Wednesday, 2 December 2020

The Best Laid Plans

by Jane Andrews

gin and tonic 

I suppose there must be some people who have Christmas bagged up and bowed by the end of November, but I’m not one of them.
It was now the 20th of December, and I still hadn’t bought the turkey or the gammon, let alone parsnips and Brussels sprouts. Thank the Good Lord Ben was making the stuffing. Jamie Oliver’s by all accounts. He’d made it last year and it was delicious.

I really could’ve done without the mad dash to Tracy’s that morning, but, if I didn’t go then we wouldn’t see each other before Christmas. 
She was working from home that day, so I had elected to drive the 30 minutes to her house. We could swop our respective gifts and have a last girlie catchup before the festivities began, when we’d both be embroiled with our families till new year.

The day dawned dreary. It had been raining throughout the night, and now the sky looked heavy and grey. I soooo nearly didn’t go, there were so many other things I should’ve been doing, but, no.... it wouldn’t take long, and I knew seeing Tracy for a cuppa would set me up, before launching into full blown Yuletide meltdown.

The journey started ok, even though I had to squint a bit, as the wipers struggled to keep the windscreen clear. Mud and water splashed everywhere every time another car passed by, and I made a mental note to visit the Polish guys to get the car cleaned. I would be picking Graham up from Gatwick on the Saturday, and one didn’t really want to be collecting the ex-husband in a dirty car, did one. 

My car was a Mondeo TitaniumX estate, that I’d had since Graham and I had divorced, just before Christmas five years earlier. I had acquired it in such an unusual way, at such a dark season in my life, that I’d always seen it as a Christmas gift from God. I was grateful every time I got into it, and I thanked Him for it regularly. 

All my friends had laughed when I had told them what our Christmas was going to look like this year. Michael and Bridget had flown over from the States at the end of November, looking forward to spending a whole month this side of the pond, and I had looked forward to it, too. Bridget is American, and after meeting each other in Northern California, she and Michael had married there in 2018. 
Face Time and Skype are all very well, and, seriously, I thank God for them, but there’s no substitute for a real hug, and I hadn’t had one of those for over a year.
Graham was able to fly over from the Ukraine on the 21st, leaving his girlfriend behind, as, apparently Ukrainians don’t celebrate Christmas till the 7th of January, and we didn’t really want her there anyway.
Then Ben and Becca would be arriving on Christmas Eve, with Maia and Finley, the grandchildren.
I live in a small mid-terrace, ex-council house, and, although it’s 3 bed, the third bedroom is little more than a large cupboard. Sleeping arrangements were going to have to be creative.

These were just some of the things that rolled through my thoughts as I ploughed through the mirk of that mucky morning. Water was running off the roads in rivers. There had even been a couple of places en route where the water was right across both sides of the road, but I was confident about driving through floods, especially in the Mondeo... slow down, you don’t want to cause a bow wave... make sure you put the car in a low gear, and keep the revs up... simples. I felt quite proud of myself, actually, that I hadn’t been phased by the water at all.
I was about five minutes from Tracy’s and, look! There was another bit of flooded road to drive through...

I barely noticed the two cars parked at the side of the road, either side of the expanse of water. 
Slow down.... lower the gear.... keep the revs up...
As I edged forward I realised, too late, that the road under the water wasn’t flat, and I was driving into a dip. 
There was no way I could stop and back up..... I was committed.... I had to keep going...

Icy fear sunk its ghastly talons into my chest, as I heard a spluttering gurgling sound come from underneath the car. 
Everything in me froze!... No!... Please, no!.... God, help me!... Please, not this!.... Noooo! 
And with a final phut, my lovely car drowned. I felt sick.

I became aware of a bloke in a car facing me, at the edge of the water, 
shouting through the rain, for me to ‘Turn the engine over, Luv!’
‘What?!’
‘Turn the engine over! See if you can get it started again!’
I looked at him blankly. I’d heard the engine die. All the electrics were out. I knew it wasn’t going to start.
Then he shouted, ‘Is it a diesel?’
I nodded bleakly.
He winced and shook his head. It was definitely terminal!
Suddenly all the implications of what this meant raced through my mind at a hundred miles an hour...
What about the shopping?... What about picking Graham up?... What about.... What about.... Christmas??
Phone the garage... see if they can advise me... phone Michael... let him know what’s happened... ring Tracy... she’d be wondering where I was.... I grabbed for my phone.... no signal! No... this can’t be... no signal??

Oh, how we take today’s technological advances for granted... until they fail us.

As I opened the drivers door and looked at the soupy water, level with the door sill, I realised I was saying quietly to myself, over and over, ‘I don’t know what to do! I don’t know what to do!’
I stood on the narrow sill, in the pouring rain, looking first at the water below me, then across to the edge where it met the road, some four or so metres away. How would I get to dry land? God, help me!

It was then I noticed an angel in waders and waterproofs coming towards me, carrying a rake.
‘Are you alright?’ she said.
‘Is this a dead spot for phone signals?’ I asked her, ignoring her question.
‘I’m afraid so,’ she answered, ‘you’re welcome to use the landline at my house if you want to.’
‘How do I get there?’ I said, and at that point a pent up avalanche of grief and hopelessness overwhelmed me, and I burst into tears, blubbing, ‘This has just screwed my Christmas!’.

Looking back on that morning, I’m still quite shocked at what a wuss I was! I mean, no one had died, no one was injured, but I had felt soooo helpless, and had let fear course through my sensibilities like a virus.
 I should’ve known better, as I’m often heard quoting the phrase ‘Fear is such a life-limiter... it really is False Evidence Appearing Real!’ Which is mostly true, but sometimes, unexpected events in our lives can just knock us sideways. On those occasions, if we don’t grab fear by the throat, and pummel it into submission, the slippery slope of hopelessness can take us straight to the pool of defeat.

Of course drowning my car didn’t screw my Christmas, and after my rubber clad angel, Laura, lent me some voluminous wellies and her landline, I was able to arrange for my deceased beast to be towed away and ultimately buried. 
The shopping and Graham’s airport collection did have to be done in Michael’s grubby little Corsa, and, after Christmas, taking him, Bridget, four large cases, two carryons and a guitar, to Heathrow in it was little short of a tardis-like miracle. But we managed! We adjusted! We thanked God that we had a car at all.
We all crammed ourselves into my tiny house, played lots of games, laughed a lot, probably ate and drank too much, and had a wonderful time together. We celebrated each other, and thanked Jesus for coming. 
It was a great Christmas!

One thing I know for sure though....  if it’s raining next year, just before Christmas, Tracy can come to me!

About the author

Jans describes herself as a 64 year-old  who refuses to act her age, with mad hair and a big grin

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