Full Circle

My first car was a lime-green Skoda 105, similar to the one in the picture below.

Lime Green Skoda 105

My Dad bought the car in the late 1970s. At the time, Skoda had a reputation as a car manufacturer along the same lines as £1 discount stores have today amongst high-class supermarkets. It didn’t do much for our street credibility, but it did have one thing going for it; it wasn’t a Lada! The car was a bit of a noisy “chugga-bus” but it was reliable, and it did get the family out and about safely. My Dad would never have a word said against it.

I’ve deliberately started this story in the middle; let me take you to the start. My Dad passed a motorcycle test while serving in the Army in the late 1950s. When he converted from an Army licence to a full civilian driving licence, due to an administrative error, he was given a full driving licence which entitled him to drive motor cars. In over 50 years driving, he never had an accident (to my knowledge!); these days, you hear stories of people passing their driving test and crashing within the next 24 hours. His first car was a Hillman Minx, there were probably others in between but in the 1970s he purchased a Reliant Robin 3-wheeler, or as it might be referred to today, a “Del-boy”. A few years later, the British car manufacturer, Reliant released a four-wheel version of the Robin called a Kitten. We exchanged the 3-wheeler for a 4-wheeler which ultimately was traded for the Skoda 105. It’s clear that my Dad’s motoring philosophy was more about getting from A to B than becoming a style icon.

I was fortunate, after a year of taking trains to and from University, Dad decided to buy a new mustard-yellow Skoda and gave me the lime-green one. My first significant journey in the car was the four-hour trip from home to Norwich. It involved about 20 miles on the M62 and many more down the A1. I didn’t find out until afterwards, but my Dad secretly followed me on that journey to make sure I was OK. He eventually turned round to go back home… after I reached Doncaster!!

I had many adventures in that car, many of them involving mechanical malfunctions. The Haynes manual became my best friend and ultimately my most read publication. I learned a lot about car maintenance and even changed a cam belt on my own, in the dark, in heavy rain, on a motorway hard shoulder near Swinton.

From being a little embarrassed at how uncool my car was, I grew to appreciate the advantages it gave me. If there is one thing I learned from my Dad, it is that a vehicle is designed to get you from A to B and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a Ferrari or a Skoda, whether it’s fire-engine red or lime green. This mentality has been applied to many other aspects of my life, the exception being my wife, Angela, who is, of course, the fire-engine red Ferrari!

What happened to the mustard-yellow Skoda? It was handed down to my brother when he passed his test and Dad bought another Skoda. He continued to enjoy this brand of car for the rest of his driving life. We called his last one the “big yellow taxi”.

Two weeks ago, Angela took out a lease on a new car. You guessed it; it’s another Skoda (a “Yeti”) – our first.

Skoda Yeti

These days it is a highly respected brand of motor vehicle, practical, reliable and now with an acceptable level of style. Nobody we have spoken to, whether they are friends or people in the motor industry, has anything negative to say about them and we honestly couldn’t be happier. It is funny how events in your life can come full circle.

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The Grand Old Duke of Walk

Every morning, come rain or shine, dark or light, Angela takes our three lovely Labradors out for a walk between 6:00 and 6:30 in the morning. She often claims to enjoy this thinking time, shared with her 3 best friends; other times she deserves a medal for her dedication and devotion. I occasionally think I would like to join her but the only time I go walking at 6am is in a dream. Her morning walk takes her to a big field with footpaths and a steep hill; we call it “Cow Field” for obvious reasons. Out of interest, we have names for other local dog walking landmarks such as “Cow Field 2”, “Cow Field 3”, “Shit Snicket 4”, “Mossy Snicket” & “Fleet Snicket 5”. I digress.

