This week, I single-handedly caused a gargantuan traffic jam and discovered that I am strong enough to brake a centimetre thick bar of steel. Move over Hulk, here I come. There’s a story in that and we’ll get to it in a minute. Meanwhile, writing news.
Yes, the writing is creeping along, McMini is off for his last day of school as I begin this, although it’ll probably be Saturday by the time I’m finishing it! It will also have to be today’s word count total as I’m off out with a friend. While working on the space dustmen book I’ve done a little bit of research as well as writing and discovered some information about micro bacterial fuel cells. Really interesting stuff. If you’re interested you can read more here.
As a result, I now have a space station which gains much of its power from the ‘waste products’ produced. Yes. It runs on wee. The stuff that isn’t useable is ‘processed’ by cockroaches who were already planned in as the rubbish processing facility in the plant. They had developed sentience and become minor characters. They still are but now, they run the recycling centre,
eating cleaning the kack off the things that have had food or other stuff in them, sorting the rubbish and processing it.
Yesterday, I visited Mum. She wasn’t as switched on as sometimes. Mind you, by the time I got to her, I wasn’t either. The M11 was borked – there was a 2 hour delay – so I had to cut across country a little way and go down the A1 to the M25 instead.
Naturally, by the time I got to the M25, a lorry had caught fire between the A1 junction and the M11 junction. It wasn’t on my side but I made a mental note that it would be, when I returned, and despite being the other carriageway, the road was closed my way too. Joy. I ended up and taking the other, 80 miles longer, route round the M25 via Heathrow. I arrived about an hour and a quarter after I would usually have done but still a good 40 minutes before I’d have got there via the borked M11 route. Despite not being very with it, Mum was in reasonable form.
It was annoying being late as I’d suspected that the raspberries in Mum’s garden might be ready and I’d wanted to get there in time to pick them. I went down to the fruit cage anyway. The kitchen garden there is lying fallow this year. The weeds are up to my waist. I got soaked and it wasn’t helped by the fact there’s a power line over the fruit cage and the birds sit on it and shit onto the waist high weeds in the fruit cage below. Not just water smearing all over my trousers as I moved among the weeds then, but also shit. Copious clods of the kinds of massive turds pigeons do.
The raspberries were way more ready than I thought and some of them had rotted in the seemingly endless rain, which has never fucking stopped. All in all it was a bit of a disaster really. I was pissed off with myself for not checking them last week as I’d have been able to pick them as they ripened rather than letting a load rot on the canes by mistake. Then again, I got some and we had them for lunch. A partial success then. However, by the time I was done I was covered in fruit juice from the mouldy squishy ones along with bird shit.
Nature, one: MTM’s salmon pink combat trousers, nil.
In addition to the lovely fruit juice and turd smears on my trousers, I also had burrs all over my shoes. After lunch, as Mum and I chatted and watched the tennis, I picked them all off. Here they are with a pen in the photo for reference. See? That’s a lot of burrs.
As usual, I left at half two but bearing in mind the lorry fire, I had a quick look at google maps before departure because I reckoned they’d be resurfacing the road after that one. Sure enough the M25 was closed for resurfacing and everyone was using the M11 as the route round it so that was at a standstill. Alternative routes are available for this so I nipped up the A12 and decided that I’d cut across from Chelmsford, via Ongar and Toots Hill (mwahahahahrgh!) on the A 414, cleverly joining the M11 at the junction where everyone else who was trying to avoid the lorry fire was turning off. Away I went with a podcast I particularly enjoy playing on my phone and the plastic lady from Google shouting directions imperiously at intermediate intervals.
All was well until I ended up at the back of a slow moving convoy of vehicles stuck behind a breakdown truck with a lorry on the back. Poor bugger. I felt for him but it wasn’t exactly well met. Top speed? Oh I dunno … 40mph? But it was mostly 30mph. As we crept up a hill the speed dropped and I changed down a gear. At which point, something happened and the gearstick suddenly went limp, between the gears, with my foot on the clutch. I took my foot off the clutch but discovered the car was stuck in neutral. No drive. Just momentum.
As you can imagine, at 20mph, on a hill there’s not much momentum or coasting potential. I managed to creep slowly to the side of the road, but to be frank, not as ‘at the side of the road’ as I’d have liked and there wasn’t enough umph to get it up the curb onto the verge which is where I’d have preferred to have ended up. Once I had stopped, I realised that there wasn’t going to be enough of a let up in the traffic whizzing past for me to get out and push it onto the verge either. Indeed, the cars and lorries overtaking me were probably taking the same detour as I. The road was narrow and they were not leaving any room or taking any prisoners as they passed. Open the door and something would smack it – or me – at high speed. Nope. Nothing doing there. I had to exit, with very little dignity, through the passenger side.
