The car – an extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

Because there is no purpose to life does that preclude all purpose? Can we not stand back from it and invent our own purpose? Take control and script it ourselves?

We could elect a director! We don’t need to rely on god, ‘the director that isn’t there’ to determine our fate. We can build better tomorrows out of sad todays.

29.10.01

 

Sometimes, in a road movie, your car can take the starring role.

We didn’t have a car – couldn’t afford one, not with three kids. So we borrowed one.

It was Liz’s mum’s black automatic Morris Oxford – a bland and plodding, run-of-the-mill car.

We set off for the Lake District. We were going to camp, do a bit of walking and visit friends. A week away. Yipeee!

We arrived at the lakes and found a field to camp in. We set up the tent in the drizzle. It was beautiful. We had found a field overlooking Lake Ennerdale – the green rolling hills with rocky outcrops around the tranquil waters of the lake – nobody in sight. Apart from the rain, it seemed idyllic. We could have been in the middle of nowhere if it wasn’t for the dry stone walls and the odd curl of smoke from a farmhouse in the distance we could be all on our own.

The drizzle was a nuisance but we had a perfect spot up on one of the hills. The whole lake was spread out below us with the hills as a backdrop. Gorgeous!

The kids were alright, but the tent was a little cramped. It wasn’t really designed for five. But this was an adventure. It was a bit weird in the tent, particularly when you were trying to get to sleep because the ground sloped, but what the hell. We’d sleep with our heads facing up the hill.

We woke up for our first day and it was still raining. It looked as if the rain was set in for the day but we were not going to allow that to deflate our spirits and decided on a walk. No rain was going to spoil our holiday. We set off around the lake, grumbling kids in tow. It was quite a long walk and we were pretty wet and exhausted by the time we got back.

We crammed in the tent and tried to dry ourselves off. By now the drizzle had turned to hard rain and the little tent was leaking. Every time someone brushed against the canvas, water came through, and it wasn’t possible to keep the kids from brushing against the walls. The tent was much too small.

We had something to eat as the rain teemed down. We tried heating coffee on the primus stove. We tried keeping the kids entertained. It rained harder. Everything was getting damp. The kids were bored.

After a couple more hours we decided to modify our itinerary. Perhaps it was best to go and visit friends first? The weather might clear up later in the week.

Once thought of, the idea rapidly became more and more appealing. Stuck here in this tent we were becoming wetter and more miserable by the minute. Adventure was fast giving way to misery.

It was decided.

We started packing up. Everything in the tent was put in boxes. I went to load them into the car.

There was no car.

I stood and stared at the place the car had been. It wasn’t there.

It had to be there. Nobody could have driven it off without us hearing. I was sure it was there when we got back from our walk.

I stood in the rain clutching a box of cooking utensils and stared at the space where the car had been.

I convinced myself I had left it in the lane. It wasn’t there either.

Bewildered and with a deep gnawing panic, I went back to the tent and asked Liz to help. She came out and looked around but agreed that there was no car.

I looked down the hill to the lake and there in the distance, I could just make out a tiny model car up against a dry stone wall that separated the field from the lakeshore.

‘SHIIT!!’

‘SHHHHIIIIIIIITTTT!!!’ I shrieked as I began to gallop down the hill and career madly in the direction of the tiny model car. This could not be happening. That minute thing in the distance could not be the car – not Liz’s Mum’s car.

The hill was steep and my galloping run soon became an out of control series of leaps.

‘SHHHHHHHIIIIIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTT!!!!’ I was screaming, my mind shrieking.

I should have broken my neck but somehow I stayed on my feet and didn’t crash over on the wet grass or on to the rocks.

The nearer I got to the vehicle the more certain it was that it was the car – our car, Liz’s mum’s car. No matter how much I willed it not to be, it insisted on being.

I arrived and stared at it. Surely it was not.

It was.

At the bottom of the hill, the ground levelled off and became a series of rocky outcrops. The car was up on top of these rocky outcrops. All four wheels were off the ground. It had come to a stop on top of a pile of big boulders, right up against the dry stone wall.

I came to a dead halt, hands up in the air, mouth open – my mind frozen.

I was stricken.  I stared at it in disbelief. This could not be happening. I slowly walked around it, inspecting it from all sides. I noticed that the headlights were actually touching the stone wall but hey were not broken. I opened the door and looked in. You could see the floor all dented up where the rocks had smashed it up but apart from that, it looked OK. The bodywork was unmarked. The car looked fine – but it was up on the rocks with all four wheels in the air. How was this possible?

I checked the hand brake. It was on. It just could not have been on quite enough. It was an automatic. I hadn’t put it in gear. Somehow it had rolled.

I did not know what to do.

We had wrecked Liz’s mum’s car.

Liz and the kids caught up with me. Together, equally aghast, we surveyed the car. It was up on the rocks, wrecked, but, yet, strangely, it looked perfectly alright. What could we do?

‘I’ll get the farmer to bring a tractor,’ I ventured.

Liz nodded.

I ran up the hill and along the lane to the farm.

The farmer must have seen the panic I was in. He came straight away and thoughtfully surveyed the car. He went and got his powerful tractor and chains. He prepared to drag the car straight off the rocks. I had to prevail on him to first use some planks and jack it up so that we could get it off the rocks without ripping it to bits.

He looked at me as if I was an idiot. The idea of the car being salvageable was beyond belief. It had crashed down the hill and on to the mass of rocks. How was it going to be alright? But he shook his head and went along with us.

Gradually, amazingly, we coaxed it off the rocks without further damage and towed it up the hill.

As soon as we got to the top I crawled underneath to have a look. The floor was all staved in and one of the steering arms was bent, the sump had taken a big bang that had knocked the engine up six inches to put a dent in the bonnet but it did not appear to be broken. I lifted the bonnet and had a look but I couldn’t see any other damage. I walked all around the car and could not find a single dent or scratch. It was miraculous.

I did not dare to hope that it might be alright.

With a great deal of trepidation, I put the key in the lock and started it up. It fired first time, gave a shrill whine and then settled into its normal idling. I waited for it to blow up. It sounded sweet. I put it in gear and inched it forward. It seemed fine. Even the bent steering arm didn’t appear to affect it. I drove down the lane and back. The lights worked. The steering worked. Nothing dropped off. There were no other strange noises. The only thing I could detect, apart from the floor being dented up, was that the horn did not work.

We thanked the farmer profusely, forgot to tip him for his trouble, we were in such a state, piled into the car and drove to a garage. They beat the floor down with wooden mallets, rewired the horn and replaced the bent steering arm.

The car looked, apart from a small dent on the bonnet, as good as when we had started out. It worked fine.

We could not believe it but were so shaken up by the experience that we curtailed the holiday.

We drove home, rather gingerly, and delivered it back to Liz’s mum.

I still cannot believe how that could possibly have happened.

29.10.01

 

A decision can kill. Some decisions kill a million or two. I wonder how much thought goes into that – killing a million or two? And who the beneficiaries of such decisions really are?

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