Stan and Olly in Cow Field
Stan and Olly in Cow Field

Last week on their morning walk, Angela endured her worst nightmare. On a wet and dark morning, she started to connect their leads ready to exit Cow Field. Olly was first, Stan was sorted out second, then, “Wait, where’s Duke? He was here a second ago.” He does have a tendency to ‘mooch around’; we sometimes call him the “Moochy Poochy”. Using a torch and attempting to backtrack to look for him, Angela became increasingly concerned. The calls grew louder before the panic set in. 15 minutes later, she took the decision to leave the field and head back home with Olly and Stan, clinging on to the faint hope that Duke would have made his own way home and he’d be sitting on the doorstep wondering what all the fuss was about.

As she reached the main road, she saw a car about 30 yards away with its hazard warning lights flashing. She feared the worst and ran to the car, only to see it drive off into the distance before she got close enough to draw any attention. They returned home, but Duke was not there on the doorstep. Utterly distraught, she burst into the house.

Meanwhile, I was still in bed. I had been awake for about 20 minutes and had been checking the BBC news website on my smartphone. About one minute before Angela came home, I had opened up my Facebook app, and there was a notification posted 22 minutes earlier from a member of a local community group. These postings usually turn out to be a complete waste of my time, but it doesn’t stop me opening them. Imagine my surprise to see Duke in his raincoat sat in the back of somebody’s car with the caption “Anybody lost a dog?” Well, that woke me up! Seconds later, Angela burst into the bedroom and before she could say anything I said “It’s OK, he’s safe”, and showed her his picture on my phone. For Angela, this was a terrifying experience. For me, I had found out he was safe before I even knew that he wasn’t!

We managed to contact the kind soul (“Bob”) who rescued him; he had taken Duke to a vet in the town centre who, in turn, scanned his chip, and the vet was also able to contact us. The power of Facebook (the post was shared over 130 times) and canine micro-chipping was more evident today to us than it ever has been. Bob told us that he had seen Duke running down the middle of the road; Duke went to meet him when he stopped and basically jumped in the back of his car, probably looking a little upset.

For the rest of the day, Duke was a little clingy, to say the least. Angela bought him a separate dog collar to use when he wears his coat, and she also purchased a bright multi-coloured beacon which can be seen from the International Space Station. Since that day, we have unintentionally met Bob walking his own dog, and Duke has taken a real liking to him.

Duke’s Version of the Story

I do like my sleep, but I also love it when my Mum takes me for a walk with my brothers first thing in the morning. One morning last week, it was chucking it down, and Mum had to put my coat on. Labs love water, but even for me, it was a bit on the damp side that day. We got to the big field, as usual, there were no cows as far as I could tell but I had to check around when I was allowed off my lead. I was investigating, partly to ensure the safety of my team, and partly to examine some of the delicious soft brown goodies which I call “Freebie Frisbees” or “Beef Patties for Dogs”. They are my breakfast supplement.

I don’t know how it happened but Mum, Olly and Stan had disappeared. I know it was dark, but they were nowhere in sight. I searched around for a little while without success; had they left me to fend for myself? Surely not. I knew Mum would be going through the main exit gate so I decided to head her off at the pass. Not counting the entrance to the field, about a third of a mile away, I remember once walking through a small alleyway as an alternative way to exit the field. I made it onto the road and gently jogged down the middle. In the map below, the red route is where we generally walk; the white route tracked my journey.

Cow Field

There were some headlights behind me, so I stopped, was it my Dad’s car? Unfortunately, it wasn’t, but on the plus side I made a new friend who introduced himself as “Bob”. He looked like a nice man so I figured he would probably take me home; assuming this, I jumped straight into his back seat with my wet, muddy paws and posed for him to take a photograph of me. There were some flashing lights on his dashboard, I remember thinking it was a bit early in the morning for a disco.

Bob didn’t take me home, but he looked after me and took me to a place where someone in a white coat brushed the back of my neck with some kind of magic wand. He sat with me for 20 minutes and then I saw Mum and Dad walk through the door. They seemed really pleased to see me, but I don’t honestly know what all the fuss was about. I think I received a ‘telling off’ for about 15 seconds before they took me back home and treated me like a hero. I’m not sure what I did to deserve it, but I’m not complaining!