Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the The Wells, your blood sugar rises as high as the heater gauge in your little red car and havoc is reeked.
So there I am having my porridge at 6.15 this morning. All bright eyed and bushy tailed. I’d added cinnamon and agarve syrup.
The moon was still out but the birds were giving it full throttle.
Climbed into my car and Aled Jones, on Radio 2, was also giving it full throttle – it’s a pity my car wasn’t.
“For those in Peril On The Sea.’ one of my favourite hymns, was echoing out into the early morning.
The mist was rising everywhere and the smell of loamy leaves hung in the air.
Through Tunbridge Wells and Rod Stewart was belting out ‘I am Sailing’.
Then another song rung out about the war being finished but the war not being waged to stop wars, a geezer singing ‘Turn. Turn. Turn.’ I sung along with every season blah blah blah, and then Joan Baez warbled the Gallipoli song about not dancing to ‘Waltzing Matilda’ any more because the man in the wheelchair had had his legs blown off. All songs chosen to commemorate Remembrance Sunday.
I started thinking about poppies and the use of them, about the political implications of poppies on footballers jerseys, of the sale of weapons, of arms dealers….
As the moon went down and the sun came up I thought how lucky I had been to live outside a war. How I probably wouldn’t have been very good in that kind of crisis. I thought about the strength of my parents.
I wondered whether I would be able to get through Waterloo what with the Cenotaph and all.
Stopped off to fill my car up with petrol, and noticed a personnel carrier with its bonnet up parked at the petrol pumps. I made sure that I had put the right petrol in my car, not wanting to knacker my engine. Why I thought it today of all days I don’t know. But I carefully filled my car up with the super petrol the better to get to work with a zip..
‘I’d hate to break down now.’ I thought.
Aled Jones chatted for a bit and then a piece of music came on that accompanied me looking out of my back mirror to see smoke coming out of my exhaust. By now it was just after 7.00 and the fog was clearing. I thought the smoke was mist. I slowed the car down, passed a Parking Bay and carried on. looked at my temperature guage and it was climbing into hot, then very hot then HELP. Aled Jones said something about somebody’s 91 year old relative who had died which prompted me to slow down further and pull up on the hard shoulder. A lorry overtook me, I looked in my mirrors, all three of them, and the misty fog was clearly not misty fog at all.
I turned off the radio as smoke wafted out of my bonnet. I came to my senses. ‘If I am on fire what do I take with me?” I thought.
I grabbed my bag, phone, Terry Frisby’s ‘Kisses on a Postcard’ his book about being an evacuee and my earphones. Parked up on the side of the A21 and scrambled out of the car.
Called Jim, well tried to call Jim my fingers had turned into plantains. He didn’t pick up. Well why would he it was just after seven on a Sunday morning.
I tried again and phoned several people accidentally in the process my fingers now shaking plantains. Walked away from the car, then had the presence of what was left of my mind to return to the car and turn the hazard lights on. Tried to open the bonnet and failed, then phoned the AA. The woman was wonderful. I was bawling, shaking, snuffling through my snot. ‘I have to be at work at 9.00 and…’
‘Calm down’ said the AA nurse. ‘Is there anything else I can get you?’ she asked having called for an emergency pick up van.
I was tempted to say a winning lottery ticket so I can buy a flat in London but resisted.
‘Just calm down.’ said The AA pacifyer.
Finally got through to Jim who also told me to calm down.
‘Do you want me to come and get you?’ he said wearily.
‘Does the Pope wear a funny hat.’ I thought. Instead I stuttered ‘Ye-e-e-s’ please.’ sobbing on his hard shoulder.
He jumped in his car. I called The Beeb. Told them my predicament and Sarah Ryan, my lovely producer, reiterated that I should calm down. I was calming down really I wasn’t.
Stood behind a barrier as trucks and cars thundered past. I was cold and anxious.
Walked back to the car and tried to open the bonnet, a pull of the lever under the steering wheel. Then I jumped back I was terrified the little red car was going to catch alight.
Walked away and looked at the car, all vulnerable and lonely on the side of the road.
The AA had told me to stand well back from the oncoming traffic. I thought of B’s ex who had been in an accident on New Year. A budding footballer he, and three of his mates, were on their way to a party in Southampton. The car, with him and three others, skidded on black ice, they all crawled out. Him included. Three got away scott free but he was hit by a passing car. Thwack – resulting in a coma for two months, the loss of an eye and a metal plate in his head.
