This is a long story, so I’m breaking it into parts. If you have never broken down far from home and running out of money, and you want to know what happens, read on.
We needed to bring our caravan back from where it had been in storage 600 miles away in Spain. We would drive down, collect it, turn around and come straight back home. Our neighbour would feed the dogs while we were away. It was a simple plan. Those of you who know us, or have read my books, will hear warning bells going off.
On Sunday morning we left at 5.00 am and had an (almost) trouble-free run. Our car has a slight quirk, in that it occasionally decides to set itself in a slow mode. Switching off the engine and restarting gets it going again. The quickest route was down the west coast of France, via San Sebastian and Zaragoza then down to Valencia. Northern Spain, as we discovered last year, is mostly made up of mountains, and the car decided to put itself into the slow mode as we climbed up them, bringing the speed down to 30 mph. If it did that with the caravan on tow it was going to be a problem – maybe it wouldn’t be able to pull it up – so for the return journey we’d come back via the eastern side of the country, following the coast up to south-eastern France. It would make the journey longer, but avoid the worst of the climbs.
We reached the storage site near Valencia just before 5.00 pm, and collected the caravan from a rather dour and unsmiling little man. We hitched up and set off. The van is a twin axle and tows beautifully, and we were batting along nicely. The car was running well, and Terry was keen to keep driving through the night so we could get back home to the dogs. The back door was open so they could get in and out, but we don’t like leaving them with nobody to talk to, so were anxious to get home as quickly as possible.
However, after driving for three hours we were still south of Barcelona and starting to get tired, so decided to stop overnight and leave early next morning. We came to rest at Calafell – a large well-organised and well-maintained site with excellent amenities, just a 30 second stroll to the fabulous beach.
We had a good night’s sleep, woke up refreshed and ready for the drive home. Everything was going well until Terry started the car. The noise startled people within a radius of 100 metres, as the engine clattered and thumped and sounded like a tin can in a spin drier. Some smoke escaped from the front. There was clearly something very wrong.
I expect you are thinking, why didn’t they call a garage?
This year we have had four major expenditures out of a very small pension – even smaller now thanks to Mr Cameron and Brexit – and we could not afford to pay a garage anything, so that left the only option of carrying on for as long as possible to get as near to home as we could. The car pulled well, it was just the awful clattering noise.
Terry recognised that the alternator had failed, as the battery was not charging and various warning lights and messages kept coming on. We would keep driving for as long as the car would go. There happened to be another battery in the caravan that we could connect when this one ran out.
We bumbled along. I made one navigational error and led us into a 50 mile stretch of narrow, winding roads, hairpin bends with coaches coming round them, warnings of falling rocks and jumping deer, and one mountain after another, but the car pulled gamely on until we were able to get back onto the motorway.
Five hours and 120 miles after leaving Calafell, we passed La Jonquera and were half a mile from the French border. The car started missing very badly, coughing and spluttering, and two minutes later it ground to a halt, on a bend. It rolled slowly backwards, crashing the caravan into the barrier.
The temperature was just below 100F, and my feet and hands had swollen almost beyond recognition. No knuckles were visible, and my feet were oozing out of my trainers. Because the battery was dead, we couldn’t open the boot to get out the compulsory red triangle. Instead Terry put the only red item we could lay hands on – a red thermos flask, on the road to warn traffic.
I picked up Terry’s smartphone to call our worldwide assistance. Nothing happened. No ringing tone. Zilch. The battery was almost but not quite flat. I hate mobile phones, they never seem to work for me. It wouldn’t work for Terry, either.
Cars hooted as they passed. Inside our car was a furnace and my extremities were visibly growing. Outside was dangerous, with high speed traffic shooting past.
Things are going to get better, before they start getting worse again.