The daily commute is an unreliable beast.
During the school holidays it is a joy to hop into my little A3 and pootle to work, listening to David Suchet reading Murder on the Orient Express to me with that delicately precice French Belgian accent, along with a range of others, some of which are so convincingly female it’s easy to lose myself in the snow-bound coaches. It’s equally wonderful to be able to hop on my bike and coast along the clear streets, breathing the clean air, listening to Simon and Garfunkel singing in my head.
During term time the situation can change dramatically and I thought I would share my last two days with you.
On Monday I bundled the boys into the A3, my whole body tense as I turned the key (she’s not been starting well recently; taking longer and longer to kick in, now requiring a little pump of the accelerator before the engine catches). I hugged them at the school gate as I sent them in for breakfast club and hurried back to the car. 7:45.
At the halfway point of my five mile journey I had an eta of around 8:30. 45 minutes for 5 miles; not bad. Shortly after this I stalled in slow traffic. Not a problem; I just needed to start the car again and catch up with the car in front. It wouldn’t have been a problem if the car had started… I turned the key a couple of times. listening to the fruitless “click” of the starter motor doing nothing before I got to the stage where I just needed to move my car out of the way of the traffic building up behind me. A lovely chap heading in the other direction hopped out of his car to give me a shove so I could get out of the way and the traffic could flow again. A call to my breakdown service revealed two things. One, I still haven’t told them that I moved house two years ago; two, that it would be over an hour until anyone could get out to me.
I settled down to wait and pulled out my diary to catch up on the last few days. After around half an hour there was a tap at the window. The gentleman at the house I had pulled up outside was wondering if I was OK. On hearing I was waiting to be rescued (I feel like such a Disney Princess) he offered me the use of his bathroom and a cup of tea. I was deeply touched but politely declined. A few minutes later there was another tap on the window, this time a familiar face. One of my colleagues, who works part time, had thought the car she had nearly sideswiped had looked familiar so pulled in and called into work to ask if I was there. She was told I had broken down so she came over to check on me and offer me a lift in. With the breakdown truck less than half an hour away I declined the lift but by now I was very cold so I waved her off and nipped into the house next to me for a nice, hot cup of tea.
The breakdown man came (so many of the people I come across in my day-to-day life are lovely, helpful and friendly), tested my battery, which he said looked like the original in my ten year old car and, after discussing my options with me, replaced the battery with a shiny new one. So now Chloe the A3 purrs like a kitten when I turn her key and one little corner of my mind has a fleecy blanket of peace wrapped around it.
The journey home was pretty nasty too, traffic-wise, but no mechanical or electrical failures. I was five minutes late picking up my boys.
On Tuesday, with a little encouragement from R, I squeezed into my Lycra and rescued my carbon racer, Sally, from the shed. Bless her, she must have missed me! Luckily all of her lights still had charge in them. I always feel better about myself as a mother when my boys power themselves to school; it’s not far, only half a kilometer, but if I’m driving myself into work afterwards it is so much quicker to take the car round to the school and head off straight from there.
Riding past all the traffic on the way in I could only think to myself how glad I was that I had chosen my bike. My local traffic jam was longer than usual but that paled in comparison to a later queue which was around three times its usual size! I would have been lucky to have been in on time in my car. 25 minutes for 5 miles; not bad, but I’m faster on the way home, when the hills are in my favour.
The new changing room at work was crowded with two of us in there (more so this morning with three) and the new showers ran for barely lukewarm to bitterly cold in less than five minutes, making me shriek and leap out of the stream of water and leaving me shivering, wearing only a thin layer of shower gel, for ten minutes waiting for it to warm up again before I had to just grit my teeth and rinse off. I treated myself to a cookie to celebrate the achievement of having got back on my bike. Then another, but we’ll gloss over that one.
The ride home was uneventful. I was aware of levels of traffic similar to Monday and most days last week, when I ran late for the end of after school club, but I made my way past them to arrive at the school with minutes to spare.
I seem to be no more tired having ridden than I am when I drive, although I am missing David Suchet. Having ridden in again this morning I found it was quite painful sitting on my saddle again, which is a little embarrassing as it is evidence of how little I have ridden recently. As I sit here at lunchtime, I know I will need to rush at the end of the day to get all my stuff in order and get out of the office; I know I will have to push on the way home to make it there in time but I will be much less affected by how many other drivers happen to be on the same road at the same time as I am. My destiny is in my own hands and I have the reassurance that whether I succeed or fail in my time keeping is down to how hard I try.