Anyone who saw my last entry will know that I recently had a funeral to go to. The service for my old team-mate and friend Neil ('Bliss') was held close to his home in Buckinghamshire. Perhaps it would have been easy for some to consider the journey to Milton Keynes from the north west too far, and in many cases it might have been. But not in this case. Not for someone who had such a huge influence on me in some of the best years of my life.
So I went. As ever with me it is not as straightforward as 'I went to the funeral, I went for a drink afterwards, I came home'. Oh no. My problems began after the service. Before we get there though I must just share with you a conversation I had with an old-team-mate outside the chapel while we were waiting to go inside for the service;
"How did you know Neil, then? Was it through fencing?" asked an older gentleman whom I knew very well, but who clearly didn't remember me.
"Er..no." I replied.
"....I played basketball with him. And with you as it happens. At Bolton."
A puzzled look......another of hurried realisation and then.....
"You've grown up."
To be fair to my old Bolton team-mate Brian Dickinson, I have. Even if I don't always act like it. To be yet fairer to him, I played only a season or two with him and the last of those was something like 17 years ago. He might remember a much slimmer, fitter young fellow with more hair and a damn sight more energy and enthusiasm.
So the plan afterwards was to head to the David Lloyd centre for a drink and a chat. Perhaps a chance to reminisce and exchange stories of Neil and his contagious energy and ebullience. I made arrangements with another former team-mate Mark, who was riding in the car of yet another one, Sue. They would wait in their parking space while I went down to the bottom end of the crematorium were I had hurriedly parked my car earlier having got slightly lost on the way and arriving with about 20 minutes to spare. It turns out I don't have the technological know-how to operate Emma's sat-nav system and so I had reached my destination by asking a mechanic at a place nearby called 'Brake World'. He was very helpful.
So anyway I get into my car after the now obligatory fight with my not-so-lightweight wheelchair (it was so much easier when I was an athlete, when I knew Neil) and headed towards where Sue and Mark were parked. Except they weren't. All I could see was a queue of traffic, all drivers trying to make their way down the narrow lane which led to the exit. By now it was snowing quite heavily and it was 5.45 pm. I had only booked the one day off from work and I had a three-hour drive in front of me. I joined the queue and hoped to get a glimpse somewhere of Mark and Sue, or at least latch on to someone else who might be headed over to the David Lloyd centre. Surely the majority of people stuck in the queue would be. This is where my theory broke down and I lucked out. By the time I had the main road in my sights there were two cars in front of me. The first pulled out on to the busy road and turned left. The second pulled out on to it and turned right. So which one of them was going to the David Lloyd centre and which one was going home? Were they both going to the David Lloyd centre but just via different routes? Were they both going home? These were unanswerables. I decided there and then that since I had lost Mark and Sue and since it wasn't safe at that moment to make a phone call to enquire as to their whereabouts, I was going home.
I stopped at Northampton Services to make the phone call about 20 minutes later. Mark apologised and so since has Sue, but with the snow getting worse and time moving on I was certain it was best to head back on home. All well and good then for the next couple of hours until, driving at a granddad-like 50mph (something I have done frequently since my speeding fine) I felt the car jolt and heard quite a loud bumping noise. Not like a pop or a bang, just a thud. The steering was fine at first but as I drew nearer to home it got more difficult until by the time I exited the M6 to join the M62 for the last leg of my journey, the car was pretty much uncontrollable. Puncture. I had to pull over.
Being 20 minutes from home I decided that rather than ring the RAC (of which I am a member through Motability and therefore do not have to part with any cash for the privilege of being rescued) I would ring my dad to come and help. I knew he would be able to change a wheel and I also reckoned that he would be able to reach me a lot quicker than the RAC would. This was quite a selfish decision on reflection but in my defence I was parked up on the hard shoulder of the slip road, alone, in the pitch blackness and memories of running out of petrol on the freeway between Los Angeles and San Diego were spewing forth to the front of my mind. I rang Emma, who because she is the sort of person who listens to people who know better and I'm not, knew that the man from Ford's had warned us that there might not be a spare wheel in the car. Some models only come with a puncture repair kit. Something about saving money, she told me as I imagined my dad turning up and enquiring as to why I had phoned him rather than the RAC if I didn't even have a spare wheel to replace the punctured one.
Fortunately I did and the switch was fairly straightforward, except for the comedy moment when my dad lost the sheet which I use as a protector for the car seats. He'd been using it to kneel on because the surface of the road was dirty and it blew away in the wind. I was writing it off when he emerged from behind his car with the sheet in his hand, and plonked it back in the boot from whence it came. You have to feel sorry for him really. He's too old for this shit and his work wasn't done even then. When we got back to my house (his is only a few doors down) he had to physically push me up my drive because it was covered in two inches of snow. These are the times when disability becomes an issue again. I shouldn't have to be ringing my dad or anyone else because I need to change my wheel and I shouldn't need to be manually assisted up my drive because it is snowing.
Despite the drama and more snow I made it to work on Friday. We were given the option of using some flexi and leaving a little early because of the weather conditions. I took the opportunity. Memories of the last really significant snowfall of a few years ago convinced me to get out while the going was still good. Back then, I had left it too late and it took me almost five hours to travel the 12 or so miles between the office and my house. Yet the snow had one more surprise in store for me nonetheless. In my haste to get out of it and into the car I failed to notice that one of my shoes had fallen off. It wasn't until I pulled up outside the house and started to transfer back into my wheelchair that it dawned on me that I was, to paraphrase Peter Cook, deficient in the shoe department to the tune of one.
So that was Thursday and Friday. I did not leave the house again until Monday. It just wasn't going to be safe.