Serendipity, Armageddon and a bit of a draught.

What’s the opposite of serendipity? Sod’s law I suppose. Well that is what we experienced as we departed for home after a short stay with Gill’s parents. I wrote about the journey down here and how frustrating and meaningless I normally find motorway journeys. This one turned out to be quite entertaining in a weird kind of way and it all started with a broken window.

As we pulled out of the drive Gill pressed the button to lower the window so she could wave goodbye to her Mum and Dad. The window descended smoothly until it was three quarters of the way down and then with a nauseating grinding noise it stopped in a way that meant you just knew it was broken. Sure enough, no amount of button pressing, window tugging or pushing or even foot stamping made the slightest difference and reluctantly I reversed back onto the driveway. If it had broken in a closed position or even a slightly open position it might not have been such a disaster but three hours on the motorway with a wide open window and a forecasted high of four degrees and snow wasn’t attractive. Luckily for me the window was on the passenger side but I’m not stupid so I didn’t convert my optimistic image of Gill all snuggly in a hat and scarf into words. We needed to fix the window.

Thirty minutes, a butchered see-through plastic storage bag and a roll of gaffer tape borrowed from a neighbour was all that was needed to fashion a perfectly suitable substitute for a window. In fact I was pretty pleased with the result. All it needed was access to a wind tunnel and a two hundred thousand pound research grant and I think we might have been onto something. The question was; would it withstand three hours at seventy miles an hour and gale force winds? Of course it would. We set off once again with only marginally reduced visibility and a strong sense of optimism.

I watched nervously with one eye on the speedo and one on the makeshift window as we accelerated to sixty, sixty five and then seventy miles an hour and miraculously everything stayed in place. Admittedly the acoustics of the car did seem to be slightly impaired by our modification but we tend not to talk that much on long drives and who wants to listen to the radio anyway.

I was impressed that we got as far as we did before the first bit of sticky tape made a bid for freedom threatening to take all of its mates and our new window with it. We pulled into Stafford services to assess the situation and to scout for more gaffer tape. If you have never been to Stafford services I should warn you that the actual services are such a long way from the motorway exit that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to build intermediate services between the two. We eventually reached the car parking area and went in search of repair materials. There was some debate about leaving the car with compromised security but we decided that a Morrison’s chicken and bacon sandwich and a multi pack of Cheddars on the back seat probably didn’t constitute a particularly tempting haul and besides we were parked next to a very expensive looking Jaguar that probably had a sat nav that was worth more than our car.

Gill without a hat or scarf

Gill without a hat or scarf

We failed to find any more sticky tape but we settled down to eat lunch in the car park and it proved to be much more entertaining than I would have imagined. It’s surprising how many people arrive at the services and then emerge from their cars to perform an impromptu set of yoga exercises completely uninhibited by their public location. It also turns out that positioning a car between two generously spaced white lines is quite a challenge for a lot of drivers and a surprising number seem to find a jaunty angle is the best option after several forward and reverse manoeuvres. We will never know what dramatic event caused the driver of the silver mini bus to pull into a parking slot, switch off the engine, pause for ten seconds, restart the bus and then drive away again. His whole life may have changed in an instant due to some pivotal message he received on his mobile phone. Maybe he would look back on that moment in time when all his dreams and aspirations were shattered by a few simple words on a tiny glowing screen. Or maybe he just decided that he didn’t need a wee after all.

We left the services after another lengthy drive and began the frustrating process of catching up and overtaking all the heavy goods vehicles that we had passed in the first half of the journey. Our repaired repair seemed to be holding fast unlike the previously unbroken blue sky which was now being torn in two by dramatic cloud formations. To our right the sky was the colour of stainless steel that needed a good polish. It was the kind of sky that caused people to say things like; “look at that sky, it’s full of snow” when they actually have no idea what they are talking about. I said; “look at that sky it’s full of snow”. To the left the sky could only be described as menacing. We were making good progress north and Liverpool was somewhere underneath the dark grey cloak of doom and I didn’t fancy its chances to be honest.  It looked as if we might escape the Armageddon unfolding alongside us but then a flurry of sleet gave way to a cacophony of ear splitting noise as we drove into a wall of hailstones like nothing I have seen before. It was like being on the inside of a snare drum with Keith Moon and Ginger Baker on the outside. I couldn’t believe our flimsy plastic window was holding up but then there was a moment of panic as a large hailstone ricocheted around the inside of the car! We had been breached and surely it was only a matter of seconds before the car filled up with deadly ice balls, and then it was sunny again. We had escaped what felt like the end of the world by the skin of our teeth.

Pre Armageddon

Pre Armageddon

I was beginning to think that despite the broken window we were going to make it home with nothing more dramatic than a melted hailstone and a slight draught to contend with when the overhead gantry sign ahead of us made a sinister announcement. SALT SPREADING. The capital letters and brevity of the message made it sound like some sort of government warning. In my mind a horrible mutation had occurred in common sodium chloride and it was rampaging across the country bringing seasoned devastation everywhere. I had visions of not being able to get home because our village would be cordoned off while a fresh outbreak of the deadly condiment was being investigated. Then a huge lorry splattered the car with grit and I realised my simple mistake. It wasn’t the end of civilisation as we knew it but just a fluke of the English language.

