Rescued on a wipe clean couch

I see this sign quite a bit at the moment on the M25. Free recovery… Await rescue. Kind of appealing in a non motorway setting… some might say a little romantic.

Be careful what you wish for

Be careful what you wish for

But if you’re unfortunate enough to be sitting in your chariot broken down on the M25 and feeling grateful for the prospect of a free rescue… you may want to think again.

Sitting in your car stranded in the road works is very unpleasant and you’d think I’d be grateful for a free rescue but as a guy, being rescued is emotionally a little uncomfortable…

…in “normal” life when things go wrong you tend to get some sympathy – warm looks and maybe a hug. But that doesn’t happen when you’ve inconvenienced a fellow motorway traveller by adding a 15 minute delay to his journey.

So I’m sitting there apologising to everyone that chooses to look, with their hate filled eyes, into my car as they pass me by. I’m mumbling expletives to myself as I patiently wait to be rescued. Eventually my knight in shining armour arrives… not on his trusty steed, he’s riding an over-sized tow truck, the kind of truck that tows other trucks. And my knight… he’s not wearing his traditional shiny armour his chosen protection is a thick layer of body fat squeezed into a grubby boiler suit which has been fully waterproofed by layers of grease.

“I bet you’re glad to see me” says Stevo. He quickly hooks up my ride to the Beast (the tow truck) – his words not mine – he gives me a wink and gestures me towards the front of the truck. I look back at my baby, she is now attached to the Beast’s giant hook. It looks as though she’s about to be dragged back to its  cave where she’ll be violated by a selection of greasy attachments belonging to Beast… not a romantic scene. And me… well Stevo tells me I’ll be riding up top! As I climb into the cab I could feel a wave of sympathy from other road warriors… yes death was the punishment they had wished for but this scene, and what might ensue, looked a little too harsh… after all it could be one of them next time.

Up top in the cab, it looks, feels and smells more like a beasts mouth. I’m sitting on what appears to be a couch upholstered in “wipe clean” black plastic…  a very convenient surface Stevo told me later. At this point I felt the need to remind myself that I too am a man… but did that actually matter to Stevo.

Fortunately there’s not much chat up top – not much anything infact – we just listen to Rod Stewart banging out “The first cut is the deepest” and “If loving you is wrong I don’t want to be right”. Stevo’s about the same age as me but that’s where the common ground ends. Clearly we went down different paths at a very early age. Stevo’s path was more a trip around the block than a journey, stopping off at the corner shop to get fags, picking up his wife Kaz at the pub and buying a scratchcard as an investment for his future. Whereas mine has been a path and journey that has taken me to the great unknown, a place where anything is possible and where dreams are made real… ironically the M25 has now reunited me with Stevo; we’re the same age and in the same place but I’m the one broken down.

Thankfully a motorway rescue is short affair… we pull into the next motorway service station, Stevo looks at me “there you go that wasn’t too painful was it” he jumps out the cab and lights up a fag. I gingerly climb out of the Beasts mouth and Stevo gives me a wink… really was that necessary? “Let’s get your girl off the Beast’s hook”.  I walk around the front of the Beast trying not to make eye contact with its headlights. The beast was huge and grubby… I’m sure it was smiling. We gently lowered my baby off the hook, which was now curiously very hot, and released her from the Beasts grip. It may have only been a 3 minute ride but she didn’t look the same girl. I got this feeling that she rather enjoyed being on the back of the Beast, bumping and vibrating along on his giant hook … would she ever be able to respond to me in the same way. Thankfully my own experience with Stevo was a little less traumatic… and maybe we’re a little more alike than I first thought, after all, I spend much of my time going around the “M25” block. Maybe I should invest in a scratchcard and some wipe clean material for life’s spillages.

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Masculinity… the optional extra for BMW drivers

Increasingly in life what used to come as standard is now an optional extra… I’m not against this as I don’t like to pay for things that I don’t need or use. But some things are essential. As a man, for example, I want to feel masculine and just like any other guy I want that feeling as standard and not as an option. But my masculinity was recently challenged and maybe eroded slightly… forever.

Before I share, I need to give you a bit of background. We all know that car makers are well known for the optional extra and BMW, the maker of my particular chariot and the source of this story, has a history of making you pay extra for just about everything. I’ve never owned a BMW before and up until recently I was very happy with it – I think a car says something about its owner, a BM; sporty, well engineered, stylish… yeah… that’s me… arrogant… no.

Anyway me and my ego have enjoyed the car… but I recently had a puncture. No big deal I thought. I opened the boot, lifted up the carpet and looked down into the ample space that housed the spare wheel. But where was it; had they forgot to put it in… no, not the Germans… there sitting in its place was a little white box and a mini compressor – the emergency tyre repair kit. I can hear all you BM drivers shouting at me now telling me I don’t need a spare wheel, the emergency repair kit is all I need. Well, we may have swallowed the sales spiel in the showroom… I remember the salesman massaging my ego, spewing the features and benefits and telling me how well engineered the car was and what an inspired choice I was making… but when you’re standing there having been stroked for an hour, with a semi-erection, no man is equipped to make a decision about anything… at that point it’s all about the grunt and performance. So even when he’s telling me about the emergency repair kit we believe him, we believe there is no room or point for the added weight of a spare… after all why would you want to compromise on performance.

Well I’ll tell you why the spare is an essential and not and optional extra.

