On a slippery slope…

Not one of mine, sadly

This week we’ve had some weather. Cold weather, to be precise. Nothing major, no severe frosts or anything but cold enough to have ice on the road. And no gritting. So every day when it hasn’t thawed, the ice has got steadily thicker in certain places down the lane. In particular, by Echo Rock [I know why it’s called that now] where our single track lane curves and inclines, there’s sheet ice for about 12 – 15 feet.

Now, I like to think that I’m developing a bit of expertise driving down our lane, even when it’s icy – as long as it’s not actually turned into a glacier. I know how to slide, how not to hit the brakes, how to take a run up without being suicidally fast. So this week has been okay because the road has mostly been dry, and me and my dirty car have bowled along happily, if cautiously.

Yesterday, on my way into work, I came across a lady with 2 very small kids in the back of her small silver car. Unfortunately, the car was sitting across the road at Echo Rock – at right angles to it – and kind of wedged across the lane….that’s what happens when you start sliding down the hill and jam your brakes on really hard, instead of calmly gliding down what is only a very little slope…

I parked a few yards away and walked up to the vehicle. Even with my fleece on, the lady driver knew I was a nurse – I could have been the AA from the rapturous reception I got, she knew I was all she was going to get and she was determined that I was going to get her out of this mess.

The 2 toddlers in the back were not happy…snotty, frightened and unsure…The second that grandma got out the car, they started bawling…

“There’s no signal!” she said, in shocked tones, as if her right to mobile phone coverage was inalienable, and waved her useless phone at me.
“I know – I live here” gesturing vaguely to the Tarn, hoping madly she wasn’t going to suggest that she used the phone at the house or needed a bathroom and drinks for the kids…

“Where are you going?” I asked. It was a stupid question – she clearly wasn’t going anywhere but I hoped that maybe she was local and she had someone nearby who’d come and sort her out and I’d do a 20-point turn and go back the other way….

“Just out for a drive with my grandkids…their mum’s poorly and wanted them out for a bit”. By this time the valley was echoing ironically with the sound of their wailing. I could understand a poorly mum’s desire to be rid of the little darlings for a few hours.

“You’ll have to move it for me,” she said.
I took a step back.
On the spur of the moment, I could only manage the very lame “I’m not insured for your car.” I’m a responsible citizen, for heaven’s sake. I don’t jump willy nilly into other people’s cars! Especially with 2 very upset toddlers in them…

She wasn’t taking no for an answer and thrust the keys into my hand. “You know how to do it,” she said ” You’re a nurse.” “And you live here!” Top trumps, obviously. I knew I should have kept my mouth shut and pretended I didn’t speak English.

“Maybe take the children out?” I suggested. “Just in case?”
She snorted derisively and moved to stand on the verge. The Tarn was looking lovely – and still deserted. I was going to have to do it.

I moved my car back another 20 yards, resisting the temptation to turn around and just drive…

In the interests of a clear conscience and actually getting to work that day, I got tentatively into the other car. The volume of the crying trebled and I realised that someone needed their nappy changing. Not me. It wasn’t me crying either. Yet.

The lady herself must have been 5’3″. I’m 5’10”.
I struggled manfully with my knees smashed against the steering wheel and tried to get the seat back.
“Oh, that doesn’t work!” she said, cheerfully “You’ll just have to do it as best you can”.

I was getting a bit sick of hearing “You’ll have to do….”.

By now, the smell was getting very strong and 1 of the children started coughing…I tried to turn to offer a soothing smile but my movement stalled when I spotted a giant green snot bubble coming out of a toddler nostril…it was growing like ectoplasm…and was altogether too close to the back of my head.

I managed to glide the car round the bend and down the hill and was about to get out…”You’ll have to turn it round and drive it back up that hill!” she ordered. Definitely sick of “You’ll have to..” now. But she was actually right – there was no way she was going to get round the rest of the lane or down the Big Hill…The sobbing and coughing in the back had not subsided and I started to wonder if one of them was going to be sick when he coughed. Lisa used to do that. I’ve been known to do it myself. I knew I mustn’t visualise the snot monster or I was doomed…

“Shall I give him a drink?” I asked.
She gave me a look that suggested that she wouldn’t be totally broken-hearted if she never saw their dehydrated bodies again. I was feeling a little bit that way myself and then felt instantly regretful. They were only little, it wasn’t their fault they were revolting.

Engine on and I managed to get it up the hill and round the corner to the car park. It had the pulling power of a small lawn mower. I wondered briefly how she was going to get them home – they were still crying and I felt sorry for them – but I was already late and had discovered a miraculous new vocation… She saw me looking at them and rummaged on the floor in the back and inserted a dummy into each mouth. Magic. Silence. It crossed my mind that she was at least 10 minutes too late with this emergency procedure – but manage to stop the sarcasm.

But I couldn’t stop myself asking why she was up here – it’s a bit out of the way, after all…
“Thought they’d like the view,” she said.
Not for the first time in our short encounter, I found myself staring in disbelief. I didn’t know what to say – the eldest couldn’t have been much more than 18 months old.
I nodded very slightly like one of the posh ladies in Downton Abbey, “Yes, it’s lovely isn’t it.” I’m so polite sometimes but in my head, I was wondering what kind of views they’d be needing for their amusement by next year – the Millau Viaduct, perhaps? In my head, my voice sounded like Basil Fawlty.

I got into my car, leant back against the seat, wondering what the hell just happened – and felt something on the back of my fleece. It had just been washed and dried, clean on that day. I realised that it was a boiled sweet which had been in someone’s mouth long enough to be seriously sticky. Deep, deep joy. Better than ectoplasm, though…

I originally posted this on 10th Jan 2018 – we’d only been here 2 months. Big learning curve that winter. (I’ve edited it a little).

Published by Sue Lee

The challenges of living off grid at the top of The Big Hill at Blea Tarn in the Langdale valley with a few furries & my other half, Mr Pat.

One thought on “On a slippery slope…

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