There was a different ending, in my mind at least for today. Even though I am watching The Girl Next Door on BBC One at this precise moment, I had more, much more planned for my evening. I suppose, I should start, as all my stories do, at the beginning. I got up, early for change and headed over to the office. The deserted car park spoke volumes, I was early but also one of the handful of people actually making that final trek into the workplace for 2006. There was a fun atmosphere, perhaps because were only in until 12pm and perhaps because we did not have any real work to do. To my surprise, I actually took five calls, a couple expected, others not so welcome. In any case I dealt with all the issues, to the best of my ability, finishing building two laptops and then decided to get into the party mood. We were in the Christmas mood the moment I had walked in, humming along to Jingle Bell Rock. I recall the song mainly from the High School Talent Show segment in Mean Girls (which I saw in 2005, when it screened on Sky) and we headed over to YouTube to watch the video in full. It had me in stitches again, just like when I had seen the movie at home, in my living room. This started a domino affect with both members of IT, logging onto the web site and watching clips. I would like to say I did the same, but I preferred to use my time more wisely and make final preparations for this afternoon shopping trip to North Buckinghamshire. You can perhaps imagine how I felt. I was excited and happy but at the same time a little apprehensive. I had to keep my emotions in check, for the next hour at least. My sisters sent me their lists on e-mail and I printed them off. I was set. Or so I thought.
There were only two key holders left, and thankfully one of them decided to stay a little longer, which enabled me to walk out the door promptly just before 12pm. The roads were foggy and this makes perhaps the most considerate of motorists, transform into apprehensive wrecks. I had no time for them. I hit the bypass and overtook most of these cars, driving at 40 while I prefer to be driving at 70. I mean, sure it is foggy but you can still see ahead of you. You just need to drive with care. Just as I was coming up to the Handycross Roundabout, there were drivers cruising in the fast lane, so I had to take some illegal undertaking maneuvered, just to get onto the M40. As I pulled up to the development site, I was behind three lorries, and decided to over take them and cut in and join the slip road heading northbound. I was on the motorway and heading to Thame. Fantastic. I had my Santa on, and was singing along to Hillary Duff (featuring the delicious Christina Milian) with “I Heard Santa On The Radio” (from her 2002 album, Santa Claus Lane) Any other time of year, this combination would have been executed by a combination of the fashion and style police. Thankfully, it was Christmas and I could get away with listening to what would be deemed by others as “tacky” Christmas tunes. More on that news story later. On the motorway, the fog was thick, so I transferred onto the fast lane, behind a black X5 and for the next 8 miles, it cleared a route for me, quite literally through the icy mist up ahead. I pulled off at junction six for the more hair raising part of the journey. Thick fog, country lanes and slow Renault Clio’s do not mix. However, I was not really that bothered, I had made excellent time, considering I had arranged to meet my friend at 1pm. It was looking more and more likely that I was going to be half an hour early.
It was when I pulled up onto my friend’s drive way I discovered I had left the lists I had printed on my desk back in the office. No bother, I could borrow my friends internet and print them off. Fantastic. Thanks to a unsecure wireless network I was up and running without any problems. Just after 1pm, we headed from Oxfordshire over to Milton Keynes, in cross country fashion. The fog was even thicker than on the motorway earlier in the afternoon and the roads were slightly busier. However we made good time, getting into MK just after 2pm. We were wondering where to go for lunch and I recommended the restaurant in XScape. I could not recall the name, but had been there with an old work colleague, two years ago. Tootsies may sound like the name of a seedy lap dancing joint, but it is in fact a cozy restaurant in the leisure complex. We had a nice lunch, while the hoards of shoppers past us by. If I was ever to write a book on how to shop at Christmas, one of the first would be directions would be to never shop on an empty stomach. A nice light lunch and then we headed back out to the car and drove the .3 miles to the Centre MK and eventually found parking there. It was not easy in the dense fog. We then headed over to the shopping centre, coming in from the street to find the The Entertainer toy shop to our right. We then decided to head up to the right, walk our way back down and end by going to John Lewis for some more bulky final purchases. I saw Clarks and headed into there but we did not make our first purchases until nearly 4pm. This may sound insignificant to you but buy our standard for our annual Christmas shop, this was pathetic. In some days we would have normally have been through both of our lists. I got a call from my sister and explained that it was quite busy and I had only made one purchases. My friend made the snide comment, “Are you going to ring them after you buy your next gift?”. We were doing badly but we picked up the pace for the rest of the afternoon and actually started making plans for our escape back home. Around 6pm we though, to fit in all the other retail outlets we needed to visit. Next stop was House of Fraser, then M&S followed by The Disney Store and then HMV. It was here that we end up almost every year and we know we are coming to the end of our trip. It was packed out but the customer service has improved dramatically over the past four years (my first trip with my friend was in December 2002). Sales assistants would drop everything and actually help you find the DVD, games or CD you were looking for. The only downside was waiting in queue for a good ten minutes waiting to be served. Then adding insult to injury, overhearing someone say that upstairs the tills were dead. After the music store, we headed over to Woollies, then finally John Lewis. We were ahead of schedule and got into my friend’s car. The time was 17:42. Dark and foggy, time to go home. Ignoring the satellite navigation we headed back across the country lanes to Oxfordshire. After a brief rest bite, when I wrapped up a present and got all my things together, I looked ahead at the journey ahead. Yes, that is right, I was not heading straight home, I had one last trip before Christmas could truly begin.
I had to collect my cousin from Heathrow. Well technically Sipson before I could turn around and hit the great drive which is has to be accompanied by Chris Rea‘s “Driving Home for Christmas”. However, by the end of the night, it would not be a song I would want to listen to. The drive back to the Handycross Roundabout was uneventful, the dark foggy conditions had meant most people had made their journey during the daylight hours or left it until Saturday. I cruised off at junction four and swung across to the by-pass. I was following a Volvo estate, which like the X5 earlier in the afternoon was on some crazy mission and cleared the road ahead for me. I had been worried that by the time I hit the M4 the traffic would be crazy and I would not be heading back home until past 10pm. I was write but for the wrong reasons. The M4 was relatively quiet. Quieter than your average Friday evening. I made excellent time and was at the hotel, waiting, a few minutes after 8pm. Fantastic. I could get home and still make something of my evening. Things never work out the way you plan, as I was about to find out. As the nightmare begins to surface.
We were on the M4, heading back and I noticed that the temperature gauge and it was on red. However as I drove, the temperature gauge returned to the middle and I thought nothing more of it. I would check the car over, on Sunday (as usual). However, as we came off the motorway and onto the by-pass the red led came on again. I had to stop. I had to let the car cool down. Perhaps here I made the stupid mistake. I called the RAC and explained I would wait for the car to cool down for a few minutes before heading for home. I was perhaps six miles away from home and it was desperately annoying. Thankfully the car had failed on me here, rather than on a foggy busy motorway. After twenty minutes, the car cooled down, I pulled off again but the engine was giving out a tremendous roar, even for a diesel but once I was above 2nd gear, it returned to normal. This was the main issue weighing on my mind, the temperature gauge started creeping up again and it was no way I was going to make it home. The warning light came on again and I lost power, crawling up hill at 40 miles an hour. Switching on the hazards, I tried to warn other vehicles that I was about to stop. Eventually a mile up the road the parking pay appeared. My car came to a stop. It is here it would stay for the next couple of hours as we waited for RAC breakdown patrol to come and get us running. The car refused to start about forty minutes in and things did not look good. This was not the start to the holiday season I had hoped for.