The Horrendous Drive!

26 Sep

Last Wednesday we traveled by bus, underground train and overland train to get to Gerrards Cross and actually purchase and drive the motorhome back to Shooters Hill.  This trip took us around two hours although it’s only 28 miles away from home.  Graham picked us up from the train station in THE most filthy car I have sat in.  Bits of food and I’m not sure what else was smeared over the back seat.  Anyway we got there in the end, signed all the papers etc. and were now the proud owners of our new “home on wheels”.

Our Motor Home

Gas Hob & Sink

Seating which folds down to double bed


Left hand Drive

Bathroom with Shower & Toilet

Above seats is a Queen sized Bed

Dennis had had trouble gaining insurance for the van over the previous days.  He rang six different companies but they all refused him.  We needed to have an English driver’s license (rather than an International one), or have been in the U.K. for one year or more, or other requirements that we were not able to provide.  But one company suggested he try the Down Under Insurance Company.  Obviously other Aussie and Kiwi motorhome owners have  had trouble as well.  And it was ” Yes, sir, no trouble at all”, which was a great relief!  The only down side was since this company has no competition it charges almost three times the price.

This van is left hand drive, which Dennis has not driven before.  It is quite a different experience for both of us.  The driver has to think about all the controls in different places, having to lean forward and peer into a big outside rearvision mirror to see what is happening on his right side, and allow enough room to clear parked or moving cars on his left as well as not get too close to traffic traveling on his right.  The passenger feels powerless as although you are sitting in the usual driver’s seat there are no controls, no steering wheel, and NO BRAKES!  Oh, and did I mention that the lanes on English roads are slightly narrower than we are used to in NZ?  So traffic on the passenger’s side is so close.

The first time Dennis drove the van was as we were driving out of Graham’s driveway onto a narrow little country lane, then turned onto a fairly busy suburban street and then turned  onto a BUSYfour-lanes-each-way motorway.  We had bought a Tom Tom to help us navigate our way back to Shooters Hill.  Both of us were very nervous as we began our journey home.  We followed  the little lady’s direction and were puttering on pretty well for sometime when Dennis noticed that the brake light on the dashboard was flicking on and off.  Well maybe this was like our trusty HQ Holden which has a dicky brake light that flickers from time to time?  About this time the fuel light came on as well.  Graham’s wife had warned us that when the fuel light came on it was a serious indication that actually that means THERE IS VIRTUALLY NO FUEL left.  It’s not like a car that you can happily drive for quite a few miles yet.  We had passed a couple of petrol stations but we were always too slow to react, having several lanes to cross to get to the entrance.  But anyway there will be another petrol station up here, right? It turned out to be a perfect storm when the little lady on the Tom Tom was directing us into the middle of London!  You can’t imagine how stressful this ongoing situation was!!  Brake light on and off, fuel light on, no idea as to why the Tom Tom has directed us into London itself, rather than keeping to the motorway system that surrounds London, and driving this completely new vehicle!  I was literally having heart palpitations and having to tell myself to breathe slowly and dividing my time praying for safety and alerting Dennis to the changing road signs, etc.  We came into Russell Square, which is the centre of Euston, on a one way system of roads in the central CBD area when Dennis actually drove the van up over the curb onto the footpath to be able to park off the busy thoroughfare, turn off the engine and take a few minutes to determine how we could fix all the things going wrong. 

No sooner had he switched off the engine when we had a visit from a Parking Infringement Officer on his pushbike.  He was of Polish origins, with a very thick accent, telling Dennis to ” take your vehicle off the pavement, I will write you out a ticket, you can’t park on the pavement!”  So Dennis hopped out of the van and began to explain that he was so stressed he was sweating profusely and feeling rather sick and we needed urgent help not a ticket!   After hearing all the story the chap laughed and laughed.  “First of all switch off the Tom Tom!  It always leads people the wrong way around this part of London!” hilarious…. “Next find yourself a taxi to take you to the nearest Petrol Station so you can bring some diesel back to your van, leave your wife in the car and I will write out a letter for her to tell any other Officers why you are here, (I am the Supervisor) and you have one hour or I will give you a ticket”. Righto!

So off Dennis went in a taxi.  The driver told him that there were no petrol stations within the centre district and he was unable to take cans of diesel back in the taxi so Dennis would have to be alert and remember where to walk back to the van.  But by the time they got there Dennis had charmed the man and he had changed his mind and delivered Dennis back, diesel and all!  They also had a discussion about the brake lights and everyone agreed that it was probably just a dicky switch.


