I should have been travelling to the UK in our Jeep. It’s been needing the heater plugs changed for a while, but since it’s garaged in Andorra, it’s not been a priority to have them done. At the prospect of the car sitting outside in the UK for a couple of moths, though, J got it booked in to the garage to have them done. Normally, it’s the kind of job he’d do himself, but he’s been so busy with work, it just wasn’t possible to fit it in. So, the pros could do it for us and make our life easier.Except, these things have a habit of not working out quite as expected. At least one of the plugs sheared off as it was being removed, and the garage struggled to remove it. For weeks, I wasn’t sure whether it would be ready for my trip. Even on the morning of the day I was leaving (yesterday), J was at the garage to see if they’d managed to do it.
Moreover, it will cost as much to strip the engine to replace them as a new engine will cost.
So, a new engine it will have to be. Fun times.
Luckily, friends leapt to our rescue and had offered me the use of their van in the case I couldn’t use the Jeep. This was amazing, because it meant I could take the dogs as planned. Our other car is a two-seater, so I’d have had to leave them behind if that was the only option.
So, at 3pm on Saturday, I set off for the long journey.
The weather started fair but, as is always the case when driving through France, deteriorated along the way. No matter, I was still making good time and would get to the Channel Tunnel with a few hours to spare. Because I had so much time, I stopped for a little snooze at a service station just south of Paris. After twenty minutes, I abandoned that idea; with enough Red Bull flowing through my system to power a jet engine, there was no way I was going to sleep. I though I’d pop in and use the facilities before heading on my way, so went to lock up the van. Peculiarly, the rear door refused to lock. I knew the cab locks were temperamental, but the back had been locking fine. I resolved to have all the locks fixed during my stay in the UK.
I got back on the road, navigating through the horrors of the Parisian tunnels and through towards Calais. With the fuel level at around half a tank, I stopped to fill up at the last station before the Tunnel. Diesel being so much cheaper in France – although still horrendously expensive compared to Andorra – it made sense to put in as much as possible on this side.
Except… what the…?!
I couldn’t get the key to turn in the fuel cap. It just wasn’t going in far enough!
I examined the key and realised with horror that it wasn’t the locks that were faulty, but the key! I struggled for ten minutes to get it to open, but to no avail. I slammed shut the flap over the plug, kicked the tyre and screamed in frustration. That helped to calm me a little, so I tried again.
It wasn’t giving at all. Having visions of the key snapping off in the lock, I had little choice but to carry on my way to Calais, keeping an eye on the gauge the whole way.
I arrived at the Tunnel and proceeded to the pet registration office, happy at least that I had a couple of hours’ grace before my train was due to depart.
Oh, how wrong I was.
The woman at the pet counter took one look at my booking form and pointed out I’d booked it in the wrong direction. From Folkestone to Calais instead of Calais to Folkestone.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit!!!
She happily went ahead and booked me on a train in the correct direction, at an additional cost of £350, making the total cost of this one 30-minute train journey nigh on five hundred pounds. Ouch. Shit. Again.
She wrote the new booking reference down on a piece of paper and sent me on my way.
The key caught in a worrying fashion as I started the van. My heart sank.
I drove up to the first self check-in point and tapped the screen. There was a message to another driver on the screen, though, and there was no “quit” button. So, I had to reverse the van back out of the lane and into the next one. Success, this one was showing the correct start screen. I tapped in the new booking number and pressed enter. But, something was wrong. It was asking for eight digits and there were only seven written down.
14 hours of driving alone.
A rear door that wouldn’t lock.
A fuel cap that wouldn’t unlock.
A mobile phone that would connect to a dialled number, but I couldn’t hear the other end.
Being totally unsure if I had enough fuel to get to my sister’ house.
Not knowing if the car would start to get onto, or off of, the train.
An extra £350 for the crossing.
And now, the proverbial straw, a booking reference I couldn’t use.
It all came bubbling up and had nowhere to go except out through my eyes. For the first time in years, I bawled like a baby.
I’m not one of the world’s pretty criers. I was a red, blotchy and snotty mess as I pulled up to the manned check-in window. The man eyed me suspiciously, asked what I was carrying in the back and commented on my change of hairstyle since my passport photo was taken. He consulted with his supervisor as to whether they should search the van. The supervisor took one look at me and thought better of it. He clearly recognised the face of a woman whose size 3s were teetering precariously on the edge of the precipice.
Through security, I found a wifi signal and called J. To hell with the fact it was ridiculous o’clock, I needed him. I was a sobbing, unintelligible mess as I regaled the story. For his part, he felt completely helpless, over a thousand kilometres away.
Sharing my desperation with him really helped me to regain a little composure. Once I reached England, I was safe. The recovery service we have means that I would be able to get the three of us – me and the dogs – to my family. I just needed to get on the train.
The car started. Thank fuck. Excuse the language, but, Thank. Fuck.
I got on the train.
So, that’s where I am now, writing this (to be posted later!). We’ve just started slowing down on our approach into Folkestone.
Will the car start, or will I – and all the cars behind me – be stuck in this tin tube?
Will I have enough fuel to get to my sister’s house?
Will my nerves hold up?
We’re about to find out.
Some time later….
… and I arrived at my sister’s house. The car, thank Dog, started fine. The drive to Surrey was long, at 50mph to conserve fuel, but the important thing is, I made it. My first word I uttered as my sister opened the door was, “Gin”!
Astonishingly, this was mainly a joke, and I somehow held off on the booze until the evening.
Over the next two days, I managed to get, firstly, a key that enabled me to open the fuel tank and, later, a key that could be used in the ignition, so I could retire the twisted, worn one. I suppose it comes to us all in time.
Now it’s behind me, I can’t really consolidate the facts with how utterly desperate I was feeling at the time. I guess the lack of sleep and overload of Red Bull was taking a huge toll on my emotional state. All’s well that ends well, though.
Now, we just have to source a new engine for the Jeep. Driving a big van on the motorway is one thing, but popping to the local Tesco is rather less convenient. Hurrah for home delivery!