Tuesday, May 15, 2007


THERE I was, standing outside my house at close to midnight, throwing my bag to the floor, emptying my pockets onto the pavement and aiming karate kicks at the wall while muttering to myself in an incandescent rage. Anyone watching behind the twitching curtains over the road was probably reaching for the phone at that moment, alerting the men with white coats to come and take me away ha, ha. But I can assure you it was no laughing matter, just the end to a day that had turned from sublime to ridiculous.
If Michael Crawford was ever to do a new series of Some Mothers Do 'Ave Em he could probably devise an entire episode simply from following my progress on a day that will from now on go under the name of Bloody stupid Sunday.
And it all started so well. After a relatively calm Saturday night in the office, in which I actually found time to watch the whole of the Gas's magnificent play-off victory over Lincoln on TV and still managed to beat the deadline without breaking sweat, I felt awake enough to travel over the bridge and see Wren.
On the way into Bristol I bought the Homer Simpson recommended Hot Stuff pizza from Domino's, arriving at my girlfriend's door at 11.30. Not bad.
Next morning, waking with the lark, we peered out of the window to see the rain coming down in buckets. The driest April on record was quickly turning into the wettest May. We had been told it was going to be a long, hot summer.
So what to do? After reading through the Sunday papers (they don't sell WoS in the biggest newsagents in Bristol's student-infested area of Redland, ridiculously) we thought it would be nice to get out of the house for a bit and go for a nice drive. Rejecting the easy option of taking Wren's shiny newish Micra for a spin, instead we opted for Boo.
Now Boo is the name of my ageing black Fiat Tipo. It's called Boo because that's exactly what the last three letters of my registration plate spell.
Boo has been very reliable under the bonnet but can be described as a bit flakey elsewhere. It's sunshield visor has fallen off regularly and the driver's side window won't open on account of the fact some little thugs bent the door sideways one day in a bid to nick the small number of 2p coins deposited in the little compartment next to my seat. Then there is the bonnet catch, strategically placed slightly out of reach under the steering column. This has fallen off so often that I now keep it in the glove compartment. To open the bonnet I have to contort myself like some Russian Olympic gymnast, attach the handle and then give a mighty heave.
We set off first for Cribbs Causeway shopping mall but, having been caught up in a long traffic tailback, we aborted those plans for a nice drive in the country. I had the brainwave of showing Wren all the old haunts I used to visit during my dual life as trainee journalist covering the wilds of South Gloucestershire during the day and pool captain of the Western Coach House, Frampton Cotterell, by night.
As the country roads quickly turned into rivers I began to ponder the sanity of this decision. It didn't help that my driver's side door had started leaking again, with a steady stream of water pouring in and soaking my legs and feet.
We travelled through Almondsbury, Tockington, Alveston and Thornbury, as I pointed out the landmark pubs along the route. Then, cutting back through a lane the size of a bicycle track, we eventually made our way through Yate and Chipping Sodbury, arriving at the lovely converted farmhouse known as the Cross Hands at Old Sodbury.
There we enjoyed a pleasant sunday lunch before deciding to call it a day and head back to Bristol. Now here comes the catalogue of catastrophe.
Starting up the car it shuddered a couple of times, then stopped. That should have been a warning. Eventually it started but for some reason opted to Kangeroo hop down the street rather than smoothly accelerating to warp factor speed. Wren, a devout follower of Top Gear, wasn't too impressed.
Soon, though, we were speeding along back through Iron Acton and, on arriving in my old village of Frampton I offered to show her the house where I lived during my misspent youth. Nice to see that 4, Prospect Close was still standing, and it brought the memories flooding back.
Boo, though, decided this was a diversion too far and decided to chug, jolt and gurgle her way out past Fromeside Youth Club and down Watley's End Road. When we were passing my old school, the Ridings High at Winterbourne, I finally decided enough was enough, with a string of cars nose-to-tail behind us wondering who the jerk was who couldn't find the right gear in front.
I wanted to shout out of the window "it's not my fault, the car's broken". But, of course, I can't open the window. So I opted to pull into a layby.
"Why don't we just go and get some WD40?" said Wren who, in her spare time, has taken car mechanic courses. Hmmm. I opted instead to look under the bonnet, juggle some leads, dry out anywhere that looked wet with a tissue, then try again. It still sounded ropey. Eventually I opted to call the AA.
After an hour's wait in which Wren, quite sympathetically, declared "I'm bored", the AA man arrived. He looked under the bonnet, dried out some leads, gave everything a good squirt of, you've guessed it, WD40. Then he kindly offered to follow us back to Wren's house in case anything went wrong again.
It all seemed ok when I was going at 40 mph but whenever we reached a junction the car began to bunny hop and goosestep along like Herbie going bananas. When I explained this to the AA man he declared that it might not be advisable to drive back to Cardiff in such a state and that he would get me relayed home. All I had to do was ring the AA 30 minutes before I wanted to leave. A bit embarrassing but somehow it seemed the only option.
