Climb in and close the door. So far, so good.
Insert the key. The starter motor’s hum
Is hesitant. The diesel drum that should
Now beat us briskly homeward does not come.
Oh God. A helpless, heartsick silence falls.
I stare, mind blank, all plans in disarray.
My fumbling fingers scrabble: frantic calls
Bring promises of aid – an hour away.
I’m left alone; cold, shackled. This machine
With all its country-crossing power stands
Inert and useless. Would that I had been
On foot, I’d not now be in others’ hands.
A routine magic we rely upon
Whose freedom we wear lightly, till it’s gone.


On Saturday morning, I dropped our daughter off at music as usual, then drove across town to Waitrose. I came out of the supermarket exactly on time to go to pick her up – and our faithful Renault refused to start. Being stranded in a dank, drizzly car park eight miles from home was bad enough: worse, and contrary to usual procedure, the wretched child’s mobile phone was switched off precisely when it should have been on. My reverend father, bless him, made a 40-mile round trip to rescue a somewhat chastened girl, and my rapidly defrosting shopping: I was then left to wait for the mechanic.
When he eventually arrived, he was the soul of kindness and competence. It turned out that, owing to a misplaced protective sleeve, the engine cover had worn several tiny pin-holes in the plastic fuel pipe. The engine had been running perfectly happily for months, but for some reason chose that moment to decide there was too much air in the diesel and, in true Gallic fashion, come out on strike. Ten minutes and some jiggery-pokery with a brass airtight fitting later, I was chugging gratefully home, wrapped in a blissful post-adrenaline-rush haze. No harm done, but salutary nonetheless. N.