I haven’t blogged for a little while because we have been stranded without a car. We had planned to go to Abergele on 13th October with our Home Ed friends on a Sun £9.50 holiday…
I spent the three days prior cleaning the house, washing EVERYTHING, cleaning everything, tidying up for the burglars, as Peter Kay jokes! Found someone to care for Elizabeth’s pet rats, and someone to look after my chooks. We packed the kids in the car, and the bags on the kids and set off but we were just 40 minutes down the road when the car started revving and lurching. As we rounded the bend on the busy motorway we were soon surrounded by acrid white smoke and the engine was scarily loud.
Like this Should make it clear, this isn’t our car…but this is what it was like.
Paul couldn’t immediately pull onto the hard shoulder as there were traffic cones in the way but we just about limped to the end of the line and pulled into the edge when the car couldn’t go an inch further. I reminded Paul to turn the engine off, since it was revving really high and the whole car was shaking and still lurching despite being stationary and he showed me the keys in his hand. The engine was turned off. Pretty panicked we wordlessly got out, Paul to the three older children on the driver’s side and me to Oona who was on the passenger side. We drive a Chevrolet, which is of course an American car and although the steering wheel has been installed on the right hand side, there are three rows of seats and the middle one pulls forward so that the passengers in the back can get out. The seat with the leaver is on the right hand side which would be a safety feature in the US, allowing the kids to get out onto the pavement but in the UK of course it means they get out on the roadside. This is something that never bothered me until we had to let the kids out on the edge of a busy motorway with huge rattling juggernauts zooming past.
The smoke coming out of the rear end was just so ridiculous I honestly believed the car was on fire somewhere and that it could go ‘BOOM!’ any second so when I opened the door to Oona and the car filled with so much smoke I couldn’t even see her to unfasten her belt I was really scared and screamed to the kids to get out as quickly as they could. I managed to get Oona, her blanket and the ring sling (because she was cuddling them anyway) and get to the hard shoulder whilst Paul ushered the kids safely off the road and towards me. The children were all pretty upset, looking back at the car which was just surrounded by a dense fog and asked me if we were still going on our holidays. Of course the answer was no, we were only going for a 4 day break and without a car we didn’t stand a chance of getting there.
It was pretty chilly and Paul rang the RAC, confident that we would be rescued within the hour at the latest, he’s been a member with them for the last sixteen years and of course we had four kids on the side of a busy motorway so we would be a priority rescue. We were not sure if we were on the M60 or the M62 because we were on the merging road. The M602 also feeds in at this point so Paul was honest and said he was unsure. The lady asked him to read the marker to her, which he did and she assured him that they would find us within 40 minutes. He also explained to them that we had Elizabeth with Autism (who was having a silent melt-down at this point, she was just standing there silently with a worried expression on her face) he also told them about the other children and Oona. Just a few minutes later we received a call from the rescue company to say they would be with us in twenty minutes so although we had lost our holiday and our car was broken down at least the kids would be safe soon.
Well, Oona dirtied her nappy and I was scared to take her back to the car (since it was on the bend and they tell you not to sit in the vehicle) so I hung on and hung on waiting to change her. She started to cry, and I gave her some boobie. By this time it was raining and the wind was getting up. It had been half an hour so Paul rang to find out where the rescue truck was and they said they were five minutes away so I hung on a bit longer. We rang again after another twenty minutes; by this time we’d been waiting an hour. They said it would be fifteen minutes more. This time I had a chat to the call-handler. I’m afraid I wasn’t as calm as Paul. It was raining, Elizabeth was crying, Oona was crying, Leon was absolutely freezing and begging to be allowed to sit in the car. The only cheery one was Imogen, who was happy to be out in the fresh air and didn’t seem bothered at all. I repeated our situation to the woman on the phone and told her about my two main worries, Elizabeth and Oona and also the children’s proximity to the motorway itself and my concerns around their safety. It would still be fifteen minutes. I didn’t believe her. I finally made the decision to go and change Oona and took her back to the car to do it. When I took her nappy off her bottom was red-raw! How I wished I hadn’t believed them and made her wait so long! But as the lorries whizzed by and the car shook with little Oona on the passenger seat I hurried with the change and got her back onto the roadside as quickly as I could.
