Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A nice stress-free holiday.

Yup that was the plan..

And to be fair it was quite a stress-free holiday. The journey home and the subsequent few days were a little more tense.

You see the idea was that given our tight financial situation we would not be going abroad or holidaying in any official location. We would instead holiday by taking a break from the norm. We would put ourselves beyond the reach of the Internet.

This is a big step as, for my wife (Anne) and I, the computers have largely replaced the television as our primary indoor (non adult-themmed) entertainment.

We live on the south coast of England and so we don't get to see my Anne's family very much. (Like all families it should be understood that for some members this is a good thing and for others it is not so good.) So we planned to spend the first few days of our break, visiting with her family "Up North" in Halifax.

This is a journey of some 286 miles which Google maps informs me should have taken roughly 5 hours. The route I took was about 20 miles more than this but took about the same time. All told, including numerous toilet and food breaks, we took about 6.5 hours to do this trip in the northward direction.

Once arrived we spent a pleasant couple of days in the company of Anne's Parents, Sister, Niece and their respective families. A good time was had and we managed to get off pretty lightly when it came to holiday junk acquired. I even managed to get the car's M.O.T (Mandatory, once yearly, minimum roadworthiness check here in the UK) renewed whilst everyone else generally wandered around the shops looking for holiday junk to fill the car with.

And so came the time of the return journey.

The car was packed, the kids were packed and some holiday junk was packed. We drove around the area passing at each family home to say goodbye and then we were off.

I think it was around 7pm on Tuesday evening. [This time was chosen, in theory to be good for getting the kids to sleep at given that it is their usual bed time. And even those of you with no kids whatsoever should appreciate that it is far less stressful to travel with kids who are unconscious than with kids who are constantly talking: I'm hungry", "I'm Thirsty", " I need the toilet", "Are we nearly there yet?". And this can all be in the first 10 minutes.] We set of at a fair pace (Breaking no speed limits or other sensible driving guidelines at all. Honest) and covered what I thought to be a fair distance. Google says it was about 112 miles in 2 hours. [I dispute this and suggest it was more like 100 but who am I to argue with the great Google :)]

It was at this point that things started to take a turn for the worse. We suddenly noticed a suspicious-looking light on the dashboard. It looked like an engine with little lightning strike through it. Then it disappeared. A minute later it was back again. A minute late it was gone again.

We got a little worried and stopped the car at the nearest service station to have a look. We stopped the car opened the bonnet (That's what we call the hood for any Americans out there:) ) and I used my considerable "mechanical engineering skillz" to confirm for my wife that yes indeed, we still had an engine and no it did not appear to have been struck by lightning.

Happy with my conclusion I suggested that not would be a good time to get everyone out of the car and feed and water the family. This seemed good because it would be a break on my terms rather than on those of my children. So we trooped into the service station (Kids in PJs and everything) for some food.

Food was (for a change) not bad and everybody felt better. Everybody got back in the car and we noted with optimism that the warning light was now out and all seemed normal.

Back on the road and a few miles further on we saw a different warning light come on. You should have figured out by now that I know diddly about cars and so this time we looked in the manual to find out what was happening.

The light said the manual indicates the failure of the automatic transmission. (Auto-Gearbox for those, like me, who would have had to ask their wives what this meant).

It then went on to say that since the automatic gears we're knackered, that we should shift manually instead. Well that seemed fair enough. I assumed (and you know what they say about assumptions) that we could get away with this until we could call a mechanic at home.

So instead of leaving the car in D(Drive) we now have to switch from 1 through 3 appropriately. Fine we can do that. I learned and am licensed in a manual so these concepts are now new to me even if doing so in an automatic is a little strange for me.

So we continue a little further.... and then Anne points out that although this light is still on, the rest of the dashboard has gone dark.... a moment later a seatbelt warning light had come on. Suddenly Anne, who is driving, says she thinks the car is loosing power. Literally she is having to push the accelerator further to get any kind of momentum from the engine.

The car is indeed losing power so we decided (rather quickly that the car was about to die on us and perhaps the middle lane (out of a possible 3) on the M1 (major motorway/Highway running North-South) was not the best place for this to happen. Especially at about 21:30 at night in reasonably high traffic.

So as quick as we can we get into the left-most lane (the slow lane) where we noticed signs indicating that we were just about to hit the off ramp to another service station. This would be a very good place to stop so we indicated and drifted left in to what we thought was the off ramp but turned out to be just the hard-shoulder (no idea if those outside the UK have another term for this but it's a lane to the left of the slow lane used in case of emergency) we quickly realized our mistake as it seemed that if we continued in this lane we were going to hit a bridge. Not good. We indicated and drove back out onto the slow lane, drove another 10 yards or so and my wife declared that all power seemed to have disappeared. Having already passed the bridge, we steered left again onto the hard shoulder and to our relief saw that this was indeed the off-ramp. However, having no power save for the momentum already ours, we saw that we would not reach the service station and so steered (For by not it's not really driving, there being no drive) onto the true hard shoulder where the car was brought (more from lack of power than from applied brakes) to a halt.

