Wednesday, 12 November 2008

An eventful weekend V

Monday, 24 March 2008

Woohoo! It's Easter Monday. As well as being a very important day in the church calendar (my first thought on waking) it is a Bank Holiday and I am not at work, yay woo, and we are going to see my Mum and my bruvver and his lovely family and have lunch with them in Lancing and it's excellent.
We pile into Lorraine the much-loved but worryingly-knackered Mitsubishi Space Wagon. Check mixture, advance timing, set airspeed bugs, throttle gating cleared, green across the board, all clear above and behind sir and we're off; as she stands on her tail in a flaming column of pure thrust and we hurtle into the deepening indigo over Muswell Hill I think I notice a slight instabilty in the Hartmann stabilizers (the reliable old K5 model, none of your offworld M-series rubbish) but main engines are kicking in, the push, the push, and the G-blackout is coming ... then suddenly we rotate into freedom, the planet curving above us impossibly bright in the sunshine and I'm ...

... What? ...
Oh, sorry, yes, ahem.
We pile into Lorraine the much-loved but worryingly-knackered Mitsubishi Space Wagon and chug off towards Lancing.
Kat kommt mit: she's staying with us, she's more or less family anyway, and I know she'll get on well with the Lancing/Chi branch. So off we go. The car performs excellently down the A40, M4, M25 then on the M23 it quite suddenly blows up while we're zipping merrily along at about 70.
Err, yes.
It didn't literally blow up, by the way: no explosion per se happened. It just felt a bit like that. One moment I was driving along as normal, going quite nicely in lane 2, and the next it was making the most horrendous sound, mechanical and grating and hammering and very, very loud indeed. There was - surprise! - a complete loss of engine power, accompanied by lots of red lights. In the very moment I heard that sound I knew that the car had had it. This was almost a relief - we'd been worrying about it a lot - but a bit startling, as decision-making moments go.
Fortunately the traffic was fairly light so pulling over wasn't a huge problem. I was a bit bothered by all the smoke coming from under the bonnet and, perhaps slightly pessimistically, prepared the troops for an emergency baleout (left side only please and who's grabbing the dog?) but it didn't come to that and the smoke died away as we stopped. We had enough momentum to carry us along the hard shoulder till we were under a bridge, which was handy when it snowed! It was also nice because it had concrete bridge-type bits and barriers and ... stuff ... and it wasn't difficult to feel a bit safer there, and a bit more shielded from the road, once we'd got everyone out of the car.
The AA kindly agreed to send someone out and we waited, a family of trolls under our bridge. A couple of calls to David established that (a) we couldn't hire a car there, it being a bank holiday, but (b) there was a good train service, and (c) David didn't mind my parking the sad wreck outside his house until I could arrange its removal. What all this meant was that the disaster of the car didn't have to mean us missing a nice lunch. What on earth did we do before we had mobile telephony?
We'd also climbed up the side of the bridge to check whether it gave access for David to be able to meet us so some of the party could escape and make a start on the gin and tonic. Sadly it was just a Forestry Commission track connecting two areas of (rather interesting-looking) woodland with big padlocked gates everywhere and no sign of public road access: oh well.
When the AA's contractor, a very nice and helpful bloke, turned up he confirmed that the car was going nowhere under its own power. (We von Neustadts may not be mechanical geniuses hem hem but, yeah, we had got a tiny inkling that this might be the case.) Once that was officially established his priority was to get us off the motorway because the hard shoulder is notoriously not a safe place to hang around.
The gloriously-named Pease Pottage services was just a sneeze and a blink up the road so that was where we were initially headed. We all piled into the tow-truck's massive cab, except for poor Daisy Dog who was not allowed, this being company policy rather than the driver's whim. So she had to ride in the Mitsubishi, a form of discrimination which pleased her not at all. The driver then winched our car, indignant collie and all, up onto the back of his truck and off we went. The kids reported that Daisy was actually howling as we drove along (as in, head up, aroooo etc etc), which is a bit sad, though she did settle down in the end.
At the services the driver very kindly didn’t unload the car but got straight onto the AA, told them our plans, and requested that he be assigned to take us on. This was very nice as they could have insisted on sending out another recovery truck and we’d have had to be unloaded and waited for this other truck and reloaded and so on, but the AA agreed to his sensible plan and he was authorized to get us to lunch without further ado. This he did, we had a nice drive down, and eventually the car was dropped in my brother’s pleasant road near the church, the Mad Collie was reunited with its delighted family, the driver was generously tipped for being a Good Egg (I’m good with common people, see?), patted on the head and bade farewell, and so on.
Marvellous, marvellous. Lunch is served. If you have ever dined with David and Amaryllis you will know that a little thing like your car blowing up is not to be allowed to get in the way. Yum. Also present were my delightful niece Isobel and my Dearest Muvver who was in fine form, and, d’you know what, the whole thing was just splendid. The mild trauma of the motorway episode was soon forgotten in subsequent waves of deliciousness and, guess what, I wasn’t about to be driving anywhere so I wasn’t being incredibly abstemious over my friend Dr Booze – and so on. All very very good.
In the afternoon those of us who wanted to or who were badgered by their parents went up to the entirely lovely Lancing Ring for the traditional post-lunch stagger. This is the great thing about the South Downs – one minute you’re in suburban bungalow muppetland (erm, no disrespect intended ahem) and the next you are on top of something which is actually akin to a half-decent hill and has proper views and feels like a proper place. Fabulous. The Mad Collie Gänseblümchen was persuaded to do her famous trick called “Hey Look I’m Bonkers And Going Round Lancing Ring At Full Tilt” to the joy of the assembled masses.
The point is that Lancing Ring is a sort of dewpond thing, indeed with a bit of luck the wonders of the Interwebs (now on version 2 I’m told) will mean that some linked text will lead to another “Interwebs Page Site”, as we call it in the trade, which will explain better than I. But basically it is a huge circular epis with a fenced-off pond in its centre and what you do is one person holds onto the said collie while the other runs away round the far side of the circle, possibly shouting Woo woo Daisy or indeed Gänseblümchen an ting. The loopy collie is then released with encouraging cries of Kindly pursue his Highness the Count or like whatever and goes completely crazy catching up the runner. If you have more than one runner then it’s even more fun as your mad canine pal may just keep going for several revolutions still at full belt as she laps everyone several times. There’s something irresistible about Lancing Ring which makes her go consistently faster here than perhaps anywhere else, and always has. I love it. When she’s chasing a ball at home she often does that economical lope that they can keep going for miles, but here we see her visibly change gear, settle lower and stretch out, and really go. It is most gratifying and actually rather beautiful to watch, if I can get my laughing and wheezing under control enough to observe her properly.
The other thing we did is the Very Silly Hide’n’Seek Game With Collie™ which is pretty much like Ordinary Human Hide'n'Seek except that in this game the seeker has much better hearing and sense of smell than everyone else, can run fast (see paragraph 93 above) and probably saw you hiding anyway. Strangely, when she finds you, usually in about two seconds, you then react as if she has just done something slightly cleverer than outlining the theory of relativity while playing the last movement of the Appassionata. But hey.
After a few more minutes of hilltop hilarity we went back down and spent the rest of the afternoon on chat, possibly a bit of sly kipping, tea and cake, and emptying the car. What was worth salvaging filled a big rucksack and another overnight bag even though we chucked away quite a lot. Most galling was that we'd filled it with petrol that very morning so we were losing the best part of sixty quid's worth. Aargh, but also ho hum - can't win 'em all. I said a fond farewell to the car: more, perhaps, about this in another blog-writey-thing sometime.
All this done, we were ferried in two relays down to the station. Remember yesterday when I said I was coveting David's new car? Well I now had the same sort of symptoms, only much much more so.
We did look a bit of a collection of bag people with our miscellaneous luggage and dog. There was a certain period of hysteria (adding my kids together sometimes has a strange, subtractive effect on their mental ages) but eventually we settled down and reached Victoria reasonably sane and in almost-good order. With luggage and doggage we couldn't quite face the Tube so we piled into a cab: given the number of us this wasn't even so expensive, and it got us home in a reasonably low-stress state.
And that is pretty much that. A strange and rather unexpected twist to the journey had ended up in a very nice day out. We weren't that upset about the car, and we'd had a great time with the family and here we were home safe. All rather acceptable, actually.
This all happened on the Monday. On the Friday the car was removed from David's road by the excellent Scrapcar, car scrappers to the gentry. They don't pay but they don't charge you either, which seems about fair to me. They also guarantee that it's properly disposed of with regard to recycling, dealing with environmentally nasty stuff and so on and so forth. All very efficient and friendly: recommended!


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