Saturday April 8, 2006
18 days to M-day
I confess my heart sank a little, late on Thursday afternoon, when I saw the van I was to drive down to Somerset.
“Gosh,” I said. “That’s a big one.”
“Don’t worry,” the bloke said. “You’ll find it drives well, and it’ll get you to Somerset and back, no problem.”
Pulling out on to the main road I soon discovered what he meant. The van, a Renault Master with a 3.5 litre diesel engine, might have been big but it drove perfectly, was as responsive as anyone would wish, and went where I wanted it to go at a pace I found comfortable. There’s a mindset that makes for successful driving with a big white van and somewhere along the 1.5 miles of road from Stickney to Stickford I found it, and began to enjoy it.
“Gosh,” said Graham when I pulled onto the drive. “That’s a big one.”
“Ain’t it just. It handles fine, though, and I don’t think we’ll have any trouble with it.”
“Well, there’s one thing for sure. There’s more than enough room for all the patio plants and stuff.”
“Oh, just spread it out, heavy stuff at the front and it’ll be fine.”
By the time all the containers were loaded, along with a small round table, two chairs and several black plastic sacks filled with Graham’s summer cloths, there was very little floor visible in the body of the van and we pronounced it fit for the road.
We’d decided that it wouldn’t be in Dolly’s best interests to undergo the stress of coming with us, enduring something like 14 hours in her travel box for a one-night stay, so she got an excess of cuddles that evening, more the following morning and, when she was left along with a good supply of food and water, she was beaming. Or, at least, as much of a beaming as Dolly ever does. We left the heating on a low setting against the cold weather that was forecast, waved goodbye, and set off early on Friday morning.
It took a little under two hours to reach the M1 motorway and the Leicester Forest East service station we’d designated as our first stop. I was ready for a caffiene blast, and breakfast. Sadly, the pool of grease that covered an unsavoury hot counter completely turned my thoughts from a cooked breakfast. There are good eating places on British motorways, and this one isn’t always so very, very bad, but we’d clearly hit it on a bad grease day. We contented ourselves with a toasted sandwich, washed down with large mugs of very strong coffee.
“Right,” I said. “I’m ready to tackle the rest of the journey now.
Two hours later we took another break, at the Strensham service area on the M5, and then pressed on to Williton where Graham stocked up with provisions to see himself started off for his two week stay, and we pulled up outside the caravan, safe and sound, after a total of five and a half hours of driving, extended to about seven by our breaks. The load had travelled perfectly well and while I was making lunch Graham set all the plants outside the front door, creating an instant garden, and unloaded his plastic sacks into the spare bedroom.
I slept well, and woke this morning bright and early, enjoying a mug of coffee while looking out over the cliffs to the sea. Didn’t hang around, though, wanting to get the return journey done and to get back to Dolly before she had time to think we’d run away and left her. A good farewell hug, and a cheery wave, and off I set, up the steep hill back to the A39 road, and off I went.
The journey went well, and I took two breaks at regulation two-hour intervals. I really don’t much like driving long distances on my own anymore, if I ever did. It’s boring, and physically exhausting. Even so, I kept my speed down to safe levels, plodding along in the slow lane most of the time, listening to classical music on BBC Radio Three. It was a great relief to pull back onto the drive outside the little house by the fens after my long trek. A little over 500 miles on British motorways in the space of two days is rather a burden for me. There was a time when I sailed through it but now I find it about as much as I can handle.
Dolly was fine. She wasn’t even too cross. She’d eaten well, and slept most of the 36 hours asleep, I’d judge. She was pleased to see me, though, and showed it to a gratifying degree.
Clearing my stuff out of the cab and passing a duster over the dash, I set off to return the van, and was very, very pleased that the guy drove me straight back home. At my request he dropped me off at the end of the lane. I really needed to stretch my legs by walking the half mile or so back to the house.
Having phoned Graham to let him know the whole business was done safely, I had a light snack, and sank gratefully under the covers for a long, long siesta.
“It’s been a heavy old trip, Dolly, but I done it. Can’t be that old after all.”
She snorted, snuggled up for a good cuddle, and we were both of us sound asleep before she’d stopped purring.
Now it’s done I will admit that I had been dreading the trip, not at all sure that I’d be able to do it without major strain. I got it done, though, safely, and without damage to my back or legs. I feel good about that. Mission accomplished, as it were.