I don’t what was on Titus Oates’ mind when he took that fateful decision to walk out of his tent into the frozen polar wastes back in 1912, but I’m pretty sure that it didn’t involve a Rover 213 SE. Life was simpler, if deadlier, then.
It was a different story in 1993, at least for your humble scribe. Back then I was running a branch office of the sort of law firm that even an inveterate anarchist might describe as disorganised. Well, I was supposed to be running it, but the constant demands placed on me by the firm’s head office to cover its court caseload meant that I was posted missing more often than Boris Johnson’s dress sense.
That was the story one December morning when I found myself heading to Glasgow in order to represent some poor wretch in a criminal trial. As was invariably the form, I had been summoned to collect the case file from head office by an early morning phone call. And just to make matters a little sportier, I’d been allocated a case that I knew nothing about.
So with a sigh or several, I fired up my (t)rusty company-supplied Rover 213 SE, the one with the automatic gearbox jammed in ‘comedy’ mode, and gingerly headed towards the icy streets of Glasgow.
It was bitterly cold that morning, so much so that my windscreen washers froze once I headed inland and left the comfortable cocoon provided by the warmer coastal air. Soon, all manner of frozen detritus started to accumulate on my windscreen. Still, I’d seen this movie before and had come prepared – a 2 litre bottle of warm water sat in the passenger footwell, ready to be deployed if required.
I’d driven maybe 20 miles when I decided that it was time to stop and clean the windscreen. Pulling into a convenient lay-by, I grabbed the bottle of water and took my leave of the Rover’s warm cabin. I had no sooner started to squirt water onto the windscreen when a horrible thought entered my mind: I hadn’t locked the door and left the keys in the ignition, had I?
Indeed I had. Back then it was possible to lock a car from the outside without keys. All you had to do was hold the door handle in the open position, push the locking snib into the closed position, close the door and release the handle. And that was exactly what I done. Worse still, all the other doors were locked too. “Oh, fiddlesticks”, I was heard not to utter as I stood in my shirt sleeves (my jacket and coat were – you guessed it – inside the now-locked car) and contemplated my predicament from the frozen hinterlands adjacent to the A77.
Now, whilst my employers might not have batted an eyelid if I froze to death, their reaction to me failing to attend court was guaranteed to be rather less sanguine. Action had to be taken, and taken promptly. But what could I do? I didn’t have a mobile phone (few people did in ’93), the lay-by might as well as been in Siberia given the vast distance between it and the nearest phonebox and, to cap it all, my hair was starting to freeze.
At this critical juncture, a would-be knight errant rode into the lay-by. His steed was large, German, had a powerful heater and was equipped with that most useful of extras: a car phone. Unfortunately, my attempts to contact the office failed on account of the fact that no-one there was possessed of sufficient gumption to pick up the phone. With regret, I declined the chivalrous one’s offer to drive me into Glasgow, reasoning that I couldn’t leave the car unattended.
Back to square one, I thought, as the ravenous cold once more drained the warmth from my body. But lo, what’s this? It couldn’t be, could it? It is! A police van!
My energetic efforts to hail the van (think Bez after 20 Espressos) were successful and it duly rolled into the lay-by. It had but one occupant, a helpful and polite female officer who, alas, hadn’t got the first clue about opening a locked car from the outside. Which made two of us. At my behest we took turns at clattering the side windows with her wooden truncheon, but to no avail – the glass had obviously been designed to stop cannonballs in their tracks. Damn and double damn!
Whilst the police officer and I were busily engaged in using the truncheon and windows as a new type of percussion instrument, a van had quietly rolled into the lay-by. Once its cargo of workmen had stopped laughing (not the work of an instant), one of them exited the van and approached the car. We duly apprised him of the issue, whereupon he scratched his head and asked the officer if she had a coat hanger handy. To the officer’s eternal credit, she resisted the temptation to assume that the proverbial ‘live one’ had just joined our company. Instead, she reached into the van and produced…a coat hanger.
Thus armed, the workman wasted no time in opening one of the Rover’s doors, thereby preventing me from becoming the A77’s first-ever ice sculpture. As I departed, having bunged said workman the meagre contents of my wallet in thanks, I was intrigued to hear the police officer ask him to demonstrate to her just how he’d managed to open the window. I don’t know if she was expecting to encounter any more half-frozen idiots in remote lay-bys, but at least she’d be prepared if she did.
As for me, I’d love to say that I learned a valuable lesson that day and never again locked myself out of the Rover.
Like I said, I’d love to say it…
Note: Further Rover 213-related misadaventures can be found here.
Home page image: (c) Jodie Wilson, used under a Creative Commons licence