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The Couple That Breaks Down Together

It is not an exaggeration to say that I am a car widow.  My husband loves cars, all of them.  On our first date he let slip that he could tell the model of a car by the sound of its engine (arguably I should have run then).

The current, and most longstanding, love of his life is his MG Midget.  It’s red.  He bought it shortly after we were married and there she has remained – like Camilla Parker Bowles but a little more dainty.  I’d be lying if I said that it hadn’t been the source of some tension. There is much time spent in the garage, there have been some hefty repair bills and a good deal of time pouring over eBay for the perfect accessories and baubles to demonstrate his devotion.

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Time is precious.  Like any couple with small children, things get tetchy and battle lines are drawn.  There are arguments over the bins (he says he’s the only one to take them out but that’s because he never notices when I do so I stop taking them out and then ………. ad infinitum).  I claim he loves his car more than he loves me, he claims that it’s not true but the car doesn’t whine quite so much (I beg to differ on that).  Although we spend a lot of time together, this tends to consist of eBay at one of the sofa and my blossoming relationship with Paul Hollywood and Dermot O’Leary at the other.

We decided that a little compromise was needed.  He arranged a weekend away involving a night in a lovely hotel followed by the Arden MG Club Heritage drive to Shelsey Walsh Hill Climb.  I offered to arrange a reciprocal weekend of afternoon tea and baking demonstations but he declared I was being churlish.  We used to do this all the time – before we had children.  We had a working knowledge of the best Alastair Sawday had to offer. Sunday mornings were spent in bed listening to The Archers and reading the paper, rather than swimming lessons and washing.

Favourite cousins were drafted in to babysit, overnight bag was packed and off we drove into the sunset.

We arrived at the Wood Norton Hotel, Evesham.  It’s a beautiful building with a sweeping gravel drive.  It had everything I look for in a hotel: elegant yet quirky upholstery and wood panelling as far as the eye can see.  The room itself was glorious.  The bathroom was one of those glass cubes built behind the bed with a shower so unbelievably good that I almost flooded the bathroom.  The high bed required a slight leap to get onto it, and the bedlinen was pure and white and lovely.  I was a 4 year old in a Lego shop, with a copy of The Observer.

My husband was equally thrilled with the Heritage run.  The mass gathering of classic cars is always a fine sight.  That feeling of mutual admiration as men nod appreciatively at each other and ask random questions that I don’t understand.  There was an impressive display of Wicker picnic baskets strapped to the boot.

We set off, more or less in convoy through the Worcestershire countryside, tulip diagram in hand.  The sun was shining, the roof was down and small children waved excitedly as we passed through dainty villages.  I was suddenly reminded that once upon a time I loved this car – its dials, and switches and lovingly crafted labels, as it trundles along just a little too close to the ground.  I also realised I had forgotten that I used to love how much my husband loved this car, and how happy it made him.  We didn’t have The Archers and I’d completely forgotten about the whole hair issue but, apart from that, it was a perfect summer’s day.

Then about 5 miles from our destination, the clutch started to jam.  This was not going to go well.  With some brute force, we managed another couple of miles but then everything gave way.  The clutch, the battery, our dignity all lay broken half way up a particularly troublesome hill.  Luckily, we were not short of flat capped volunteers to push us into a nearby car park.

Now at this point I should mention that the last time we broke down in one of my husband’s “cars” was over 10 years ago in a rally-prepared Hillman Imp that my husband had bought by mistake.  We broke down at 11pm on the M1 in -3 conditions with an expired RAC membership.  We returned home at 4am with mild hypothermia and an even frostier relationship.

However today, it would seem that the sun did shine on the righteous after all.  As luck would have it, we had arrived slap bang in the middle of Stanford on Teme’s village Bake-Off competition; Cake and The Archers would not allude us after all.

We were greeted by a raffish chap in a tweed shirt who owned a battered Triumph TR6.  More Kenton that Matt Crawford, he commiserated enthusiastically.  After phoning the RAC, we were handed 2 glasses of wine by a cheery man who joked about us being here to buy the £10m manor house, currently up for sale.  The baking prizes were announced and someone else promptly gave us more wine and ushered us towards a rather lovely lunch and our choice of cake.  The raffish chap’s 4 year old daughter sat with us with an opening gambit of  “my Daddy said he made the pie but he didn’t, he bought it from the farm shop”.  We were given more wine, politely lost the raffle and had an animated chat with the local landlord about the plight of the British music festival.

Everybody was so friendly and genuinely kind.  I couldn’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon, apart from maybe returning in two weeks for the duck race.  My husband was consumed with a mixture disappointment that we never made it to the hill climb, and suspicion that I’d somehow engineered the whole thing.

And so we returned, to happy exhausted children.  The £4 replacement seal has been ordered and I’ve emptied the bins.

Next year, we’ll make it to the hill – honest.

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