At 7.30 I was on the phone to them. "Yes, we have a message from our man. We'll pick you up any time between now and 10." When I told her I had been advised it would take about half an hour she chuckled and didn't reply. Apparently the rain had brought Britain to a standstill again, causing a number of RTA's on west Country roads.
Wren and I bided our time and I must admit I failed miserably to hide my frustration, nipping out for a fag to prevent me cursing in her presence. On returning the call finally came through. "Has anyone turned up yet?" inquired the AA operator.
"Not yet."
"Ok we'll make a call."
Seconds later I was told a flatbed truck was waiting by the car.
Saying goodbye to Wren, from that moment on everything went as smoothly as was possible and I arrived at my door at 11.30.
"Just be careful when you drive the car off the flatbed," the guy said.
I reversed out slowly and then drove the car into a parking space opposite the house. Boo now sounded like a million dollars, on account of the fact it had stopped raining four hours earlier and had turned into a rather pleasant evening.
I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out some keys... Wren's keys. Oh my god, she only has one set. I must have pocketed them when I went out for a cigarette. Nightmare.
I asked the driver if he was heading back to Bristol. "No, mate, Weston-super-Mare," he informed me. B*ll*cks. I tried to ring Wren but she had gone to bed and switched her phone off because she was up at 5.15 the next morning to do the early shift on the Bristol Evening Post. She would be highly stressed in the morning once she discovered I had her keys. What to do?
Only one option for a true Brit in times of strife - I would go indoors, charge my phone and make a cup of tea. Then I would be in a calmer mood to tackle the problem of Wren's keys.
I waved off the guy with the truck and he hot-footed it back to the motorway and Weston. Then I started to search for my own keys. As usual, I had about eight pockets to search, each bursting with the normal array of chewing gums, loose change, wallet, bits of miscellaneous paper, umpteen packs of cigarette papers, a pouch of tobacco and the odd scrunched-up tissue.
No luck.
I tried again. In reverse order. Each time I thought I had found them. Each time it was Wren's keys or my car keys.
After a third aborted mission I decided to empty the entire contents of my pockets on the ground. Zilch, nada, no keys. F**k.
Then came the cursing - all aimed directly at myself. "You stupid b**tard why don't you ever learn? Why don't you ever put these things somewhere safe like normal people do? Now what are you gonna do, eh?"
For some reason my brain answered "Kick the wall" and in my confused state I tried it a couple of times until the pain brought me back to my senses. "Think, think, think," I told myself. "You're a problem solver, that's what you do, what are you going to do now?"
Eventually I called the AA. They called the company that had relayed me home. They called their driver. My phone, meanwhile, was in the red zone, about to cut out any minute. And I had no way of charging it. I needed my keys for that. Isn't it always the way?
Finally the woman from the relay company spoke. "It's ok, sir, we have found your keys on the flatbed. You must have dropped them. We are now going to take them back to Bristol."
On the flatbed? They could have blown away at any time!
"Well, that's no good unfortunately, because I am in Cardiff and need them here."
"There's nothing we can do about it."
"But where will you drop them in Bristol? I'm not there!" I began to rant.
Cool down, or she'll ring off, my brain reminded me.
Then a brainwave.
"My car seems to be working now. Could your driver stop somewhere on the motorway and I'll drive down there and pick them up?"
"Let me see..." On hold again, forever. I could almost hear my phone ticking off the seconds before death.
Finally... "The driver has stopped near junction 29 of the M4. He will wait for you on the hard shoulder." Yippee!
Boo, of course, now decides to handle like a dream, tearing down the motorway at, umm, 70mph with a screaming banshee behind the wheel. "Yes, yes, yes! There it is!"
I pull in behind the flatbed and the driver gives me a knowing smirk. "Sorry mate, it's not been a good day," is all I can think of to say.
I get home and let myself in, then make straight for the kettle. Now, what to do about Wren's keys? I ring the local taxi firm. "Sure, we can deliver them. We'll pop them through the letter box overnight. It'll cost your £70." By then I am passed caring. I wouldn't sleep anyway, knowing that Wren would wake up sans keys. "Oh, go on then," I agree.
The story isn't quite over. The driver arrives and it's good to see he has Sat Nav. The only problem is I can't quite remember the address. I know it's 66, and I think it is Hampton Road, Redland. We follow the route on the Sat Nav. It seems about right but just to make sure I ask him: "Can you ring me and describe the house when you get there?"
Forty minutes later comes the call. "I'm outside the house. It's right opposite a petrol station."
"No it isn't," I deflate his bubble of confidence. "There is no petrol station. Perhaps it's Hampton Park then. Is there one of those nearby?"
There is, thankfully. Just around the corner. His description fits perfectly.
"Job done," he says.
I bang my head against the wall with relief.
Wren rings next morning to confirm she has her keys. "You know, I could have driven over after work to pick them up," she says.
Oh, yeah, so you could.
"Doh!" as Homer Simpson would say.

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