A Busy Wednesday

Yesterday was a big break in routine for me.

Julie had to renew her passport. She had asked about a postal renewal, and was told it would take ten weeks at least. As she is travelling abroad in March, her only option was to go to the main Passport Office for the East of England. That is 65 miles each way from Beetley in the city of Peterborough, around 90 minutes each way by car.

I offered to drive her there in her car in case of parking issues, so I was up much earlier than usual, and took Ollie out while it was still below freezing, and very frosty. As it turned out, we parked easily, and were also early for her pre-booked appointment. It all went smoothly inside, (I was not allowed in, so waited ih the car) But even with that ‘personal appearance’, she was still unable to return home with a new passport. They will send it by insured courier within seven days.

The journey home was even easier, and I was back in plenty of time to give Ollie his favourite dinner of cold chicken.

Forty minutes later, the car dealership phoned to say my car was ready for collection. Out we went again, just 4 miles each way this time. I was told that the mechanic was able to remove the magnet and electrical connection that was stopping the gear selector going into and out of park, but he also had to rig a small cable below the selector in case the ‘override’ happened again for any reason. Just pull it, and the selector moves easily. I would have preferred a new part, but had already been told it was no longer available.

Then the mechanic showing me how to operate the cable-pull informed me that if the very small part had been available, it would have cost me a staggering £500! Add to that the fitting charge of well-over £200, and I would not have been a happy bunny.

The final bill was £198, intead of around £740 had they fitted a new part. As I drove home, I had never been so grateful for a part no longer being in stock.

Snow: The Unwanted Visitor

Five minutes after leaving the house on Ollie’s dog walk, we were surprised by a sudden, and unexpected, fall of snow. Regular readers will know that I detest snow. While it may be lovely to look at when it blankets the scenery, in such a rural location it can just serve to trap you in the village.

Snow on the small country roads locally makes life difficult for everyday things. Shopping, going to the Doctor, popping into town for essentials, and so on. The risk of being in an accident, or perhaps breaking down in snow make it a carefully considered decision whether or not to venture out at all.

Julie has no option but to go to work on her allotted days of course. Like me, she hates driving in snow, even the relatively small distances to one of the three Doctor’s surgeries where she has to work.

Fortunately, that snow was very wet, and is not settling or drifting. But we have more forecast for later this evening, and if that settles and freezes overnight, it can be a game changer.

So our fingers are crossed for no settling snow. With a predicted -5C overnight, the freezing slush will be bad enough to have to cope with.

An Alphabet Of My Life: C

C= Cold and Cars

I could not decide between these two choices for ‘C’, so included them both.


Many of my childhood memories are about being cold. Until I was fifteen years old, I did not live in a house with central heating. We relied on one main coal fire for warmth, with the addition of a paraffin-filled heater to ‘take the chill off’ in communal areas like landings. That thing chucked out enough fumes to give you a headache, and was the cause of many house fires too.

This meant we had to have hot water bottles placed in the bed early, or face that freezing feel of ice-cold cotton sheets in an unheated bedroom. I also wore thick pyjamas, and in the dead of Winter, socks too. I still remember my feet coming into contact with the hot water-bottle when it had got cold, and kicking it out of the bed.

Once I was aged ten, I was considered to be old enough to light the fire when I got home from school before my parents returned from work. This was a lengthy process, and quite tricky to achieve. Old twisted newspapers would be placed in the grate, topped with kindling wood, then just enough coal to get the fire started. It could sometimes take ages for the coal to ‘catch’, and if I added more coal before it was actually glowing, I was in danger of extinguishing it completely.

We lived through some harsh winters too. The bad one of 1963 lives on in my memory. It was the coldest for 200 years, and even froze the sea around the coast. We had frozen pipes that caused water shortages, and I can remember arriving at school shivering, despite wearing my duffle coat, balaclava helmet, school cap, a scarf, and gloves. Although the school had heating, the old Victorian building seemed to retain the overnight cold, and we were not allowed to sit in class wearing our outdoor coats.

Small wonder I hated being cold as I got older, and even now I dread the arrival of snow and ice.


My dad had a car when I was very young. I remember being in the car as a child, and watching him change gear as we drove along. Cars were very different then. They frequently broke down, had tyres with tubes that punctured easily, and required a fair level of mechanical knowledge on the part of the owners to keep them running reliably.

