Illusion

Author

R.G.V.V

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24

It was quite like old times as I turned off the main road, along the narrow grass-grown lane, with the leafless branches almost meeting overhead, and I was strongly conscious of that feeling of anticipation which seems to accompany most people upon such occasions — a pleasant sensation of tackling the unknown. I had arrived at my destination early, early enough for the surrounding fields to be white with frost, so that I was glad to hold my hands against the hot radiator and stamp my numbed feet on the ground for several minutes reflecting somewhat dubiously upon the beauties of our English countryside in late December. When suitably thawed out after my long drive, I decided to leave the engine running and take a walk up the hill to see what sort of a surface was awaiting me. I remembered being there several years before, and the memory was mainly of spinning rear wheels and treacherous yellow mud.

It called for but the briefest of inspections to see that things were as bad as ever. In truth, I had expected that they would be so, for the last few days had been horribly wet. Reaching the top, my boots already well plastered, I looked back down the long gradient, endeavouring rather hopelessly to select the best route for the proposed ascent. There were far too many big stones for my liking, and a tuft of rushes halfway up the hill told its own story.

Without much enthusiasm, I slithered my way back again, fell over a dead bough half hidden in the rushes and was further cheered to find that the engine had stalled in my absence. I cleaned a doubtful plug and was rewarded by a regular burble after two or three sharp swings, the deep exhaust note cutting through the frosty morning air in a satisfying and purposeful sort of way. I felt a little heartened, and as I took my seat I derived further encouragement from the sight of nearly new rear tyres — their bold tread being very much designed for the job in hand. I wished in vain for a locking device on the differential.

Pulling on my gloves, I engaged bottom gear, looked hard at the fearsome slope rising ahead of me, decided it was impossible, quite suddenly grew confident and let in the clutch with brutal abruptness. We moved. Not forward, not even backward, just vertically downward. I stamped on the clutch, tried reverse and managed to retreat a couple of yards on to a less sticky patch of ground. Then I experimented with second — and an exact liaison between clutch and throttle. This was more successful, much more, and soon I was able to ease the throttle open wide without promoting more than a trace of spin. I sympathised with the drivers of heavy goods trains, waging long battles with wheelspin as they coax their monsters away from the stations.

With surprise I caught sight of the tuft of rushes and realised that I was already halfway up, but the gradient stiffened here and I was compelled to drop down into first, with disastrous results — thick yellow mud spouting back from the wheels as the speed inexorably dropped. The off-side wheel seemed to be the worst, so I contrived to get most of my weight over it and throttled the engine right down as far as I dared, but for a few moments it looked as though I had “had it.” I noticed an old man staring intently at me from across a sloping little meadow away to the left, and wished that these inquisitive yokels would not always come on the scene at awkward moments! The tyres were clogged solid with mud, rendering the deep tread virtually useless, but quite unexpectedly the wheels seemed to cut down on to a harder surface. I could feel the scrunch of stones, a comforting sound, and in another moment the worst was behind.

Reaching the top, my nostrils aware of the pleasant smell of baking mud — always dear to the heart of the enthusiast — I cast an anxious look back down the hill. To my considerable gratification I beheld a dead straight furrow all the way up from the bottom headland, the merest trace of a waver being discernible where my tractor had suffered the worst wheelspin. A couple more farings as straight as that and I would have the wretched field ploughed out nice and square by nightfall…

That fooled you! — R. G. V. V.