It was looking ominous but not actually raining at this point so I spread my anorak on the grass verge and took stock. There was a lot of traffic because it was a busy trunk road; that is one lane going in one direction and one in the other. And I’d blocked the one going my way. As a result, everyone had to wait behind my car until there was a gap in the almost never ending stream of oncoming traffic or until someone in the huge queue of oncoming cars was kind enough to stop and flash a handful through. On the up side, at least it was a straight bit and there was reasonable visibility both ways so folks could see where the gaps were to try and overtake.
Er hem. Yeh.
From my vantage point, the statutory ‘as far as possible’ away from the car, I looked along the road in the direction from which I had come, and which I was now blocking. The queue of cars stuck behind mine filled the whole straight and snaked away into the distance out of sight. About three quarters of a mile of it by the looks of things.
But also, in a very selfish and unpleasant, wow!-I-did-this! kind of way a bit rewarding. It made me understand how satisfying it must be to drive a caravan and cause this kind of mayhem wherever you go. Look at all those gits stuck behind me, they’ll have to learn some patience etc, etc. Except I did have the good grace to be mortified in majority, rather than smug.
Yes, well … that’s enough of that.
OK, better get the breakdown truck. I had never rung my breakdown company, had no clue what they’d be like, and wasn’t confident at all. My spirits sank further as I got the usual recorded announcement about COVID19 decimating their routine, although luckily it was just to apologise that some folks would be answering calls from home and that there might be some background noise. Not half as much as there was my end, I thought. The phone was answered quickly by a gentleman who asked where I was, at which point, I looked at google maps and discovered that I was half way between Chelmsford and Ongar, quite near to the highly amusingly named, Toots Hill. Then I realised that there was an enormous red bit on this road which started right about … ah yes … where I was standing.
When I mentioned this the gentleman on the other end asked if I was in danger. Judging by the number of people hooting and shaking their fists at me, I suspected there might be a small chance that someone who had been stuck in the queue behind me might stop to smack me in the mouth but otherwise, no, not especially. It’s all relative. I said that I was OK and that the car was in the middle of a straight, which was good, but that it wasn’t parked quite as I’d have liked. He suggested that I might be wise to ring off, call the police to warn them that I had single-handedly brought the traffic to a standstill. The call was logged, he explained so there’d be a truck on the way to the Ongar area I could just ring them back in ten minutes or so and fill in the details of my destination. There was much giggling from both of us because I told him that it appeared I’d done some kind of Hulk move and ripped the gearstick off, that it needed a viagra, etc. So I hung up and dialled 101.
It took a while but I finally got through to a dispatch officer with Essex police. She was lovely. The road was a bit loud and her what three words weren’t working so it was difficult for me to give her my exact location. We were on the phone for longer than we might have been, I suspect. I explained roughly where I was and she patched it all through. We then had a conversation that went something like this:
‘The traffic sounds like it’s going quite fast,’ she said.
‘No,’ I replied. ‘That’s the stuff coming the other way. The traffic my side is mostly stationary.’
Just at that moment a bunch of them got past and someone vented their anger by beeping their hooter long and hard.
‘Are they hooting at you?’ she asked incredulously.
‘Yes, they’re not happy.’ I replied. ‘They’re probably all avoiding the M25 like I am.’
‘Seriously, what do they think you’re doing?’ she said.
‘It looks like they think I’ve decided that this would be a really good place to stop and make a phone call,’ I said with my best sarcastic, idiot-spotting tone in place.
She laughed at that. ’Some people!’ she said.
‘Yeh. They’re not all bad, though. Some are looking sympathetic,’ I said, at which point a girl in a Fiat 500 stopped and asked if I needed any help and I said that I was fine and that the police were on their way.
‘That was a nice woman in a fiat asking if I needed any help,’ I duly reported to the officer who was still trying to get her version of what three words to link up with their mapping stuff.
‘Of course, the only person who offers to help would be a woman,’ she said drily and I liked her even more.
‘Right, there’s a car on its way, they’ll be with you in nine minutes.’
‘Brilliant,’ I replied at which point we said our goodbyes.
Before I rang the breakdown people again, I rang the mechanic who fixes my car to ask if I could have it delivered to his workshop. He was fine with that so I then rang the breakdown people and told them where I was. Luckily their what three words was working so that was pretty quick.
Just as I was thinking of writing ‘sorry’ in big letters on a piece of paper and holding it up, I heard sirens in the distance. Yep there was a police car doing the full blues and twos piling towards me down the wrong side of the road past the huge queue of traffic. Shizz, was this for me?
Yes it was. Ooo. That was a bit of a thrill.
And also completely mortifying.
