Friday, September 28, 2007

Mighty Monty is Down

We knew it had to happen one day, but never this soon. The day had started badly, a drizzly sort of day, greyness and cold everywhere. To make matters worse, London transport was yet again against me, trains were cancelled, trains were overflowing with people, the human drones bent on one thing only: to get to their destination at any cost. I was one of them. In the madness of rush hour, a distress called reach me: Shahin and Monty were in big trouble.

Monty, our faithful Rover Metro, has been with us for just under six months, and in this period, it has been the definition of reliability itself. Its name comes from the licence plate - who needs vanity plates when sheer randomness is trying to tell you something? - and it's character is as English as the brand: not particularly pretty but very functional and reliable. Never once did it broke down, never once did it chug - a real trooper, always ready for the next long haul trip. When we came back from Africa, Monty took us from London to Southampton and back several times a week. It took us from Hertfordshire to London almost weekly. And he took Shahin to work and back everyday. Ah, but not Friday.

Shahin was driving Monty along on the motorway as usual, seventy, more, miles per hour, when Monty started to loose speed and make noises of all sorts; suddenly from the fast lane she had to move to the middle lane; soon after, from the middle lane down to the slow lane; and from the slow lane, having nowhere else to go, she had to get out of the motorway. She remembered the wise words of Jay to our friend Stacey, also involved in an unfortunate breakdown: "Whatever you do, get the hell out of the motorway!!!". The lights were flashing, smoke was coming out of the engine, Stacey was scared, but she managed to impose her will on the unruly metal. And so did Shahin, Inspired by Stacey's brave behaviour in combat, and by the heavy cost of towing cars off the motorway.

Since, unwisely, we didn't have any coverage of any kind - we were going to do it, I swear! just never had the time! - we had no option but tow the car ourselves. Shahin first tried it with her sister and the brother-in-law, but their car didn't have the required apparatus. Then she rung Stacey for help, and her boyfriend Jay agreed to come to the rescue later on at night.

Night came and we all met down at Stacey's house for the operation. In our innocence, we were entirely unconcerned - how difficult can it be right? Then Shahin had a warning call from her brother, telling her how hard towing would be, had we done it before and so on. Even then I still remained unconcerned. It was only when we got to Monty and Jay started giving us instructions, in that mellow but grave voice of his: "whatever you do, make sure you keep the rope taut or you'll end up running into the back of the van. And remember, I won't break so you have to break for me. If I break you won't have enough time to react and crash into me.". OK then, I thought, other than the fact that were going to die, it's a dead easy job.

Taut was a word I learned then, but which will undoubtedly stay with me forever. The cars got hooked up just outside of Welwyn, our target being Arlesey - twenty minutes of straight driving at a good speed. Miles away. And that's when it dawned on me how hard this was going to be. Shahin was driving - I was nowhere near brave enough.

We drove in the dark, cold English countryside lanes, barely able to see anything but the white van one meter in front of us and it's flashing lights. I thought ten miles or so per-hour was going to be our top speed, but the speedometer just wouldn't obey and kept on going higher and higher until it settled at thirty or so. It felt like the fastest ride we've had ever had. Trees were rushing by us, darkness was rushing fast. Like good soldiers, we focused on the rope and kept it tight as possible, as tight as it had ever been before. But to keep it tight, we had to break often; and knowing the precise amount of breakage required is nigh impossible. Every time Shahin pressed the breaks, time froze for a split of a second; then the van would yank us, making us bounce like a ball. We would then do the same to the van, pulling it backwards, until the whole process would settle and we'd be on a straight line again. Perfectly within the laws of physics, but extremely scary nonetheless.

We stared intensely at the rope, to the exclusion of everything else. Not much we could see anyway. But then, breaking took its toll and a break pad died with an awful grinding noise - hell itself and its horsemen coming after us. We panicked with the noise, but kept on going straight on. The worse was still to come. As we past one strangely named locality after another, we suddenly noticed we weren't going the right way. It could be that Jay new a shortcut, or even a long cut, anything but just get us there. But no, we were really, truly lost. All cars stopped, maps were taken out. We had crossed the county border, and were now in the strange land of Bedfordshire - effectively, off the map. On the good side, it appeared we were not that far away.

Eventually we settled on a plan of attack; but then, as we started the cars and went past a hump, the rope snapped. Jay kept on going, but we got left behind. I thought it was the end of our adventure, somewhere in the barren lands of Bedfordshire, all was lost and we'd have to call some towing company. But resourceful Jay got rid of the metal bits, tied a simple knot and we were on our way again. All the excitement was a bit too much for Shahin, she was getting really scared by this point, but kept on going. There was nothing we could do but keep on going till the end.

It's a strange feeling, being behind a car, two meters or less, at thirty miles per hour; your brain is fully aware that any breaking, any breaking at all and you will crash. It's a simple equation really.

Sometime later we found ourselves driving in town center Arlesey, past all the pubs, past all the shops, excitedly looking for the garage. Shahin spotted it, screamig. We had made it alive. But we learned our lesson. Next time, we'll pay the hundred pounds for towing gladly - and probably even add a tenner to the chap.

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