Monday, 20 January 2020

The wind is bitter ...

... but it's a bright, sunshiny day and we need to get out of the house.  So we decide to take the dogs in the back of the Skoda to one of our local villages for a stroll.

The village has a mill and a millpond, a new salle de fête painted the most unfortunate grubby mauve colour which clashes with the soft yellow-beige of the surrounding old buildings.  It's an up-and-coming place where properties have been lovingly restored and we feel it's time we see what the locals have been up to.

Two miles into the journey, as we round the first roundabout with its miniature tobacco drying barn the flat tyre warning light comes on. We've lost count of the number of flat tyres we've had over the years.  Narrow country lanes and oncoming cars that determinedly stay on the crown of the road means that all too often we are the ones to move onto the rubble-strewn verge and over the hidden threats of large discarded nails and screws.

A big, red fireman's van comes towards us and stops.  Do we need help?  We smile and wave reassuringly. No, we're fine. With a "bon courage" he waves and departs.

The dogs are sitting on top of the spare wheel, so the first task is to get them out of the boot and into the front, which they much prefer anyway.  Then wind up the strange, much too flimsy-looking jack which leans suspiciously to one side.  Then find the small thingy which flips off the thief-proof caps covering the wheel nuts.  In flipping the caps off there is considerable danger of the caps flying through the air and disappearing into said rubble-strewn verge, never to be seen again.Then realise, cannot undo wheel nuts while suspiciously leaning jack is raised. So lower jack, loosen wheel nuts, move jack, put it on a carpet taken from the passenger well.

Opening the front door of the car to get the carpet is a mistake as by this stage the dogs are bored and want to get out.  Jack raised again, nuts removed and now, merely a matter of lifting wheel off. But no. The wheel won't budge, despite much heaving and kicking of wheel and concern that the jack might collapse under the strain.

So we need help and someone who knows more about cars than we do.  But we have no phone. Neither of us.  Well why would we?  We're only going for an afternoon stroll to a local village. That means one of us has to walk home - two miles, uphill most of the way - at least forty minutes.  Tod starts walking. I stay with the car and the dogs, glad of the heavy winter coat I'm wearing in the bitter wind. I'm reluctant to get into the car in case the jack collapses.

He had not even got as far as the roundabout when I see the car coming our way stop.  I see his hand signals as he demonstrates not being able to get the tyre off.  People get out, put Tod in the back, the car turns round and disappears up the hill taking him home. And I stand and wait.

A Porsche coming towards me slows, pulls past and then stops.  Out gets a couple.  Do I need help?  I explain the stuck wheel phenomenon. The man says he'll call his brother (or maybe he said father - his south west accent is strong).  As so often, I find the woman easier to understand.  She says she knows me because she lives in the village where we used to walk Clara and Smudge, our two elderly Airedales - heavens that was eleven, twelve years ago.

The man returns from his phone call and asks if I have a mallet in the boot.  Nothing heavier than the wheel brace.  Lying under the car he starts hitting something with the brace, but no joy.  His other half sets off at a jog for a farmhouse down a track on the other side of the road and returns with a large hammer and some thin pieces of wood - all a complete mystery to me.  In the meantime the man tells me he is the brother of the local town mayor and they are off to a Sunday outside flea market (in this wind?).  But of course.  They need to get out.  I know the feeling.

He instructs me to take the handbrake off and put the car in gear - that much I do understand - and he disappears back under the car where loud banging noises can be heard.  I worry about the jack collapsing.  Suddenly the wheel shudders and drops forward - it's free.  They show me how the wheel has rusted and seized itself to the car.

The hammer is returned to the farm, the spare is rapidly fitted, the jack lowered, wheel nuts tightened and they head smiling back to the Porsche. I shower them with thanks, wish them "bonne continuation" and lots of cheap purchases at the flea market. They call back to me, how cold the wind is.

Still no sign of Tod, so I decide to drive home and catch him coming back. I get in the driver's seat, the dogs are all over me but they can't go back in the boot, it's piled with a punctured tyre, wonky jack, wheel brace and emergency red triangle.  There's no key in the ignition!  Tod's taken it with him!  So I get out of the car, lean against the boot, glad of my thick winter coat in the bitter wind. And wait.

A lone cyclist in immaculate white lycra strip comes by, stops, turns round and comes back to me - is the car "en panne"?  Can he help?  I explain and he heads on his way. I suspect grateful that his white strip remains unsullied by our very dirty car.

Finally, I see the batmobile in the distance.  Not knowing (of course) that I've had help, Tod has called a friend who is riding to the rescue.  We sort out car keys.  Abandon plans to walk anywhere - a hot cup of tea calls.  I head home with two confused dogs who are very happy to be sitting on the back seat rather than in the boot. Tod waits for our friend.

Later, we both agree, from now onwards mobile phones must be carried at all times. We also agree how wonderful the French are in times of crisis.