Last Friday evening I was in a small pocket of dense traffic in the second of two lanes on the A34 northbound when my car started flashing orange and red lights at me and stopped moving forwards. This is not something that's ever happened to me before, or even to any vehicle I've been travelling in, so this was a test of my improvisational skills. I decided to abandon the vehicle in place. I grabbed my jacket (with phone) from the back seat and pocketed my ignition key. Of course, abandoning a vehicle in the middle of the outside lane of a dual carriageway is a terrible idea. Upon later reflection, this is obvious to me. What can I say.
A man leapt out of the car behind me and offered to push it to the side of the road while I steered. This seemed like an excellent idea. How clever of me that I don't drive an SUV. And wasn't on a hill. He was shouting for me to steer to the side of the road for a good fifteen seconds before I managed to communicate to him that I had forgotten what pocket I had put my ignition key in, and the steering lock had engaged. I think he did actually get the message in the end (and I found the key) but if he didn't, apologies, anonymous man in the red car. You did run off and abandon the car while it only had three wheels off the road, though. So well done for getting me out of your way, I guess?
I climbed up the verge and over the crash barrier. Admittedly, this placed me on a slip-road leading back onto the A34, but it was from a nameless road which saw almost no traffic so I was safer. I called Direct Line. They asked me for a really surprising amount of information, confirming name, vehicle and home address, before asking me where I was. I suppose a call to the emergency services would have proceeded differently, but I suppose breakdown recovery isn't an emergency service. I'd been taught that the white posts that run alongside a highway tell you how far along the highway you are and provide a pinpoint location, so I cheerfully relayed this information. What I hadn't been taught is that this information is of no use to breakdown recovery services, only to the Highways Agency people, or whomever it is one reaches when one uses an emergency phone found on actual capital-M Motorway. Luckily, a sign was visible from where I'd broken down, otherwise I would have had no idea where I was. I generally work on the basis of "drive in a straight line until reference point X [in this case the A415] appears", and not keeping track of geography. Someone would be there "within the hour".
I phoned my sister to explain that I would be late and to assume that I wasn't going to make it in time for dinner. During this call, I ran out of credit.
I phoned Talkmobile to get my phone topped up. They explained that I couldn't top my phone up because their system was being updated. At 6:30pm on a Friday.
I decided that one wheel in the slow lane, even if it was visible from about half a mile away due to the contour of the road in the vicinity, was one too many, so I moved the car entirely over the white line. This was very difficult because the vehicle was now moving into gravel. And slightly uphill. And the power steering had gone. And I was pushing from the offside door. Still, it worked.
The recovery person called me next and suggested sitting inside my car to make it easier to talk, which was a stunningly good idea given the circumstances. It also meant that I could find myself in my atlas and give him directions. He unexpectedly asked me whether I was bald and had glasses and I said yes and he said he knew where I was. Evidently, he'd already passed me in the opposite direction, while scanning left and right as is logical for a man in the profession. Later he pulled up behind me (I was waiting back behind the barrier by this point-- it was a lovely day, though I was actually prepared for worse) and got into my car and it started first time, allowing him to move it and then his van into the largely deserted slip road and out of harm's way. At first I thought that I had made an embarrassing schoolboy error by not attempting to restart the vehicle after letting it sit for a while, but he left it running for a few minutes while diagnosing it and it cut out again, proving it to be no isolated error. One wonders how reproducible mechanical "defects" are in general, compared to software defects.
It transpired that the problem was a cam shaft sensor which had come out of alignment. Apparently this is not something which an M.O.T. or careful maintenance on my part should have prevented, and it is also a known issue with my particular model of car. So I guess my car can just stop working at random if I drive it for long enough? "People die all the time, just like that. Why, you could wake up dead tomorrow! Well, good night." That's something to put a bit more fear into the driving experience. It would be Monday afternoon by the time it was repaired.
Improvisation is not the correct answer, I feel. One must have a Plan for such situations. The man unfolded a neat towing apparatus and hooked my car up to it while I figured out what to do. I had the car driven to an incredibly tiny garage in an incredibly tiny nearby village, from which I was collected by my brother-in-law. Unhappily, I had intended to take him and my sister out for a relaxing dinner. Instead they offered to let me hang around for the three nights and so I became a huge imposition, the exact opposite of what I'd hoped to achieve. We got Chinese food which I paid for, but I still owe them for three breakfasts.
I borrowed Making Money to read while I waited, and, for the first time in a very long time, finished it in the space of a long weekend.
I spent most of Saturday hanging around in Witney. Witney is one of the cleanest, most pleasant towns I've visited. It's truly a nice part of the world, all fresh redevelopment and old-school stone with a name which I can't remember. I poked my head in at a couple of pubs before randomly selecting the Angel Inn to eat at. Here's the problem with the Angel Inn: the bartenders have control over the jukebox when it runs out of music. When I'd arrived, there was Stereophonics and Jimi Hendrix and White Stripes. It was listenable. And there were at least half a dozen enjoying pints nearby. That music ran out while I was eating, and the three girls on the bar went and queued up terrible boy band and Top 40 tracks. (I think "Top 40" is pretty much a well-defined genre now. You know what kind of music I'm talking about. In a word: trash.) The next time I looked up, the place was empty.
Attempting to kill time, I saw Prince of Persia at the cinema. The action sequences are incredibly fast-paced and lack all sensation of space and time; they are so confusing to watch that they become boring. You have to be able to see what's happening in order to be impressed by it. The plot is decent, and what happens is clichéd. But it's the tropes of dialogue which most impair my enjoyment of a typical movie and this contained refreshingly few of them. It was surprisingly sparkly and unpredictable and the characters, especially the three brothers, felt real from their banter. Also there's time travel, which I'm a sucker for. I haven't seen Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in a long while, but we may have a new winner in the field.
Sunday I spent in Oxford, which is basically Cambridge but with everything moved around a little, and a few hills. A nice place to look at, but I felt so at home that I never bothered photographing any of it.
Monday I had to take off work. I drove home in the afternoon, with What's The Story Morning Glory? picking up exactly where it had left off when the car stopped. Music to break down to.