Bobbys trot past parked van

So now, refueled, we set off again with a mapbook open on my lap.  If anyone has travelled with me reading a map you will understand that things never go smoothly!  It didn’t help that I had such difficulty reading the street names on the map when we were moving, as the writing was so small.    And the added disadvantage of not knowing where our overall direction needed to be, where to aim at.  Each page on the A-Z London map focuses on such a small area of intersecting streets and with no real landmarks to gain your bearings, I turned out to be worse that the little lady on the Tom Tom!  We stopped several times so that Dennis could ask shop owners or passersby directions and consult the map himself.  At one point I did recognise the sign that tells you, “You have now entered the “Congestion Zone” of central London and you will be charged 12pounds for your trouble.”   The only solution really was to stop and phone Rob and ask him to spell out our route.  I quickly wrote down the street names so I could have a plan to follow.   Of course he was very helpful and it all seemed such a good plan……..

Dennis made a U turn and we eased into traffic once again, (it was rush hour traffic now about 5.45p.m.) following a police car.  Coming up to the first intersection Dennis lets out a squeal, ” I’ve lost all brakes!!” and very nearly collides with the police car, but instead swings around the corner and into a parking lot in between rows of houses like Coronation St, using the hand brake to stop.  Oh dear, what next?  Straightaway a little man tells Dennis “You can’t park there! It’s for residents only”  Well once again Dennis uses his charm and explains the story to the helpful little man as it turned out.  He told us where the nearest mechanic is to be found and tells Dennis to run as it will close at 6.00p.m.  We are in the Borough of Southwark at this stage, still far from home.

The mechanic had a thriving repair garage with panelbeater repair place as well down a narrow alleyway between rows of houses.  If you had just driven down that suburban street you would have missed the entrance entirely.  But providentially we were led to a brake and diesel specialist just minutes before they closed for the night!  The mechanic said he would be happy to look at it tomorrow and determine what needed repairing.

A Tight Squeeze

And then it was Rob to the rescue…. to come and pick us upThat was the most stressful driving we have ever undertaken.  It doesn’t take much to get my “Vandenberg scary gene” into overload but it certainly takes a lot for Dennis to become alarmed.  We were both exhausted after this trip and happy to act like a couple of geriatric at home for the rest of the night!


10 Responses to “The Horrendous Drive!”

  1. James September 26, 2011 at 7:35 pm #

    I can’t help but laugh sorry mum, you tell it well and it seems almost inevitable in our family that your trip should start with something like this. Not happy unless you’re tearing your hair out eh?

  2. Bruce Hoyt September 26, 2011 at 11:21 pm #

    What a hoot (now that it is over). I think we will give London a miss when we visit the UK.

  3. John and Maria September 26, 2011 at 11:25 pm #

    I am just “out of breath” reading of your scary journey. Thankfully you are safe and “now where shall we go next dear?” Happy days. John and Maria

  4. Jo Den Harder September 27, 2011 at 1:57 am #

    Hey – sounds like it will be all downhill from here – have a blast!!

  5. Darryl September 27, 2011 at 5:29 am #

    Very exciting. I thought our first few days in California driving a left hand drive manual on the right side of the road was scary, but it was nothing like that!

  6. Anna Baird September 27, 2011 at 9:37 am #

    Is the moral of the story that Dad’s charm saves the day or that your worry instinct is spot on?

  7. Chris and Richard September 27, 2011 at 10:25 pm #

    You write really well and tell a great story Janette. I laughed but could feel the pain as well, am loving reading about your adventures, your mobile home looks great.

  8. andre h September 29, 2011 at 5:08 am #

    Watch out bill bryson! I kept expecting Mr Bean to appear! Hope it is easily fixed. God be with you.

  9. Frances September 29, 2011 at 8:35 pm #

    Dear Dennis and Jeanette, oh dear oh dear. It sounds like you had a horrible first drive in your new home! And I had visions of you exploring the English countryside, going for picnics on the moors etc. Hopefully that is the case now. Let us know if the driving gets easier and if your home is fixed now. Surely the seller has something to answer for!? We are thankful the Lord kept you safe and it wasn’t worse – no brakes travelling at high speed could have been disasterous. Hope things just get better from here.
    We have had a busy week and are looking forward to watching the Springboks thrash the Samoans tonight!
    Take care! Love, Gerry and Frances

  10. Jenny Ducker October 3, 2011 at 3:05 am #

    Hi Jeanette and Dennis,
    What a surprise I got one day when your “page” appeared, hadn’t caught up with the news that you had finally left. I think you are so very brave to drive in London. I have memories of those huge motorways with lots of lanes!!! Good luck and pleased your new home is fixed. It is really great to read your stories Jeanette and be along for the journey. Happy motoring.
    Love Jennifer

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