By the time I was 14 years old, all I could think about was driving, and having my own car. Even before I could apply for my driving licence, my dad bought me a used car. He stored it in the garage, and showed me the controls, how to check the oil, and how to do routine things like adjusting the points, changing spark plugs, and checking the tyre pressures. He would reverse it out of the garage so I could wash and polish it at weekends, but as it was not insured for me of course, I never got to try it out properly.

Some time later, once I had my learner licence, I was put on the insurance so that friends who had already passed their test could sit next to me as I drove around. Though I resented having to display the prominent ‘L’ plates front and back.

When the time came to apply for the driving test, I learned in a driving school car that was much smaller than mine, because it made sense to have dual controls. On the day I passed my test, I put three gallons of petrol in my own car, and drove the fifteen miles into Central London, into the busiest traffic in Britain.

That started me on a lifetime of driving, during which I drove almost every type of vehicle imaginable, including quite large trucks before the need for a separate Heavy Goods Licence. Then later I drove emergency ambulances around London, using blue lights and sirens. In between, I passed my motorcycle test, and used a motorbike to commute to work.

It has taken me almost a lifetime to stop being excited about cars. My current car is 15 years old, and is the oldest car I have ever owned and kept. It was 5 years old when I bought it second-hand, and I hope to hang onto it until I am no longer driving.

I wrote about the cars I have owned and driven on this blog, with photos of the models concerned. Here’s a link.

Cars: My Life On The Road

I also featuured the various ambulances I drove and worked in in London. Here’s a link to that.

The Ambulances I Worked In

Ollie Looking His Best

Yesterday, I took Ollie to the groomer at 2 in the afternoon. She took one look at the amount of fur he was shedding and said, “I’m going to need an extra thirty minutes, so pick him up at 3:30”.

That was okay, as I had stuff to do.

The first trip was back to the Doctor’s, where my wife works. I had to hand in a ‘sample container’, and she was at the desk when I arrived. However, she needed someone else to book it in, as she is not allowed to deal with anything to do with her own family.

After that, I had to drive to the Vet in Swaffham, to collect Ollie’s regular prescription of Arthritis tablets. I went the back way, along the country lanes and through nice little villages. It made a refreshing change to avoid the busy A47 main road, even if it took 15 minutes longer.

However, it had been storming and raining since the early hours. After so long without significant rain, many roads were awash with water running straight off of the bone-dry fields. And I had to use my windscreen wipers for the first time in a very long while.

When I got to the Vet’s it was very quiet, and no customers were inside with their pets. So I jinxed the staff by saying out loud, “I have never seen it so quiet in here”. A lady told me off for saying that, then gave me the tablets. I was surprised that the price had increased since last month. In a little over a year, the 30 tablets have increased from a monthly cost of £38, to today’s price of £49.71. That’s almost £600 a year, just to try to keep our beloved dog pain-free.

He’s worth it though, of course he is.

By the time I got back to the groomer’s in Scarning, Ollie was ready, and excited to see me. He looks really good, smells fresh, and his claws are clipped as short as is sensible.

But I wonder how long it will be until he is like a smelly old rug once again.

The First Sunday Musings In July

Well, the small heatwave of June changed to cloudy and humid conditions with greatly reduced temperatures. There has still been almost no rain, little more than light showers. But I am not complaining about that, as we get more than our fair share of rain at other times.


Ollie has started to lose some fur in small patches, triggered by the heat, and his constant dips in the river. I am hoping this will not mean another trip to the Vet, but at least he has found his appetite again, and is eating heartily.


As I approach the seventh month since my application, I have still not received my renewed driving licence. This despite involving my member of parliament, the police, my hospital consultant, and passing the DVLA eye test last month. I am continuing to drive though, as I refuse to be imprisoned in Beetley by their incompetence.


The summer season brings the annual television woes, as Wimbledon Tennis (and football later) dominates programming. This is the time of year to be grateful that we have a PVR, access to Netflix, and the ability to access ‘catch-up’ TV via a streaming box.


