saturday, 17 December 2011

A Fun Day on the Road

I don't normally use this space to promote personal matters, but yesterday deserves mention, if for no other reason than to thank those who helped in my moment of need.

The day began to unravel at the not particularly early time of 08:45, when I left home to collect Kate, my daughter, from her university in Preston; a journey of some 114 miles. I expected to meet a bit of bad weather on the way, as I had to cross the spine of England, the Pennines, and those wonders of modern inaccuracy, the weather forecasters, had predicted snow for somewhere in these odd islands of ours.
But the car was well prepared for emergencies, since I've often travelled in adverse weather conditions.
Following a long, slow circuit of York, caused by millions on the hunt Xmas gifts, the first hint that something might not be quite right was a brief flash of red from the dashboard as I entered Knaresborough, some 50 or so miles from home. I couldn't decide whether or not I'd imagined it. A pause for a natural break in a car park (well, actually, I made use a public convenience), a sandwich and a check of the map to remind me how to get to the university residence block, made all appear fine. So, intrepid traveller that I am, off I went again.
Another 12 miles of trouble free motoring found me descending the steepish hill overlooking picturesque Fewston Reservoir. Here, I was flashed again. This time more substantially. A definite warning and one not to be taken lightly, since ahead rose the isolated and rather high Greenhow Hill; not a place to be driving a dickey car in winter. Fortunately, the red light took up permanent residence at this point and, as I was conveniently passing a curve of the old road that had been turned into a lay-by, I swiftly turned into it. For a few moments, I sat in the stationary car watching the light and listening to the radio click on and off in a slightly sinister fashion, whilst the clock display changed by the second, suggesting I was in some sort of Dr Who time-warp. Not a mechanic, I nevertheless recognised that this was not a good sign. The car was clearly objecting to something and it might not be a good idea to force it further without some of the attention it seemed to desire.
I insure my car with Direct Line (a good company that provides comprehensive cover for reasonable premiums - and has the advantage of allowing my daughter, as a named driver, to build up her own no-claims bonus) and they are involved with the breakdown service, Green Flag, which I'd joined as a result. So, I called the emergency number and was connected with a man who clearly knew the geography of the region where I was located. So much more reassuring than the usual Asian call centre, where they try to help but haven't a clue whether Driffield is a town or some sort of obscure agricultural reference.
The man organised a pick up and told me it would be with me within the hour. I sent a text message (yes, despite my advanced years, I can thumb the keys with the best of them) to Kate to let her know I'd be delayed. Quick as a flash, she was on the phone to make sure I'd still be able to rescue her from threatening isolation on campus. Alas, I was unable to provide such reassurance at this point.
I had my camera with me, so took a little stroll and a few pictures, before retiring to the now cold car to await mechanical help. The recovery vehicle arrived just before certain delicate parts of my anatomy became permanently detached from my person. He swiftly diagnosed the problem as a dead alternator. It seemed I had alternatives; a tow back home (leaving Kate isolated), a tow to Preston (leaving the pair of us isolated with a buggered car), or he could phone a friend and arrange a fix. I thought the latter the most attractive and he made said call. We travelled to Gargrave, a small town not far from Settle, where I once lived, and more or less on the way to my final destination.
The guy who runs ADL Motors on the small industrial estate on Eshton Road was out on a job. But his charming receptionist took control, handed me a key to a loan car (which happened to be the same model as my own) and said they'd have the car fixed for my return. No fuss, no unnecessary questions. Off I went.
Snow filled the sky and coated the road with slush as I approached Preston, where I made 798 hill starts as I joined a queue of traffic trying to enter the town; though God alone knows what would make the place so popular. Fortunately, my memory hadn't deserted me completely and I made only one false turning, into a university car park - the wrong one, but soon found the right one. Another text and Kate was there like magic in minutes.
Packing, sorting and transportation from room to car achieved, we set off back to Gargrave. This time, the traffic seemed determined to join us on the way out of Preston. I could understand their desire to leave the place but wished they'd chosen a better time to become fans of my leadership. Though, to be fair, I was more a follower than a leader at this time.
Eventually, we left behind the hordes and found ourselves on a less crowded road until we found the completely deserted track that led to Gargrave. Arriving only minutes after the spare part had been delivered, we left the borrowed car, full of Kate's belongings (mostly the gift of dirty washing for her mother to cure), and went in search of food for Kate, since she'd had no lunch and it was now around 16:30.
The local Co-op (Good with food), provided us with a couple of warm snacks and some flavoured water. I also picked up a copy of The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris, for a quid from a charity bin; a nice touch of serendipity.
Back at the garage, our car was ready to collect. We transferred the goods from borrowed to owned car, paid the bill, and set off for home, eternally grateful to the lovely folk from the breakdown service and the garage, who'd all been so charming and helpful.
All went swimmingly, with me driving, until we reached a roundabout just outside Knaresborough. Here, the A59 leads to York and every motorist in the country had decided to travel that route with us. I sneaked in behind a Mini that was clinging to the tale of a fairly new Audi, and many more trailed behind us. It soon became evident that the driver of the Audi was either drunk, dim-witted or demented. Here he was, driving a car with the power to eat up tarmac at over 100 miles an hour but determined never to exceed 30 mph. The A59 isn't a road with many places to overtake, especially when the oncoming traffic is a more or less unbroken chain. Eventually, the Mini pulled off onto a side road and I was stuck behind the dithering Audi. A brief break in the oncoming traffic gave hope and I grasped it, overtaking and driving about seven miles at the permitted speed limit of 60 mph.
Some 3 miles from York, we hit the end of the queue approaching the city. That was fun. It took us over an hour to travel up to and round the ring road. And such wonderful scenery on show under the black night sky, to keep us occupied. (for those who don't know the area, York sits on a flat, featureless plain and the ring road is banal and boring).
At last, we reached the bridge to take us from the A64, up and over to join the A166, which eventually reaches the seaside resort town of Bridlington. A short way along this stretch, I pulled into a lay-by next to a petrol station and Kate assumed the driving seat. She took us, fast and safe, the last miles home, so we arrived in time to unpack the car just before the evening meal was ready. Good timing by Valerie, my adorable wife, and a great end to a somewhat wearing day.
But it was worth the effort to get Kate home for the holidays.

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