All that went through my mind at 7.10 on the side of the road this morning. I tentatively opend the bonnet. It was hot. The bellowing smoke had gone. There was no smell of burning. I told the AA woman that when the old git arrived he would shout at me and I would feel better. I called Sarah, my producer who had organised for Jemoque. to sit in for the first hour. By the time Jim had arrived I had revisited the car and taken my blue anorak out of the boot. I was clutching my bag, phone, Terry’s book, my car keys and a wadge of wet tissues. I had that hesitant moment when you are told to evacuate a burning building; what to take. I dithered. What should I take? All my cd’s, my hanging crystal angel, my Greek worry beads, my Canadian Eagle, should I have taken everything out of my glove compartment, three lipsticks and a bottle of Mitsouko perfume, the best Guerlain scent ever. Should I have emptied the boot and taken out sweaters, coats, walking poles, hiking shoes,shopping bags and another case of CD’s including ones of my daughter singing.
In the end I only took my bag with all my cards which included my Switch card, my M&S card, my Freedom Pass and my Bafta membership card – you can see my priorities – because the most important card of all at 7 o’clock this morning, and possibly the most crucial one MY AA CARD was tucked away in the dresser drawer 30 miles away.
I’ve never actually needed it. Jim has always shouted at me for not carrying it with me. Today he had a point.
Eventually the ‘oosbind arrived, I was trembling on the side of the road he had come dressed in a fleece and a Barbour in case I didn’t have a coat. He did shout at me.
‘If it ain’t black it ain’t smoke.’
‘And you mean excactly what?’ I thought. I daren’t speak, I was so relieved to see him.
‘If it ain’t black it’s steam, steam is white, steam is not fire. No smell of burning therefore it must be water vapour. If it’s black it’s smoke and there is an accompanying smell, was there a smell of burning?’ he waited for an answer. ‘No.’ he said with an air of finality.
‘Don’t start giving me lessons on mechanical engineering.’ I sniffled. I didn’t shout but I was alive enough to take him on. He hugged me on the side of the A21 and called me a wimp.
Janet Brummer, the best masoose in the world listened to my tale. When I asked whether she had made the connection between smoke and steam she said NO. When I said had it occurred to her that steam was white and smoke was black, and had she realised that she said;
‘No’ but she would know that from now on. My point exactly.
The AA man came. Told me that my little make of car never breaks down but the heating pipe often does. Wear and tear. That had it been any later, or a weekday, so dangerous was my parking spot the Police would have had to close the road off and put a cordon up. Lovely, lovely, AA men who are all trained to make a damsel in distress less distressful, although it occurred to me that had I been his wife he probably would have been less sympathetic.
Jim said the radiator was empty. The Man Who Can filled it up with water, rummaged around for a big torch and threw himself over the engine. The pipe at the back of the engine, that fed the heater, had indeed broken. So I could have driven it I asked. No, he said, it would have damaged the engine.
I called The Beeb again.
The little red car was driven onto the towing plates, strapped in and pulled onto the back of the AA van. The keys still in the ignition and the window wide open; It made me cry. Looking at it out of context being winched onto the towing truck. My little car is an extention of me, my second home…. Jim and I climbed into his car. We then drove in the very bright, low sunlight, towards out garage miles away.
Arrived at the garage, it was closed. The AA man unloaded the car and drove it to the closed entrance, gave me an envelope into which I dropped a note and my keys. Found the letterbox but was told not to put my keys inside. Had to come back at 11.0’clock to hand them in manually and re-park the ailing car.
When I took my blood and saw how hight it was it became crystal clear that I have to change my modus operandi. It was only steam. I thought the worst. It was only a broken pipe. I imagined the car exploding on the side of the road in Kent. It was only hot water. I imagined myself eyeless, with a steel plate in my head and facing a life of epileptic episodes.
As I write, at 9,47 I am going through the show minute by minute. I am so sorry for letting everybody down. I am so sorry for being such a wimp. I promise you, Jim and myself that I will endeavour to be a stronger, braver woman. But at this moment I am as pathetic as a three legged border collie. I am shreaded and pathetic and better suited to a life in Candleford with a horse and trap and a wealthy landowner for a husband.
Thank you Jamoque and Mr.Lederman for sitting in for me, and thank you to the AA who had I known quite how gentle they are would have opted for a man in uniform rather than my husband who, though brilliant as an actor, writer, director and handyman, is bloody useless when it comes to consoling a blithering idiot on the side of a fast road on a Sunday morning in Kent.
It’s now 13.07, have finally got home from dropping the keys off, re-organising my life without a car and offered myself up to my husband as gaffers mate for his help this morning.
It would have been easier to drive into work and do a three hour show, however shaky I was, as opposed to standing under a step ladder with a hammer and pincers handing up rawl plugs.
Still one good turn of the screw deserves another.