Prices continue to rise, despite the obscene profits enjoyed by the big oil companies, online retailers like Amazon, and the five major supermarkets. On Monday, the cheapest unleaded fuel in this area was £2 a litre, which is £10 a gallon. (Diesel for my car was almost £1 more a gallon) We are being taken for fools by this government and their rich cronies, but short of armed revolution, I can see no way out of the downward spiral of Britain.


The world is going crazy, and working people are paying the price for billionaires to get richer. But try to forget that, and enjoy your Sunday.


Sunday Musings On A Sunny Afternoon

The weather has been very ‘English’ this week. We have had sunshine, heavy showers, hailstorms, normal rain, below freezing temperatures, and now it is 13C and sunny.


Most of you will know by now that although I have still not received my renewed driving licence, I do have written permission from Norfolk Police to drive until it arrives. This meant I was able to do something very normal yesterday, popping out to the supermarket on my own. Not in the least exciting, but nonetheless enjoyable after being ‘grounded’ since the 15th of March. It also means that I can take Ollie to the groomer next week, and Julie doesn’t have to take time off work.


Panic buying and hoarding of petrol and diesel continues unabated in this area. The only petrol staton stil open for business has huge queues snaking around it. As a result, Julie’s car is very low on petrol. Fortunately my car is almost full of diesel, so she can use that when she needs to.


Boris Johnson went to Ukraine yesterday, trying to make himself look like a world leader in time of war. He promised untold millions of pounds in aid to Ukraine, including the supply of anti-ship missiles and armoured vehicles. Let’s hope the intolerable buffoon manages not to go too far, and declare war on Russia.


Not much else has happened worth musing about this week, so I will leave it there, and hope you all had a happy Sunday.

Not Driving

My driving licence expired at 00:01 on the 15th of March, when I was offically 70 years old. Regular readers will know that my online application to renew it, submitted on the 8th of February, has stalled. No new licence has arrived, and a recent enquiry with the authorities returned the answer that they will not investigate anything until 10 weeks have passed.

A friend sent me a link that you can use to check your licence status, and mine showed as ‘Expired’. I could carry on driving on the basis that my renewal has been applied for, but that would mean taking the chance of not being stopped by the police, or being involved in an accident. Sticking to the letter of the law, an expired licence means I would not be driving legally, so my car insurance would be invalid too. That would potentially allow the police to seize my car and impound it.

Not worth the risk.

After 53 years, it feels strange. Strange not to be able to say something like “Just popping down to the shops for some bread”. Strange not to be able to take Ollie to the Vet unless Julie is at home to drive the car.

Just completely strange.

I am lucky. Julie can drive either car, and she only works part-time. But what of single people, or widows and widowers? Anyone reliant on a car in a small place like Beetley who falls victim to the administrative delays of the driving licence authority is sure to be stuck. A four-mile walk to the nearest town on country roads? No thank you. The buses that only run three times a day might be an option, but make sure you don’t miss the last one back in the afternoon.

A taxi each way? At £10 pounds per trip, paying £20 to go into town to buy a £1.60 loaf of bread seems harsh.

Many people live happily without never driving. But in a country village not having access to a car makes life difficult, especially in bad weather.

Looks like I am going to have to completely readjust my thinking for a while.

In Praise Of Honest Mechanics, And The NHS

Ten days ago, I wrote about my car failing the MOT test, and needing two new tyres.

Always Something

I didn’t use it after driving it home, and then three days later, Julie used it to take her daughter and grandchildren out for the day. They did a fair few miles, and had an enjoyable day. However, when she returnd home that evening, she said she could hear a ‘rubbing noise’ when turning right. I drove into town and back, and couldn’t hear it.

Last Friday, she cut her hand at work. It was in an awkward place on the edge of her right hand, and bleeding badly. So I drove to collect her, leaving her car in the car park. We had two options then. Either drive the shorter distance to the main Norwich Hospital, and possibly wait for many hours to be seen, or drive up to Cromer on the north coast, where there is a minor injuries unit open from 08:00 until 20:00. That seemed the better option, and off we went.

Arriving close to 7:30pm, we wondered if we were going to be too late. But no. An efficient receptionist booked her in, then asked me to wait in the car park due to Covid-19 restrictions. Less than ten minutes after I got back to the car, Julie appeared, her wound closed with steri-strips, and a dressing covering the injury. When you hear so many complaints about our health service, I think it is only right to balance that with praise for the marvellous service we received last Friday.