They did, at least hold up the traffic and agree to help me push the car off the road but they had a ‘danger to life’ to go to next so instead of being able to enlist their help to push the car to the gateway of a field further up, they pushed it into a sort of half lay-by on the other side of the road. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than nothing and at least now I was safe enough from the traffic.
Now that I was safely parked, I got into the car and rang the breakdown people explaining that I wanted to be taken to the address of my garage. They warned me there might not be room for me in the truck and I might have to be dropped ‘in a safe place’ where McOther could pick me up. Was that alright?
‘Yes,’ I said, because, what else could I say?
Then I rang McOther and he was happy to pick me up from the mechanic’s garage. Lastly I rang Mum and pretended that I was in the driveway and that the traffic was the cars on Northgate Street. That done I realised I only had 20% charge on my phone so I got my charger out, fixed it, because it had come apart, and plugged the phone in to charge. By the time I’d finished that lot and discovered the text from my break down people saying the truck would be there at 5.57 I just had a few minutes to nip behind the hedge for a wee and my rescuer would probably have arrived.
The lay-by was part of the original road, which had been moved over. The metalled remains was left, hidden from the new road by a row of scrubby elms and blocked off at the beginning and end with piles of paving stones. There was a path but there were also a lot of brambles. I put on the sheepskin gloves I wear to fill up with petrol, picked my way gingerly over the pile of bricks and slabs and had a very, very much needed wee. Great. Now I was comfortable I could face anything.
The guy arrived exactly when he had said and when I told him my destination, thought he might well have been there before, with other stricken Lotuses, or would that be Loti? He had to pretty much stand in the hedge to get to the winch controls but he clearly knew what he was doing and it was on the back very quickly with the minimum of fuss or bother. Had he been doing this all his life? I asked. It turned out that yes he had. His father had been a mechanic before him and had also done recovery work. He remembered ‘cabbing’ with his dad to help at breakdown jobs from as young as three. He told he was a grumpy old git which made me warm to him immediately.
We didn’t go through the amusingly named, ‘Toots Hill’, much to my disappointment instead the road took us through Ongar and as we approached the junction with the M11 we hit a queue. It wasn’t long before we got chatting. His mother had died of Alzheimer’s. We talked about the first warning signs. In his case, his father had taken his mum away on holiday. She had a light smoking habit, about ten a day, which she started fairly late on in life. While they were away on this particular trip, his father popped out from the hotel to get some bits and bobs from the shops and bought her a packet of cigarettes. When he handed them over, she seemed nonplussed and explained that she didn’t smoke. She’d forgotten that she did, completely. Such a weird thing.
Everything went smoothly. We chatted happily over the course of the journey and arrived back at the mechanic’s workshop a bit after seven pm. Not bad really. He deposited my car exactly where the mechanic had asked me to park it, once more, with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of quiet competence, then off he went with a cheery wave. McOther was already there to collect me and we got home just before 8 o’clock.
What was wrong with it? I hear you ask. Well, to be honest, I was expecting it to be the little pin that holds the gearstick onto the … thing. It wasn’t. It turns out that it had broken off. Yes I’d actually managed to rip a piece of steel half an inch thick in half. For fuck’s sake. OK so I get a bit panicky sometimes and miss gears and kind of flap at it in a kind of go-in-go-in headless-chicken panic but I have come away with a rather sobering reassessment of my own strength.
The mechanic, who is called Gerald, but I promise the one in my book was called Gerald/Gerry before this one appeared in my actual Real Life, told me that the gear stick used to be available separately but that even though Lotus only stopped making the 1.6 Elise three years ago, in 2018, they have ceased manufacture of all its bespoke parts. So there was one set of gear stuff that comprised the whole linkage, which I don’t need, but which included the stick, for £650 plus 20% VAT. Otherwise, I could wait until a gear stick appeared on the second hand market. That would render a perfectly serviceable car un-drivable for weeks … months … years? … Until somebody broke one up somewhere.
The supplier had given him three minutes to say yes or no because they knew this was the last one in Britain. Jeez, I know the noisy cricket is inanimate and not sentient and that but seriously? It’s like it knows I spent all that money on art last week.
What to do?
Say yes to the last replacement part in existence, obviously.
Even if I end up paying about £500 over the odds for a whole lot of extra stuff on it that I don’t need, I’d prefer that to having a perfectly useable car standing idle for want of of an 18 inch piece of metal. The part will arrive next Wednesday and be fitted soon after with any luck. But now I have to think about what I do from here on in. Because if finding parts for my ten year old car is going to be like trying to source bits for a 1920s Lagonda or something, it’s going to be impractical and expensive. If I’m having to have a new gear stick bespoke machined from the plans from here on in, I’m in trouble.