We finally made it home with the temporary window still intact but knowing that nothing more than a flimsy bit of plastic and some adhesive tape were all that separated us from an icy grave added a certain spice to the journey. The drive south earlier in the week had been completely unremarkable by comparison. What a difference a simple little thing like a broken window can make. Maybe I was wrong, maybe it was serendipity after all.


Skoda Fabia for sale: Two owners, good runner. Original feature window. Make us an offer.

Making motorway minutes count

It is said that travel broadens the mind and I would heartily agree in almost all circumstances bar one. Gill and I have just spent three hours driving down to Gloucester on the M6 and M5 and despite the best efforts of Radio 4 I can’t help but feel as if I have just lost those precious hours of my life forever. There is something absolutely unique about the tedium of motorway driving despite the fact that the volume of traffic requires constant vigilance. I made a concerted effort today to get something positive from the experience but it wasn’t easy.


I could make the same journey in any other way and get something from it. Walking the 200 or so miles would be a serious adventure over a couple of weeks and it would leave a legacy of valuable memories. Cycling the same distance over three days would be a real challenge and provide a great sense achievement and satisfaction. Even driving via smaller, quieter roads would make an interesting day out with stops for lunch and afternoon tea. On a train I could have focussed on a good book or the radio without compromising my safety, or that of other travellers. Then there are the many eccentric options such as roller skating, skateboarding or maybe travelling by pogo stick. A flight in a microlight would turn the journey into a thrilling experience or maybe it would be possible to navigate by canoe or narrow boat. Anything but the motorways.

I understand the importance of motorways and their contribution to the efficient transportation of both goods and working people but boy oh boy are they boring. For me the driverless car just can’t come soon enough.

I can think of a positive slant on today’s experience though. Whilst the journey may have felt like a waste of three hours there is, at least, a valuable lesson to take from the experience. It reminds me of why it is so important to treat not just every day but every minute as if it was your last. Put another way, if I was told I had three hours to live I wouldn’t be making a bee line for the M6 or any other motorway for that matter.

I’m sure there were plenty of people on the road today who would completely disagree with me, even some who enjoy motorway driving but the message remains the same. When you are forced by circumstance to do something boring and apparently pointless you can at least use it to remind yourself how precious every minute really is. I may feel like I wasted the best part of two hundred minutes this morning but isn’t that all the more reason to treasure all the ones that follow?

Brand New Life

I was driving Gill to work this morning and we were stuck in slow moving traffic. The road was lined either side with bushes and woodland and I was looking at the generally drab black and brown network of trunks and branches and straining to see any signs of spring. Suddenly my eye was taken by the brightest, greenest display of newly unfurled young leaves. A bit of digging around on the internet when I got home suggested that they may be Elder trees but actually it doesn’t matter what species these young leaves belong to, it’s what they represent that excites me.

They probably weren't even Elders but here's a nice picture anyway.

They probably weren’t even Elders but here’s a nice picture anyway

They were so vividly bright and verdant that they just screamed ‘BRAND NEW LIFE’ to me. They had that colour that you only see when something is new, really new. Before it becomes stained and tarnished by time and the elements. Amongst the drabness of the dirty woodland background they reminded me of someone who has turned up to a party in a flamboyant and glamorous outfit only to find that everyone else has come in jeans and T shirts. They looked gaudy and a bit out of place but they filled me with joy when I thought of the spring and summer that they herald. They represent new beginnings, something that I have been contemplating a lot just recently. I began to consider the changes that these leaves would go through over the next eight months and about what they would look like when we arrive home from our travels next October. Maybe they wouldn’t even be on the the tree by then. Maybe they would be dead.

Like us they will no doubt be battered by wind and rain, baked by sun and possibly even, like us, they will be attacked by insects. They will perform their task of absorbing the sunlight and converting it into energy for the tree as they gradually age and lose that vivid green in exchange for a slightly more subdued work-weary hue. No doubt our excited state at the time of our departure will also fade somewhat over the weeks and months but I would like to think that we will remain committed to the task, just like the leaves.

Come September the leaves will begin to dry and shrivel, turning yellow then red or brown before being discarded by the tree for good. To all intents and purposes they will be dead but their contribution to the tree will be far from over. During the coming weeks, months and even years they will be broken down to form nutrients for the tree that spurned them. I have no idea how long such things take but one day a part of them may well be recycled into yet more bright and shiny new leaves.

Our journey will end at about the same time that the leaves die but just as the leaves continue to feed the tree after they die so then, I hope, the experiences of our trip will go on nourishing us for many months and years to come.

By the time we leave in April, those young Elder leaves will be lost amongst a profusion of vegetation and spring will be well and truly with us. Likewise these thoughts will probably be lost in the turmoil of saying goodbye to friends and the thrill of our departure. Maybe they will come back to me next spring when I see those first opening buds once more. Who knows what we might be planning then.