Well done the NHS.

On the way home, we used the main relief road to avoid Norwich, and it has many roundabouts. Once negotiating those, I could hear the ‘rubbing noise’ that Julie had spoken about previously.

On Sunday morning, I returned to the car repair dealership I had used for the MOT, service, and tyres, and asked them to investigate the noise. The manager drove the car around the forecourt, and agreed he could hear the noise. However, after some examination of the wheels and steering, he was unable to speculate on what might be causing it. He suggested I leave it there overnight, and he would get a more experienced colleague to examine the car today. (Monday) I agreed, and Julie collected me and took me home. Although this Monday is a public holiday in England, they were open from 10:00 until 16:00.

Me being me, I feared the worst. Major repairs just before our holiday, and yet more eye-watering expense. While I was out walking Ollie, Julie rang them just before 1pm, and they said the car was ready. They had found a loose back plate on a front brake disc, and that was moving enough to cause the rubbing sound on full right lock. As they had worked on the car recently, they said they would not be charging me anything at all, because of the possibility that they may have caused the temporary fault.

When I collected the car, they gave me a Diagnostic Wheel Alignment report, telling me they had additionally checked the alignment to put my mind at rest. This alone usually costs £59, but there was no charge. I think good service like this should also be praised, especially for a large chain of car repairers that doesn’t always have the best reputation here.

So, well done to Dereham branch of Kwik Fit too.

50 Years Behind The Wheel

It just occurred to me that I have been driving for fifty years this year. I passed my driving test at the second attempt, in March 1969. At the time, I had a 1963 car, bought for me by my Dad, and I was insured on his policy. I stayed on at school just long enough to drive into the car park a few times, after a fifteen-mile commute in heavy traffic. I could buy three gallons of petrol for less than ten shillings, (50p) and finally take my girlfriend out in a car, after two years on buses and trains.

The car represented freedom to me, and I would drive anywhere, anytime, just to experience the thrill of not being dependent on timetables and bus arrivals.

Over the following decades, I drove just about anything that went on a road. Heavy trucks, vans of all types and sizes, motorcycles, mopeds, and small scooters. I owned all sorts of cars too, everything from unreliable rat-traps, to brand new luxury saloons. I towed trailers, used 4-wheel drive vehicles off road, and managed to drive a few amazing sports cars too. I was a driver, in every sense, oblivious to traffic, with an inbuilt sense of direction, and no fear of any road conditions. I drove in France, Belgium, and Greece, using hired left-hand drive vehicles, or my own right hand drive car, carried across The Channel on a car ferry. I could drive from breakfast to darkness, and think nothing of it.

I was used to ancient cars with non-syncromesh gearboxes, right up to the latest smooth-as-silk automatic transmissions. I had cars without heaters, and cars with air-conditioning. Some with sunroofs, and others with steering as heavy as a cart. I didn’t care, as long as I had access to something to drive, whether on four wheels or two. In some jobs, I was lucky to be given company cars. The latest models, changed every two years, all costs met by the company providing it for me. Going back to paying my own car bills in 1979 came as something of a shock after that.

Then I joined the Ambulance Service in London, as an EMT. I got specialist training, which I enjoyed, and very soon was out on the streets of the capital, rushing around at comparatively high speeds, with blue lights flashing, and sirens blaring. Most of the time, this was achieved on the wrong side of the road, to avoid the usually static traffic jams all over that city. I used elderly ambulances that still had electronic bells on the front, then progressed to the V8-powered vehicles that were introduced before I left, in 2001. Every other day, for almost twenty-two years, I pushed that ambulance around central London, oblivious to any personal danger, and driving as if it was second nature to me.

But driving in London can never really be described as a ‘pleasure’. As anyone who lives there can tell you, you have to learn a special way of driving there. The first thing is to become very skilled at parking. You usually have no more space than the actual size of your car to get into. And you have to be quick too, or lose the spot to someone behind. Once on the move, you must learn to be ruthless. Never hesitate at roundabouts or road junctions, or you will still be waiting to pull out at bedtime. Let anyone out, and they will be followed by a tidal flow of vehicles that leave you almost back where you started. Selfish driving is the only thing that works, in that vast city.