We rang the RAC lots more times. In the end, after we had waited two and a half hours we called a taxi to pick the kids and I up. The taxi company managed to get a driver out to us within about 15 minutes. Paul just gave them the same information as he had given the RAC yet they STILL couldn’t find us however the children and I were soon in the warm mini bus, eating biscuits on our way home. Paul had to wait another forty minutes in the rain. We had originally called the RAC at 1.50pm, the rescue finally arrived at 5.15pm. By that time I was trying to make the kids some food (without any ingredients as I’d cleaned out the fridge prior to going on our holidays!) They had hummus and wraps followed by more biscuits, a tin of sweetcorn, some raisins and a cup of tea each! They were pretty chuffed with that actually, and when Paul arrived home with the car I had to send him straight out for milk because they requested porridge with syrup, the ultimate comfort food, for their teas.
By 7.30pm all four kids were tucked up in bed with smoke in their hair and I was half way down a bottle of red wine.
We did complain about the wait and were told by the RAC that they would respond to our complaint within 20 days so I delayed the publishing of this blog post in order to be fair to the company, thinking that they might try and make amends…perhaps picking up our £82 taxi bill and apologising however yesterday when ‘Billy’ rang from their customer complaints department she said she was very sorry that we were waiting so long on the side of the road with the children however she must investigate further to see who was actually at fault for the wait. I asked her what she meant and she said that as we hadn’t been clear about our whereabouts it was likely our responsibility. I asked why then had she apologised? She said because she was genuinely sorry that we were waiting so long! I tried to explain the difference between apologising to take responsibility and saying ‘sorry’ out of sympathy but she unfortunately didn’t understand the difference. I pointed out that the taxi had found us within fifteen minutes yet the RAC had not so as a good will gesture she offered to pay £60 of the £82 bill.
I asked why she couldn’t pay the full amount and she couldn’t seem to answer this. We went round in circles many times with me explaining that if Paul’s description of our whereabouts was satisfactory to the taxi driver, then it should have been satisfactory to the rescue company. I questioned her as to why the RAC with all their sophisticated equipment couldn’t find us and she couldn’t answer this. She told me that the company they had used had looked for us to no avail for the whole 3.5 hours. She also said that the recovery company had reported that Paul was ‘irate’ on the telephone to them. Telling me this was a big mistake. BIG because my Paul doesn’t get irate on the telephone, EVER. I’m the one with the temper, Paul is cool as a cucumber and extremely softly spoken. I told Billy this and refused to accept what the recovery company had said. I felt so very very angry that this company was lying about him and pointed out that if they could lie about this, they could also have been lying when they said they were looking for us all that time. Could they not have just had more recovery jobs to do before ours?
At this point Billy offered me £70. Which I refused. I asked her if she was taking responsibility for us being left in the cold on the side of the motorway with our children and she said no, she wasn’t. She was merely offering a good will gesture.
As things stand we have refused the payment. We believe it would be a good will gesture to pay for the taxi we were forced to call in order to keep our family safe that day. And we believe that treating a customer of 16 years in this way is incredibly poor. We are awaiting another call from Billy on Monday (she refused to allow us to speak to anyone above her and the website only has the general customer service number so our hands are tied) she has said she will listen to the phone calls personally. I have said that I will require an apology when she listens for herself and discovers that my calm, cool as a cucumber man was in no way irate or upset on the telephone with any member of staff.
Beware the smiling RAC salesman outside the supermarket in future, guys…if they can’t prioritise a loyal customer of 16 years stranded on a motorway with his wife and four kids, they won’t be of any use to you either!