Never underestimate Mother Nature. If anyone had before, the tens of thousands of people who had nightmarish journeys home or who, like me, spent last night sleeping in cars, offices, hotels or the bedding department of John Lewis certainly won’t underestimate her again.
I know of several people whose drives home took anywhere between three and seven hours. Others left their cars behind and opted for the train, or walked distances of up to seven miles. 60 people in our office stayed overnight, with one of the chefs coming back in to cook dinner for them. (I’ll never complain about the restaurant again.)
Not everyone got caught out as harmless sleet turned into heavy snow in the blink of an eye, but the window of opportunity was a small one. In Bracknell, the abrupt change in the weather happened at 2.50pm. Anyone who left by 3.00 had a relatively clear run home. However, by the time I left at around 3.20, it was way too late. By then, everyone else on our industrial estate was also trying to leave en masse, resulting in gridlock. Worse still, the falling snow had already formed a slippery layer on top of the previous night’s ice, making any stop-start manoeuvre on even the most gentle gradient an, erm, interesting exercise in Newtonian mechanics – particularly for anyone who, like me, was driving a rear-wheel drive car. As a result, what started as a merely annoying traffic situation was compounded by difficult and dangerous driving conditions.
Now I’m not normally one to get overly stressed, but I have to admit that hysteria was not far away as events gradually unfolded around our increasingly futile attempts to pick Isaac up from nursery. Firstly Heather phoned from Henley to say she was stuck – it’s a one road in/one road out town surrounded by hills – so I told her to turn around, as a freezing car is not where a 36-week pregnant woman wants to be spending the night. By this point it was becoming obvious that I was also going nowhere fast; a quick call to a colleague, J, who had left 15 minutes before me but was only a few hundred yards further up the road confirmed my worst fears. So Heather asked one of our local friends to pick Zac up, but she couldn’t get up the steep hill to the nursery. Having spun my wheels, slid and bounced off the kerb several times already, I decided to cut my losses and ditch the car at the nearest hotel, but even then it took me an hour to cover the last 100 yards to get there.
By the time I had tramped back to the office it was 6.30 – it had taken over three hours to cover 1.5 miles – and I was cold, wet, hungry and muttering every expletive I have ever learned.
Thankfully, Heather had spoken to the nursery owner who had offered to take her 4×4, borrow a car seat from a neighbour, and drop Zac – who by now was the only child left at the nursery – at a friend’s, which took a massive weight off both our minds. (So, thank you, Nicola from Acres of Fun for going way above and beyond the call of duty to deliver our temporarily parent-less son to familiar and comfortable surroundings.)
I hitched a lift with A to Bracknell Central Travelodge, where we settled in for the night with some much-needed food and a bottle of wine (possibly two). It was 1am by the time I got to bed, and I was wide awake at 5.00, watching the BBC News and worrying about how Zac, never a good sleeper at the best of times, was doing.
To cut a long story short, I eventually extricated my car, although it needed the help of A (to whom, also heartfelt thanks), two shovels and three random strangers to push me up out of the car park and from there up the hill to freedom. I was home by 11am, Heather soon after, and we set off to rescue Zac fearing the worst and hoping for only moderate collateral damage at best.
The funny thing is, despite our worst fears about Zac getting scared and playing up about our absence – we had both had visions of him screaming tearfully through the night – he was absolutely fine. Indeed, although he was pleased to see us, he was more upset at the idea of being separated from our friend and her son than he was by the fact that he hadn’t seen us last night.
Which, I guess, just goes to show that it is possible for us to be away from him for an entire night – it is the first time in his two-and-a-bit years he has spent a night without both of us – without it being the end of the world. (At least, not for him, anyway.)
So I guess the moral of this story is two-fold. Firstly, don’t assume you can outrun the elements. (In future, I’ll think twice before glibly heading into work on a snowy day.) And secondly, that kids can be remarkably adaptable and unruffled even in stressful situations – sometimes far more so than their parents.