Polly drove the hired Ford Escort van north on the M1 and then the M6 to Cumbria and the Lake District. The English lakes are a place of unsurpassed beauty and timeless charm. That crumpled corner of the country has inspired poets such as Wordsworth and authors like Beatrix Potter and, my favourite, Arthur Ransome. I had several happy family holidays there as a child and I was longing to show Polly the region. We were booked into a hotel in Bowness on Windermere just a few minutes from the edge of the districts largest lake.
Our hotel had a wheelchair accessible room in an annex at the back of the older main house. The dining room had views over the lake while our room overlooked the mature grounds. Unsurprisingly, given the previous nights experience, the first thing I did on arrival was check that my wheelchair fitted through the en suite bathroom door. It did. The room was unspectacular but comfortable.
We spent the first few days visiting some of the dozens of meres, waters, and tarns (the Lake District only actually has one 'lake`, Bassenthwaite Lake). Polly insisted we visit
The World of Beatrix Potter, an homage to all 23 of her tales, where we could see Mrs Tiggy-winkle in her kitchen and Peter Rabbit in Mr McGregor's garden. (My sympathies were firmly with Mr McGregor. That rabbit should have been road-kill. Blue jacket or not.) On another day we visited the Steamboat Museum where I was delighted to see the original Amazon from Swallows and Amazons. (You will have to had read the books to understand the excitement I felt. Polly hadn't so to her it was just an old wooden dinghy.)
About a week into our holiday we de
cided to visit Kendal, home of the famous Mint Cake, a confection so sweet you get tooth decay just by looking at it. We took the busy A591 out of Bowness, a multi-lane road that rises over the low fells. As we came round a steep bend the van suddenly juddered to a halt, cars behind us slammed on their brakes and swerved around us, tyres screeched and horns blared. Polly desperately tried to start the engine again but to no avail. A coach hurtled round the bend, missing us by inches, the driver's ashen face flashing by mouthing obscenities, along with forty terrified passengers. “We can't stay here,” I shouted above the roar of traffic. “Oh, really?” replied my beloved. “ I thought now would be a good time for our picnic.” Before I had time to remind her that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, a lorry sounded it's air horn as it narrowly missed us and we both realised that we were in serious danger. Polly had flicked the hazard warning lights on but they were as effective as a match in a blizzard. We were facing up hill so couldn't roll forward onto the grass verge, and
because of the traffic screaming up behind us we dare not drift backwards. “Any ideas?” I asked.
You must remember this was long before mobile phones were commonplace so the only practical thing to do was find a land line somewhere. We hadn't passed a phone box on our way out of Bowness and there wasn't one in sight a head of us. About a quarter of a mile away on our right, across the busy road, was a farmhouse. It was our only hope. Polly very carefully slid out of the van and, leaping straight out of the frying pan, dashed across the road, ignoring the flattened hedgehogs as she ran. I spent a terrifying 10 minutes, bracing myself for impact at any moment, waiting for her to return and praying whoever lived in the farmhouse wasn't out hunting sheep or worrying sheepdogs or whatever it is farmers in that area do for a living. Eventually she returned and, standing on the verge and shouting through my window, said she had phoned the police and that hadn't she been good not to accept the farmer's kind offer of a cup of tea. In the distance a siren could just be heard above the sound of brakes and horns.
The police car came to a halt right behind us, lights flashing, and two women police officers climbed out. I was hugely relieved to have a buffer between me and the flow of speeding traffic,. While Polly explained to one of officers the situation and how she had risked life and limb to call them, the other one looked daggers at me. You could see her thinking what an oaf I was, sitting there while my wife ran around sorting things out. She tapped on the door and stuck her head through the window. “Excuse me, sir,” she said, making the 'sir' sound as if it were another way saying 'you slug'. “Could you please get out of the vehicle and join your wife on the verge.” “I can't,” I said about to explain. “Get out of the vehicle, sir. You can't stay there, it's dangerous.” Again, I tried to explain. “I'd love to get out, but. . .” “Out now!” “I will as soon as you move your police car back so we can open our van door and get my wheelchair out so I can transfer into it.” There was a pause while the officer rapidly reassessed the situation. “I'm so sorry, sir. You stay there and we'll sort it out. Liz! Move the car back down the hill. The gentleman can't get out of his vehicle. I don't think it's safe for him to get into his wheelchair.” You could see Liz do a double take and realise I wasn't a complete chauvinist slob. The two officers backed away as if the van might burn them and leapt into action. They placed safety cones around us and contacted a garage to fetch a tow truck.
A while later we were towed up the hill and off the main road. The mechanic diagnosed the problem within seconds. We had run out of petrol. We gave up on Kendal and went for a cup of tea instead.
There were five more days of our honeymoon to go. We were looking forward to a pleasant few days. The only thing Polly had her heart set on was a visit to Lakeland Plastics. I couldn't see any reason not to go. It was a decision I would come to regret.