My husband is away for 18 days this month - February is particularly bad that way. Needless to say because he is back and forth to London, the cars have started acting up. The engine warning light came on in one of them and the driver's seat broke in the other. Monday morning, I loaded all the children into the Volvo, shovelled in two book bags, two reversible school coats and a packed Lightning McQueen lunch box, handed my daughter a plastic horse, threw in a handbag and my own Barbour jacket and clambered into the front seat. I am short. My husband is tall. To get into the car when I have been driving it, he mutters something about "bloody munchkins" and ratchets the seat back. When he has been driving it, I climb in, sit down and have to pull on the metal handle under the seat which then careers forward. Not Monday though - the seat stayed where it was, way back on its haunches. I heaved on the handle some more. I attempted to bounce the seat up and down with determined vigour while heaving on the handle as the children watched with the usual rapt attention they display to anything on television or Mummy whenever she heads for the brink of sanity on skates. I started "pogo"ing on the seat in a frenzy, pulling the handle up so hard it hurt my back - nothing. I took a moment to consider whether I could grow my legs - difficult. I considered whether I could indeed reach the pedals if I perched on the edge of my seat and extended my legs to their maximum stretch and sustain it for the 10-mile round journey - did not think so. I unpacked and repacked three children and sundry deitris into the Saab, cursing and whimpering gently that my back hurt. I thought: "No wonder we are always the last into school." We drove very carefully along the lanes - the engine warning light is usually the signal the Saab intends to break down and needs to be taken to the garage. I ignored it. I figured if I did not notice the light, the car would keep working and amazingly it did. I am going to try that again.
Then last night driving home as the road dips down and cuts between a farmhouse on one side and barns on the other, clouds of dense black smoke drifted from between the old stone buildings of the farmyard, across the road and away into the fields. As we went by, I looked between the outbuildings to see a vehicle in flames, its passenger door gaping open. This is big news in Northumberland. We drove on by and I thought: "I don't want to watch the local TV news programme only to be told that some poor soul burnt to ash trying to get out the truck as happy go lucky neighbours headed for home, clucking: "That looked nasty"." As we turned round, there was a loud bang from where the small inferno was raging, the light from the fire drenching the old stone buildings surrounding it and colouring the night sky; we parked and I walked up to the farmhouse. I knocked on the back door. I began to feel slightly silly. I thought: "I am sure they know there is a car burning out in the farmyard." A woman answered the door. I introduced myself. I said: "I'm sure you know this but there is a car on fire in your yard." Her husband appeared. They said they did know and that another farmer who had been doing some contracting for them, had told them his pick-up truck had caught fire in the yard. They seemed very relaxed about it all. As I got back to the car, a fire-engine full of volunteer firemen drove up and started unwinding hoses and suddenly there was even more smoke everywhere and the fire was out.
I was told today the farmer who owned the truck, noticed a glow from behind the dashboard and three minutes later the Nissan Nevada pick-up was in flames. No one was hurt. I have a theory. I think it was the rats. They were probably sending a message: "More cheese or the tractor gets it."