Fast forward to 2012, and I move to Norfolk. No traffic jams, polite drivers, (in the main) and roads that are often empty, away from the tourist season. I had to learn to drive all over again, at the age of 60. I don’t have to worry about parking anymore, as our driveway has enough room for three cars. I had to learn to be patient behind slow-moving farm machinery, and to be careful on the many small roads where the speed limit is far in excess of anything you can do in London. And I no longer enjoy driving, especially at night, when the oncoming car lights leave you dazzled, on the unlit country roads.

So after those fifty years, what are my conclusions?

Get a car with an automatic gearbox. Changing gear is tiring, and boring too.
Pay into a breakdown service. It is essential, with the electronic systems in modern cars.
Never forget to have enough fuel, especially if you live over five miles from the nearest petrol station.
Unless you live in a field, 4-wheel drive is unnecessary.
If you can afford it, sell the car, and get taxis.
Even better, if you are wealthy, employ a driver to drive your own car.

I have now got to the age where I actually look forward to the day when I won’t be driving at all.

But I have never forgotten the excitement of that first car, aged just 17.

Crazy drivers

I got up in good time today, as I intended to do something rare; that was to go out on my own, to visit the Muckleburgh Military Collection at Weybourne, on the north coast. The twenty-mile drive would only take around thirty minutes, and allowing for some time at the museum, I would be back in plenty of time for Ollie’s walk, and he would not be left alone for too long.

As it doesn’t open until 10, I left home around 9.40 after the morning commuters were long gone, and the local country roads fairly quiet. However, in the space of the next twenty minutes, I was to have three narrow escapes from potentially serious car accidents that could have left me badly injured, or perhaps even dead.

Less than five minutes into the drive, I noticed a car ahead pulling out from a side turning, indicating a right turn. The windows of the small car were fogged up and obscured, the driver having not bothered to clear them before leaving home. As I got closer, the car just turned, seemingly oblivious of my presence. I stamped on the brakes, managing to stop before hitting the side of the car. The young female driver didn’t even glance at me as she passed, confirming my suspicions that she had not even noticed my car approaching.

Some time later, with the roads clear ahead, I approached the small village of Thornage. Up ahead, I could see a Post Office van parked on the left, and the postman was returning to it, having posted some mail into the adjacent cottage. As I drew level, I indicated to overtake the parked van, checking that there was nothing coming the other way. Suddenly, the van pulled away from the side, and accelerated alongside my car, the driver yet again oblivious to my presence. This left me driving on the wrong side of the road, and I blew the horn, and dropped back. The postman then braked hard, almost causing me to drive into the back of him. He waved me past, and as I looked at him, he mouthed the word ‘Sorry’. All I could do was to shake my head at him, and reflect on another lucky escape.

Just outside Thornage, the road narrows significantly, as you approach the town of Holt. There are signs indicating this. They say things like ‘Road Narrows’, ‘Oncoming Traffic In The Middle Of The Road’, and ‘Slow’. Because it is hard for two vehicles to pass, small areas have been provided as passing places, and as high hedges obscure the bends, it is very difficult to see what might be coming around them. Fortunately, I have driven this way many times, and was aware of the problems. As a result, I was going significantly slower than the speed limit.

Approaching one of the obscured bends, I saw a large truck coming at me. The driver must have been travelling in excess of 60 m.p.h., and his vehicle took up almost all of the available road space. I stopped immediately, and watched him come on, sure that he would drive straight into the front of my car at speed. At what seemed the last minute, he noticed me and applied his air brakes. In a cloud of dust, and a hiss of air, he managed to stop less than six feet from my front bumper. The young man driving didn’t bother to acknowledge his dangerous behaviour. Instead, he slammed the truck into reverse, and backed up into one of the passing places. As I drove slowly past his vehicle, he ducked down, as if to retrieve something, presumably to avoid my gaze.

I continued to Weybourne, considering myself lucky to be alive, and praising the four-wheel disc brakes fitted to my car. On some of the quietest roads in England, I had escaped disaster not once, but three times. In less than thirty minutes.
Small wonder I don’t go out much…

There will be some photo posts about the Military Collection, in due course.