When the snow finally clogged up the wipers, I knew I was in for rather more than a difficult journey.
At first, it had all seemed rather quaint and English; feathery flakes floated onto the bonnet of the car as I climbed in, and set out to cross the Pennines.
It was late, certainly, but I’ve always preferred night-driving, and anyway, I had a new toy to try out. A Pioneer electronic programmable stereo radio-cassette – all advanced gadgetry and hi-tech finish — and on my own I could press buttons and twiddle knobs for the whole trip.
As I pulled onto the main road, I flicked on the radio, and almost immediately there was the announcer, warning motorists of expected heavy snowfall on high ground. Although wheel tracks were already showing black against the settling snow, and the flakes swooped over the screen like tracer bullets, I felt I’d be home and dry before the real bad stuff came down.
I recall punching the button for the BBC World Service, and hearing the comforting tones of Alistair Cooke, reading his letter from America, every word as clear as having the man in the passenger seat. The radio locked firmly onto the waveband, even among those high and craggy peaks.
As the road surface quickly turned treacherous I slotted Jackson Browne into the cassette player, and turned up the volume to concentrate my attention. The auto-reverse had played the whole thing through twice by the time I noticed that for over half an hour I’d passed no other moving vehicle. Just a couple of abandoned trucks at the foot of inclines, and a solitary car parked forlornly at the side of a lonely phone-booth; the driver hunched over the mouthpiece, lit by the dim yellow light inside.
My progress was by now at a funeral pace. I remember thinking how apt the phrase might be, and bitterly regretting ever considering this journey. So, as I’ve already remarked, when the snow finally forced me to pull over I knew I was in deep trouble.
I turned off the engine and the heater, and decided to huddle down into my coat, cover myself with the picnic rug, and keep the radio on. I told myself that the news might be useful, and that in any case, the battery was now good for nothing else.
I sat and shivered for twelve long hours, at first listening to the worsening weather reports, and then playing all the tapes in the car some (those left by my teenage son) for the first, and last, time.
Then, suddenly, I realised that something was moving, far to my right.
The drift was piled higher than the window on that side. but I could clearly hear the thump of a heavy motor. I wound the passenger window down and shouted.
I shouted ’till my throat was raw. Nothing happened. The snow muffled everything like a smothering, suffocating, pillow. The motor was now ahead of me. Soon it would be gone. And I’d still be here.
Then, a brainwave. Shuffling with numb hands among the pile of tapes. I found what I was looking for. One of my son’s; ‘Hero’ by Judas Priest. I’d thought it remarkably powerful when I’d played it, though ‘heavy metal’ is hardly my thing.
But now I slotted it into the cassette player, blue fingers fumbling in their haste. I turned the volume up full, pushed the tape firmly in, and covered my ears with my hands. The bass reverberated round the whole car, the Pioneer cross-axial speakers on the rear parcel shelf practically took off, and even with coveted ears I marvelled at the pitch of the lead singer’s howl …
The snowplough men told me that they’d been a shade scared at first by the banshee wail issuing from an apparently empty landscape, but had quickly caught on.
They’d got to me before the tape finished, and just as the car battery gave out.
I suppose I ought to drop a line to Judas Priest, whoever he, or they, might be.
Although it was really my Pioneer that saved my life.
THE PERFECT TRAVELLING COMPANION.
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