So 21:30ish at night, it's dark and it's cold but there's a service station within sight. My 3 kids Molly(5), Daniel(4) and Rosie(1) year old are asleep on the back seat of the car but we're still technically on a motorway. This is not a safe position to be in. It is not a happy position to be in. I could carry the elder 2 kids if need be and Anne could carry Rosie easily enough but I wasn't happy about the idea of walking any length of road in the dark under those conditions.

We quickly decided that we couldn't stay here as it was possible we could get hit by some fool driver at any moment. Then we noticed that the Hazard lights (emergency lights on the car) which we had remembered to turn on, were not working any more. The headlights had also failed. At this point I was not thinking much of that M.O.T I had had done.

So that did it. It's bad enough being in a broken down car at the side of the motorway at night in the rain (Did I mention the rain).

But now the car has lost all electrical power including anything that might power the Hazard lights. We had to get out.

Just then we noticed some blue flashing lights ahead. It seems that some police had just driven past on patrol and had seen the car. The offered to give us a lift to the service station. It took some doing to rouse my 2 eldest but once their subconscious minds were vaguely aware of getting to ride in a police car, the woke up with amazing speed. The Police dropped us off at the service Station and said they would call Highway maintenance or some such group who would help me get my car towed off the motorway. I booked the family into a room for the night after all who knew how long it might take to get this all sorted. Then I resolved to go back to the car to get some blankets and nappies (diapers) and anything else which might have been considered essential.

I took a safe(ish) route going outside of the barriers that a car might potentially have hit, thus affording me some protection. I reached the car and opened it up. I realized that since nothing was functioning anyway, I might as well turn everything off. Off went the headlights, the hazards and the heater. I shut the car and went to the boot (trunk for my American friends) to retrieve the bits for Rosie. Having got these I decided it would be good since I was here already to pick something up to occupy my kids, as sleep was not going to be foremost in their little heads after something like a ride in a police car. So I went to open the car up (meaning to retrieve some picture books or toys or something) and discovered that now the central locking mechanism of the car had decided to give out.In and of itself I could understand this as I can see where electrical power would help this subsystem in it's duties. but what I don't understand is why I couldn't even turn the key to unlock the passenger door itself. Strange. I resolved to figure this out later. I had already got my hands on the vitals necessary for looking after my Rosie.

On the way back I my mobile phone began to ring. It was the Highway guys. they informed me that I could not leave the car where it was and that I would have to move it or they have the police do it for me at a probable cost of over £100. This, I thought, was a little steep and resolved to find a way to do it myself.

Since I had to yet phoned and kind of rescue service, being of mind to sort my family out first I realized that no rescue service would arrive in time to move the car before the highway guys got the police to do it. So I asked the guy on the phone (James  I think his name was) Where exactly was the car felt to be safe?

James indicated that basically it was unsafe as long as it was on the motorway so as long as I got it off there, it would be ok. I looked at where the car was and wondered if I could push it off. however as I looked closer, I realized that in order to get the car into the car park I would have to cross back on to the exit ramp from the hard shoulder. this would be like pushing the car into traffic, and without any lights of any kind this was really not going to be a valid option.

Then I spotted the "End of motorway regulations" sign. It stood a full car length from one end of the Hard shoulder providing the perfect place where the car could reside without being either in the car park or technically on the motorway. I solicited help from a guy playing the slots in the service station, and together we approached the car, the battery of which, had now managed to store enough energy to allow reentry into the ca. I disengaged the gears putting the car in neutral, removed the handbrake and we managed to push the car the length of the hard shoulder to it's new "safe" location. I never did ask the name of the guy who helped me push the car but I slipped him the close to £5 loose change I had in hopes that it might help him to his fortune on the slots.

A short while after this, I got a call from the highway guys saying that the police had seen the car and were prepared to tow it around the corner into the car park for me (at no charge). I was very glad to hear this as I was still very unsure if where I had left the car would be acceptable.

The towing complete, I was off back to the room I'd booked for the family where I found mum looking ragged. This is not a reflection on here, but more on the behavior of my elder kids who seemed to have picked up the same levels of energy as they might have gained from several energy drinks mixed with some sort of neat sugar IV and they were using this burst of energy to pound on one another. This coupled with cries of Rosie who apparently needed changing meant that my arrival was greeted with much anticipation.

A little while later we had managed to get all 3 children to sleep the 2 eldest had fought so much that they now had each a bed of their own, and Rosie had a makeshift bed made out of a much folded blanket. I was preparing to sleep on the floor but Anne convinced me that we could now move Molly back into the same bed as Daniel. After this we both collapsed into bed where we slept very soundly until morning.

In the morning we called the AA who showed up very quickly and told us that our alternator was shot and a replacement would cost us about £90. Well we paid up and the car was fixed up right there in the car park.

A day later the fan belt fell apart. It was literally shredded.

We got that replaced and now the Power steering pump is leaking. We have a replacement for that and it's being fitted tomorrow morning by a friend of ours.

I think the car is fast earning a nickname of "The money pit"

I'm glad I cycle to work :)

No comments: