Skeleton Coast

Possessions come and go, yet memories are yours to keep forever. Make choices from a sacred perspective rather than a mundane one and the rest will fall into place.

That’s what my horoscope said this morning, so here’s a little blog about a possession on its way out and some memories of yesterday.

The plan was, modest I thought, to go to the rescheduled Bloomsbury Summer Fete and take in the horse exhibition at the British Museum, which is sure to be cool in such hot weather, surely? I was a little later leaving with the kids than I had intended, but I wasn’t worried about it – why worry about time, when time takes care of itself. Incidentally, there’s an excellent blog here on that very concept. My loose attitude towards clock time causes my mother to compare me to the hookah smoking caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland; I take this as a compliment. I stand by it though, if you stop watching the clock, real time elasticates in rather marvellous ways.

Not hardly

I’ve digressed. I was a bit behind my nominal schedule and we left around midday. I’d spent some time throwing around the options of car v train in my head. In the end, because I had petrol in the car and a week until payday, I opted for the car. The car is old, it has many miles upon its clock – a measurement of wear and tear as much as years passing our the markers for my own. We have had it for 7 years and it is reliable, which is the main thing, in my book, Alice in Wonderland or not.

I drive conservatively and, I like to imagine, a little like a light aircraft pilot – with one eye constantly on the control panel. I also drive a little empatico with the car, given the miles on its clock, I don’t take it for granted. Of course this is all silliness, but it does mean that when, even under the soundproofed bonnet, I heard some strange noises I turned down the radio and scanned my dashboard. Sure enough, the temperature gauge was creeping up. The car has never done this with me, the needle having always been rock steady on the vertical. I pulled over immediately, on a very narrow ingress from the A127 near the junction with M25. I was off the road, but barely and cars and lorries were thundering along a couple of feet away.

Obviously the children needed to be out of the car and away from the road. Some weeks ago we had a debate about the necessity for child locks on the rear doors – leave them I said – you never know.

The child locks certainly saved the 8 year old from disappearing down this uncovered manhole, its depth indicated by the traffic cone tip just showing like an iceberg. Now, I may have been broken down on the side of the A127, with volcanic mustard-coloured water spewing from the radiator cap, but I considered this to be the result of the day. The car was parked literally, on a precipice and a child or a wheel down there would have been no fun at all.

Before calling the RAC it was decided to let the engine cool, add some more water and try turning for home, there being no visible leak from the radiator. The car had recently been to France and checked over and topped up, so this was a bit of a surprise, but the car is reliable, isn’t it? Surely it would limp back to Southend.

After a time cooling off and topped up with more water by the emergency back-up in the shape of the kids’ dad, I drove on up to the next junction to turn round. For a mile or so the temperature gauge behaved, by the time I was on the slip road up the M25 interchange it suddenly shot into the red. For the second time that day I pulled over, this time onto the pavement by the roundabout traffic lights. We all got out again and climbed behind the crash barrier. The RAC were called, this seemed a bit more serious now.

I may not clock watch, but I did notice I was hungry, thirsty and needed a wee. The children said the same. It was also bloody hot. Lunch in London had been the plan, but that was off the menu now. To be fair the kids were really good. The eldest made a fairy garden in the first spot we broke down in and in the second said that there was a lot more wildlife off the M25 than she had ever noticed from the car… Good girl.

The RAC man said it was a puzzler. The car took a quantity of water from his container – all of it in fact – gallons. He said, ‘It’s a mystery where it’s gone to though,’ there being no visible leak. The car was still overheating. In the end, he said that if we put the heating on it would draw the heat into the car and release it. I could try driving back to Southend like that and he would follow me. The kids were to go in Dad’s vehicle. It would be a lot quicker than waiting for a recovery truck and, despite my caterpillar tendencies, even I don’t want to be on the A127 on Friday afternoon as the commuters hit the roads home. We would give it a go.

As I said, surely this reliable car would limp home for me…

Every heating vent was open, on full blast. The RAC man set the temperature higher than I even knew it could go: 32 degrees to be precise. I had the windows open so much of it blasted right on out, but, oh… my foot. There was a vent directly onto my right flip flop accelerator foot. It was like putting your foot in a oven set for a Sunday roast. The heat felt, at times, almost unbearable and in the convoy of three vehicles I am sure my erratic driving was noted as I removed my foot from accelerator as often as I was able. 32 degrees outside and 32 directly on my foot. How my flip didn’t melt, I don’t know. Why my flesh wasn’t falling off my metatarsals like a lamb kleftiko I don’t know either. Sweat? You ain’t seen nothing. I could offer to test anti-perspirants driving up and down the A127 in high summer, and I’d lose half a stone a day to boot. I tell you what though, that reliable car’s temperature gauge did not budge – bang on the vertical the whole way home.

So, if you don’t mind travelling in an overheated sauna, there’s nothing wrong with the car. By the time we had returned to base the RAC man had diagnosed another fault: a replacement rear shock absorber needed he said. That’s added to a suspect head gasket, the unknown leak in the coolant system, the timing belt that’s nearly shot, the boot that doesn’t open, two new tyres and knackered paintwork on the bonnet. I suppose it’s like the horoscope said, possessions come and go but I’ve got the memories alright.

So now we’ve got two knackered old bangers out front, it reminds me of Namibia’s skeleton coast. What with all the heat I contributed to global warming yesterday and the passage of clock time, I wonder how long I would have to leave the cars before they looked like this?

Not hardly, as Absolem the caterpillar said.

Postscript – now faced with the rather mundane conundrum of saving the old reliable, or letting it go out on its shield like an old soldier. With the two bangers and if I only had the right amount of engineering know-how I am sure I could cobble together a hybrid ultra reliable car in blue and green for only the price of an elastic band and some pork scratchings. Hopefully though, like the horoscope said, I can make this choice from a sacred place, whatever that means. Back to the Caterpillar.


Posted on August 18, 2012, in Be not idle, Consumerism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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