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The best laid plans of mice and men …

I have been a member of the Automobile Association since 1978 and – as far as I can recall – have had little need to resort to calling upon their assistance. Perhaps half a dozen times in thirty-seven years?

One of the oddities of ‘the system’ is that, from about 1990, I took advantage of the AA family membership that had become became available. As a result, both my kids – born in 1982 and 1983 respectively – received AA membership cards showing that they had ostensibly been AA members as long as I had, i.e. since 1978, de facto some four (and five) years before they were born!

My ancient father loves to rant against officialdom. At the moment he becomes uncommonly exercised when organisations or authorities write to him standard letters – or even worse, those personal-directed to him – which they do not bother to get anyone to sign.

To him, this omission and/or discourtesy is the equivalent of him writing them a cheque in payment of an account and forgetting (or refusing) to sign it – how would they like that?

He reckons to have been an AA member for at least sixty years without ever having to call upon their services. At the point of his most recent membership renewal, he wrote to them requesting that – since he’d managed sixty years as a member without calling them out, could he now have free membership? “Nice try, but a bit cheeky” I thought … but he was much miffed when he received a polite but blunt rejection of his proposal.

Anyway, to the matter at hand.

Yesterday – in advance of a crowded schedule in central London today – it was my lot after lunch to drive my father from the south coast for tea in Wandsworth before going on to spend a night in Notting Hill.

The morning – full of splendid sunshine – was uneventful. I then cooked an early lunch, packed and got ready for our trip up to London, leaving at 2.30pm, anticipating a journey time of two hours maximum.

Just less than an hour later, well on our way up the A3 and about ten miles short of the Hindhead tunnel, my car suddenly began making an horrendous knocking sound right between and underneath the driver’s and front passenger’s seats. When I say ‘horrendous knocking sound’ I mean, really bad, as if the end of the world was nigh.

I pulled off the A3 in the direction of Bordon in Hampshire, desperately trying to find a lay-by … or least somewhere that I could come to a halt safely and off the main road.

This took me about four miles of funereally-slow progress, expecting the wheels to fall off at any minute, if not my father and I (and my car) to burst into a fireball.

I then rang the AA on my mobile.

Establishing my credentials with the use of my AA membership card was easy. Explaining where exactly you have broken down when you have never been to Bordon or White Hill previously and can see no landmarks – well, other than a fish & chips shop opposite that was resolutely closed and to all appearances might have been so for ten years at least, is not easy. I had to go on a walkabout and then ring the AA back again before I could let them know where I was. Using my on-board sat-nav was not possible because that had given up the ghost last week – when I was touring in northern France – during a violent thunderstorm.

Having ground to a halt at approximately 3.20pm yesterday, here was the remainder of my day schedule-wise:


Arrival of the AA man and, within ten minutes, diagnosis that my prop/crank shaft had worn away, causing the loud noise and a major problem., This was not going to be a question of a tow home – this was a full blow, back-of-a-trailer job, to be taken straight to a garage of my choice, with the free use of a hire car for three days chucked in, courtesy of my gold, sooper-dooper AA membership.


Arrival of a brother from south-west London to collect my father from White Hill and take him on his journey to town.


Arrival of contracted-out tow truck to collect my car – and myself – and take both to Twickenham.


Arrival at Twickenham garage.


Car and self both having been left at Twickenham garage, I call a local cab company to come and take me to the place I am being billeted for the night – 3 miles away. “It’ll be at least 45 minutes …” said the car company duty controller.

“Forget it – I’ll get a bus” I responded, even tough this would require a half-mile hike to the nearest bus stop, carrying a large, heavy, hold-all bag all the way.


Arrival at my billet, a very stiff drink and something to eat.



[Thus ended a day where I thought I’d be at tea in Wandsworth by 4.00pm latest and ‘off duty’ by 6.30pm].

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About Gerald Ingolby

Formerly a consumer journalist on radio and television, in 2002 Gerald published a thriller novel featuring a campaigning editor who was wrongly accused and jailed for fraud. He now runs a website devoted to consumer news. More Posts