Posts Tagged ‘motoring’

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Undrivable drive

December 3, 2008

I was up before the birds this morning, intending to drive from my home in Hale Barns to Stockport station to catch the 6:44 train to London Euston. The weather had other ideas.

Our 50 foot drive slopes steeply downwards from street level to our front door. My car was parked half way up it, blocking our other two cars in.  I tried to walk up the drive to the car and instantly found myself doing a Torvill & Dean impression, but without the grace and without Ravel’s Bolero in the background. The drive was sheet ice. I teetered under the flecks of falling snow as far as the car, but getting in it with my laptop was an ungainly and undignified process, not to mention risky. I was lucky I didn’t break my neck.

There was no chance of going out again to spray de-icer. I turned the aircon on max, blower on full, heated rear everything, wipers on then waited for the inch-thick layer of knobbly ice on the screen to clear. All the while the seconds were ticking away, and my chances of making my train receding.

The screen finally started to show signs that it would soon be clear enough to see to drive, so into reverse using the rear camera to back uphill out of the drive. Very slowly and gently, but after a few feet the wheels started to slip and the car began to slide forward. I managed to bring it to a halt and ever so carefully tried again. No dice. There was no way it was going to find enough grip to get out of the drive, and all the while the risk of skeetering down the drive and crashing into the other cars.

I left the car, skated back to the house and called a taxi. They told me 7 minutes. I knew I would miss the train, so rang the travel agent’s 24hr emergency number. I explained to the lady on the line that I wanted to switch booking to a later train, but apparently Virgin Rail don’t allow access to their systems out of hours.

I arrived at Stockport to find my outbound ticket was worthless. My firm no longer allow me to book an open return (supposedly to save money) so I had had to book a specific train. I now needed a new outbound ticket – another £180.

The next train, the 7:13 was cancelled. The 7:23 had to carry two trainfulls of people. Even in first class people were standing for the 2.5 hour trip. All seat reservations had been cancelled in the circumstances, which worked out fine for me – I managed to get a seat in the melee. No hot drinks or cooked breakfast because the crew couldn’t get the trolleys through the train. The view out the window was XMAS card scene material. I tried to work but my laptop battery packed up after an hour. I had the computer plugged in but the socket was not working.

I ended up nearly an hour late for my first meeting, and the return leg was slow as well. The train manager told us over the tannoy (while we were near Tamworth) that there would be a delay due to a “defect on the track” and he would announce arrival times “at a future date”. I found his use of the word “date” a mite disconcerting given how the day had gone. The reality wasn’t quite that alarming; we were only 35 minutes late into Stockport.

At least it had been the right kind of snow, or things could have been worse.

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Traffic lights don’t stay red nearly long enough

September 18, 2008

Most of the time when I’m driving around I curse the slow traffic lights, stuck on red for what feels like aeons, and the half asleep drivers who take ages to get going when the lights eventually turn green. Which makes me no different to most drivers.

It’s a different story though if I have forgotten to connect my iPod to the car stereo.

I enjoy listening to podcasts, audiobooks and music when I drive. But what if I have just dropped someone off somewhere and had not got round to getting my iPod out of my jacket pocket to connect it up? My jacket is on the back seat so I need the car to be stopped, just for a few seconds, so I can stretch over and bring the jacket into the front. My battle-hardened enemy, the red traffic light, can be counted on to come to my aid.

Sure enough, it’s only a matter of time and yes, I’m stopped at a red light. Hand-brake on, turn to grab jacket, where’s it gone, damn it’s fallen into the footwell … and suddenly every car behind me is honking. I look up to find the cars in front of me have vanished and the lights are green. What? When did the lights change?

Dammit, I grit my teeth, grab my jacket and drive on. I now need another stop to get my iPod out of the jacket pocket and plug it into the cable in the glove compartment. Ideally the lights will turn red just as I am coming up to them so I get the whole red part of the cycle to do my connecting up without having to hurry.

But it never works out that way. There I am pootling gently up towards each set of green lights, hoping they’ll change just as I get close. They of course remain resolutely viridian as I amble through with a lengthening queue of frustrated cars behind me convinced I must be a 90 year old woman.

Next time the lights do turn red in front of me they are far too far away, and the cars ahead coast up to a gentle stop, taking forever to form a queue and wasting valuable seconds of red cycle. Why can’t they each drive at full tilt up to the car in front and slam on their brakes at the last minute so the queue forms quickly? To hell with their tyres and brake linings! But just as I screech to a halt the lights are turning green. Blast! And now the drivers aren’t half asleep any more. From dopey morons they’re suddenly imagining themselves to be Lewis Hamiltons, Felipe Massas and Kimi Raikonnens at Monza. I’ve only been stopped 5 seconds, was hurriedly fumbling for the iPod cable in the glovebox and the queue is moving again. A resigned expression comes over my face, I slam the glovebox shut and follow them.

I’m now running out of traffic lights before I join the motorway and find myself condemned to an hour of FM radio drivel …

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