Today was definitely more fraught than it needed to be. All I had to do was take two sofas to Aylesbury. I got in the van and drove to Putney to collect them. My friend who was helping hadn’t checked his WhatsApp since 7.30pm on Friday. I rang him. “Are you coming?” “Yes” replied a voice from the bottom of a well.

I got in the van and drove it to Putney. On arrival the key wouldn’t come out of the ignition at all. Stuck fast. After some patience and jiggling I got it out. I went up and sat with my sofa friend, wondering if my helper friend would show up. Miraculously he did. I went down and moved the van into the loading bay. And then the key wouldn’t come out of the ignition no matter what. It just … stuck. I tried everything, to no avail. I tried to switch the engine back on. It would turn the engine over after some coaxing. But no way was it coming out. Fuck. “Well, at least I can drive it.” I say to myself. I was in a private driveway at the time so it was pretty safe to leave for a bit, although an expensive place to break down. If that huge van can’t move itself it becomes a massive problem. Like a dead elephant in your hallway.

I manually locked the drivers door and went out the passenger door, quietly panicking. I went upstairs to get the sofas, with the key left in the ignition. That driveway is soaked with CCTV.

Once the sofas were loaded in, I was back to worrying. I carefully coaxed the key to ignite the engine and went on my way. “I’ll just drop off the sofas and then work out how to fix this,” I thought to myself.

And then I looked at the range. 50 miles left before I have to take the key out to open the fuel tank. It’s 80 miles to Aylesbury and back.

“I can get there, drop off the sofas and at least get paid for the job, then pull up somewhere in walking distance from a garage and refuel with a canister”, I’m thinking. That way if I can’t get the key out or back in, then the van is not in a thoroughfare or at the petrol pump.

But … I’ve got a passenger. I’m not alone. I might be happy to sleep in the back if it comes to it but they won’t be.

“It might not be as bad as you think,” he says out of nowhere. This is my depressed friend being optimistic. I realise I’ve been catastrophising. If we are going to get stuck it’d be better to get stuck in London than get stuck in Aylesbury.

I pull into a petrol station near the newly Japanese “London Pride” brewery. I’m so nervous about this situation that the van is steamed up. I’ve been driving in the freezing cold with the windows down because I’m hyperventilating and my breath is clouding my view. I switch off the engine. I try to get the key out of the ignition.

I am as gentle as I can. I lose hope about 4 times. I resist the temptation to force it. After what feels like ages it suddenly just … pops out. It’s bent like a banana. Really badly bent. How? I take it into the station and gently hammer it flat with a screwdriver borrowed from the cashier. Fucking Renault, making their keys out of tin. I successfully refuel with my newly flat key. I put it back in, and am delighted to be able to drive away.

It’s not good though. Every time I stop I have a negotiation with the ignition. There’s damage in the barrel perhaps? We get the sofas dropped off, leaving the key in again, and we return home to his. Once there we cover the key with WD40 and insert it to get some oil in the mechanism. It’s a bit better now if the key is a certain way up. I fear I’ll need a new ignition barrel before I return the van. Expense… But that’s fine. It’s been turning over nicely, this van. I don’t think I’ll ever regret borrowing it. I’ll see on Tuesday if the ignition is settled after the oil and the time, and I’ll make sure the key is properly straightened before I use it again and cover it in more oil for good measure. I love having this van in London. But you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth I guess.

Useful to remember not to go immediately to worst case scenarios…


Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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