My puncture… It was dark, cold and wet. I was returning to my car in a Morrisions car park. And it was when I open the boot that I noticed my tyre was flat. Other than the inconvenience of a puncture, a wheel change is a standard piece of maintenance which is performed by the machismo side of my person… a challenge that reminds me of what it feels like to be a man. In control; I know what to do. Strong; lift out the spare. Technical; expertly jack up the car, remove the bolts and replace the wheel… job done. Oh yes, this is a blue job, one of the few opportunities that a man can and is expected to exercise his masculinity. But on this occasion I had been robbed of doing my duty and being a man… with the emergency repair kit things don’t quite run the same way.

It’s dark… I take the little repair kit out the boot and attempt to read the instructions… mmm, without the aid of my “middle-aged” reading glasses and in the dark this was a bit tricky. Then the first of the Morrison shoppers walks by, not marvelling at my manliness but wondering if I needed a hand reading the little label… I’m now feeling like an old woman. After managing to read some of the instructions I hook up the compressor to the cigarette lighter and the special gunk container to the deflated wheel. I was hoping not to draw the attention of anymore shoppers but then I turned on the compressor. Oh dear… the noise… it was like a beacon, I got the attention of everyone and was now beginning to draw a small crowd… the women in the crowd looked on with an ahhhh face “I wonder if he’s alright” and the men looked on with a “you tosser what’s the matter with you… can’t you change a wheel”. The little compressor didn’t have much puff and took a while to re-inflate the wheel. As the wheel inflated my ego was deflated. I felt a total “man failure” yes the repair kit worked but BMW had failed.

BMW promised that the car would say everything that anyone would need to know about me – well engineered, sporty, sexy, and technically brilliant. But when they took away the spare wheel they robbed me of my birth right… the opportunity to be a man… yes I was a still reflection of the car… but not the man I thought I was… I was now Gary, the middle-aged effeminate hairdresser who was fighting a losing battle with old age and refusing to except that he needed to wear glasses.

Crossing an ocean

FRINTON-ON-SEA, Essex – 19th August 2012 (click to enlarge)

That’s a great quote and it’s one I try to remind myself of when I have a decision to take or, more frequently for me these days, when things take an unexpected turn.

And if you’re thinking about crossing an ocean, remember that as you get older your past has a habit of turning around and looking back at you…  so be sure to leave nothing important behind.

Frilly knickers at the Autotoll

I’ve been commuting on the M25 for over 6 years and just like in life I’ve grown accustom to being told what I can and can’t do and recently a new instruction has appeared at the Dartford Crossing toll booth… is this sign for real. Exactly what is the speed limit through the toll booth?

My Health & Safety advisor might be doing cartwheels wondering how I managed to take the picture – I say cartwheels but I’d expect that would require a full risk assessment – so probably a forward roll. But worry not my health and safety guardians my car was stationary as it usually is at this part of my journey. I think the fastest speed I’ve managed through the toll is about 5 miles per hour and that can only be achieved by timing my approach correctly and a perfect presentation of my DartTag to the little camera attached to the booth – such a precise hand movement requires years of practice, over 2000 trips in my case… living the dream!!!

Crawling up to the toll reminded me of one of the worst experiences of my life… so what happens when you arrive at the toll with no credit or no exact change. That’s happened to me just the once, but I’ve been behind a few of the unlucky to be in this position. A warning to those to whom it has never happened – never ever and i mean ever put yourself in this position. In my case the situation began with the realisation that for some inexplicable reason I had taken my Dart-Tag out of the car the night before. I had no change or any cash and i was about 6th from the front of the Autotoll with no possibility of choreographing a move across to a manned toll booth. Realising my plight i began to feel panic beginning to spread through my entire body.

As I made my final approach panic turned into fear then to shame. The same shameful feeling you experienced when your dad walked into your bedroom and caught you pleasuring yourself whilst wearing a pair of your big sisters frillys. “Your tea’s ready son… I’ll get your mum to keep yours warm in the oven”. I’m speaking metaphorically of course. Anyway, you all know that feeling and for some of you it was probably much worse – one of those things that is never spoken about but never forgotten… feel free to tell us about your own experience.

Having no way to pay the toll is much worse however, because you have a bigger less forgiving audience, You can feel the hate and disgust coming from the queue that is beginning to form behind you… and you can feel the word tosser being burned on to the back of your head. So what next… nothing you just sit there waiting to be rescued by a Crossing Officer as your fellow road warriors’ rage turns into pure hate as they begin wishing for your premature death. Maybe it would be better if i got out of the car – never get out of the car – yes i felt like the tosser I had been branded whilst sitting in the car but once outside as i looked back at the queue i was now new feeling like some kind of kiddy fiddler with the crowd baying for blood and some taking potshots at me with their car horns.

At last i could see my knight in high vis armour walking towards my stranded vehicle … walking very slowly. God he looked smug… this is his reward, his moment, his bankers bonus that made up for what i guess is a pittance of a salary… though I’m guessing he got other perks, free crossings between Kent and Essex… nice. As he approached he looked into my vehicle… my BMW felt more like one of those police vans carrying the guilty to court for sentencing… i looked over at my McDonalds takeaway bag and wondered whether i could get it over my head in order to complete the pathetic picture. The Crossing Officer – is that really his job title – then looked at the baying crowd and gave them the ‘yes he’s wearing his big sisters frillies’ look.

After that it was got easier. The officer didn’t prolong my agony, he knew I had suffered and knew that if there was a next time I’d probably stop at the top of the bridge and throw myself off, his job was done. He gave me my ticket which required me to hand in the next time I crossed and pay the fee plus an extra quid.

The barrier went up and i was free. I accelerated hard; the last thing i wanted was to see any of the drivers who I’d held up. I was racing away… was that a flash as i passed another temporary sign reminding me that the traffic cameras are now working.