If I sell it right now, there aren’t any new models of Lotus to buy and the Elises are all being retired. I doubt I’d get one and certainly not in my go to favourite shade of gunmetal grey. Anyway, two years down the line, my three year old car would be in the same situation as the current ten year old one.
Furthermore, I don’t think I can quite afford another Lotus, not new. Although, with the part exchange, if I start saving up I might be able to in a few years’ time. I also have to think in terms of my knee, which doesn’t straighten quite enough for the effortless exits and entries I used to be able to make. I do now look like an ancient old bag heaving herself in and out of it, and whatever the repercussions of walking wrong for so long have been on my hip are causing problems now that I’m walking properly again. The easy twist of the leg to slide under the steering wheel now hurts me. A lot. That said, I was going to wait a year or two and see if I could get physio and sort the hip out because it’s probably something some physiotherapy exercises could fix – shortened flexor muscles or similar.
Perhaps it would be smart to start thinking about what I drive next. Gulp. When the time comes, do I buy another Lotus? Where can they go after the current range of heart-wrenchingly pretty cars? Surely the only way is down. Or is it time to bite the bullet and buy … shudders … a normal car? I’ve driven a Lotus for 21 years and I had a spitfire for 11 years before that. 32 years of two-seaters that are like getting in and out of a sleeping bag. I like it like that. I feel safe looking up at the hub caps of taxis. And whatever car I buy, it needs to be absorbing enough to hold my attention for a 300 mile round trip every week or my mind will wander at the wheel and I’ll die. And when I say absorbing, I mean absorbing in a good way, in a way that makes schlepping up and down to Sussex as enjoyable as possible. And … pointy steering. I need pointy steering. Most normal cars are like driving a water bed on castors.
Also while Lotus might stand for Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious, this one has 81,000 miles on the clock and this is only the third major expense I’ve had … and one of those was the headlight which was a major expense but not quite as life threatening as say, the suspension, which went just after lock down but only cost £600. Most of the things I have done cost about £600 to be honest.
Modern cars are also a bit toss. They’re over engineered where it doesn’t matter, and under engineered where it does. I don’t want a million crappy gizmos. I don’t want caps on my tyres that cost £120 because there’s a pressure sensor in each one, it’s pointless shit. I’m not a complete moron. I can check my tyre pressure. I don’t need an electronic voice to tell me my washer fluid is low, I don’t need a stupid ‘console’ with a smart speaker and all manner of other shizz programmed in that’s connected to the internet and that I have to pay a monthly subscription for (yes another chuffing £7 a month). I have a phone for that. And if there is going to be a nut job at the wheel, I’d prefer it to be me and not some radicalised teenage whack job hacker in a bedroom somewhere who has got into my car’s smart software and is now controlling it.
All I want from a car is headlights, a heater, indicators, windscreen wipers and a radio/cd player that I can plug a flash memory stick into. Hell, even electric windows are a bit of an extravagance in my book. I mean, I have arms don’t I? Likewise, air-con would have been nice last summer but this year I wouldn’t have needed to use it at all so it’s not 100% necessary.
Nope. What I want is the kind of engineering that gets 0-60 in 6 seconds out of a 1.6 Toyota Yaris engine. The kind of engineering that gets me 0-60 in 6 seconds but delivers 40mpg on the motorway. That kind of elegant, logical, common sense, smart engineering that is spectacularly fucking absent from pretty much any other marque of car. The only alternative, really, is a Tesla, but the range is 250 miles and I need 300 to get to Sussex and back.
Or possibly a fiat 500 Abarth because … 0-60 in 6 seconds is enough to give me a thrill but 4 seconds would be even more fun.
Hmm … decisions, decisions …
Talking about vehicles with a mind of their own …
If you want to read about the fictional version of the Noisy Cricket, it features in Too Good To Be True, my latest release in both ebook and audio format. Here’s a bit more about it.
Too Good To Be True
When trouble comes knocking, meet the one man dumb enough to answer the door …
When The Pan of Hamgee encounters some mudlarkers trying to land a box on the banks of the River Dang he is happy to help. Having accepted a share of the contents as a reward he cannot believe his luck. It contains one of the most expensive delicacies available in K’Barth, Goojan spiced sausage. If he can sell it, the sausage might spell the end of his troubles. On the other hand, knowing his luck, it could bring a whole load more.
Written in British English with a dash of light swearing. Suitable for any reader of any age from 10 up – younger readers who have read all the Harry Potter books without any worries will be fine with the Hamgeean Misfit stories.
Suggested cinema rating, PG. Ebook: 247 pages, Paperback: 295 pages, Audiobook running time, 9hrs 57 mins.
You and find out more (or listen to the audio sample) using these links: