Moving Day

That went well.

In all of the many times I’ve moved house, I’ve never before seen the removal van stuck on a single track road in the middle of nowhere, with a car wedged sideways across the lane in front of it. In the car was a red-faced young woman in her early twenties, clutching the steering wheel in a death grip and sobbing convulsively.

It had all started so well – and everything would have been fine if it hadn’t been for the diversion …

I was up with the lark this morning and ready for the removal men when they arrived at 6.00am. (That’s ‘ready’ in the sense of upright, conscious and half-decently clothed – for the avoidance of doubt.)

By the time I’d put the kettle on for their first brew-up of the day, they’d already thrown half of the sitting room into the back of the van, and come midday they were grunting down the stairs with the contents of the library – 2,368 books packed neatly into cardboard boxes all thoughtfully labelled: “HEAVY – DANGER OF HERNIAS” (Well, I thought it was funny …)

By early-afternoon we were on our way to the village of Adverse Camber – the removal van going on ahead and Yours Truly bringing up the rear with two insanely barking Jack Russells, an antediluvian tortoise and the box containing the all-important kettle, mugs, tea bags and biscuits.

We knew where we were going. We’d pored over the map together and agreed on the best route to avoid narrow lanes, tractors and random flocks of sheep. What we hadn’t allowed for were the ‘ROAD AHEAD CLOSED’ signs and the big yellow and black diversion arrows pointing off at right angles to the way we wanted to go.

We followed them faithfully up into the hills, along lanes none of us even knew existed let alone had travelled down before until, finally, the signs stopped. That’s not ‘stopped’ as in ‘the diversion ended and we were back on track’ that’s ‘stopped’ as in ‘vanished into thin air’.

Turning around and going back wasn’t an option, so we all got out, spread the map on the bonnet of my car and peered at it, trying to work out which way we’d come and where we’d ended up. We eventually agreed unanimously that we had no idea (a) where we were or (b) how we got there.

Our only option was to carry on the way were going in the hope of either rejoining the main road or coming across someone we could ask for directions.

The road got narrower and narrower and rougher and rougher, and eventually sprouted grass and weeds down the middle – in exactly the way that most roads don’t. A little further on, the hedges started to brush the sides of the van and – worse – began to turn into drystone walls. Finally however, just as all hope seemed to be fading, we crested a hill and saw traffic moving along a road in the distance. Wonderful bright, shiny polluting traffic out in the real world.

Like a horse sensing water in the desert our mini-convoy picked up speed – and that’s when we met the unhappy young woman in her nice, new, little runaround. She was so startled that she almost ran into us, stopping inches from the van’s radiator grill. And then she just sat there, bug-eyed and shaken, waiting for the van driver to make the next move – which of course he couldn’t because he was driving a socking great pantechnicon and, additionally, had me (plus two insanely barking Jack Russells and an antediluvian tortoise) behind him.

He wound down the window and explained the problem to the girl, and as he talked to her, her eyes got bigger and bigger and bigger. Realizing we weren’t going anywhere in a hurry, I got out of my car and wandered down to see if I could be of any help. Well, okay, I actually just wanted a better view of the floor show, but in my own defence, I would have helped if I could have done anything useful, like mopping up blood or applying splints or something.

The driver – Ian – was explaining that he couldn’t reverse, so she was going to have to. She peered down hopelessly at her gear lever as if she’d never seen it before, and then there was a terrible grinding sound, the sort you make when you forget to depress the clutch.

Five minutes of grinding, juddering, revving and bunny-hopping followed, resulting in the car being wedged immovably across the lane. As we all stood there staring at it and wondering what to do next, a large rock fell out of the wall, landed with a sickening ‘THUNK’ on her bonnet and then slithered to the ground, leaving a snail-trail of scratched paintwork behind it.

That’s when she burst into tears.

It took the combined efforts of all four removal men, a tow rope and a car jack to straighten the little car up. The gaffer, George, then gallantly squeezed his enormous frame into it and backed it up to the nearest passing place, which turned out to be the visibility splay outside her house – where her bemused parents were standing, wondering what all the commotion up the lane was. The poor girl had travelled all of 500 yards.

By the time we’d sorted it all out, regained the main road and finally arrived at Adverse Camber the light was going, which wasn’t what I’d planned at all. The Master Plan – neatly written down and itemized in my ‘House Move’ notebook – had me safely tucked up in bed in my new home by nightfall. As it was, I didn’t even have the key.

I’d arranged with the agents that it would be left with a near neighbour who lived in a house called ‘Conifers’. The only flaw with that plan was that I had no idea where ‘Conifers’ was, but fortunately, shortly after we arrived an elderly man materialized out of nowhere to stare at the huge van partially blocking the road.

I smiled winsomely at him.

“Do you know where I can find a house called Conifers?”

“Oh yes. Down the road – white house with a blue gate.”

“Thank you.”

I hot-footed it down there, only to find the house in complete darkness and shut up as tight as a drum.

I returned to the van,and the still-loitering on-looker.

“There’s no-one in.” I said to him, trying to ignore the headache that was building behind my eyes.

“No there wouldn’t be,” he responded amiably, “I’ve been out for a walk. Do you want your key, then?”

It’s past midnight. The removal men have dossed down in the cottage and I’ve persuaded the local pub to open up and take pity on me. I think they realized it was either that or have me howling dementedly at their door all through the night …

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