So, where to begin?
There are many places, but I think this is sound advice for starters, should you be considering a 20 hour mixed road first drive of your new Atom to coincide with the first and usually crippling snow of the year – don’t.
Pure luck and a dogged determination not to die allowed the dice to roll in my favour – this time.
Hey-ho, obligatory health and safety warning out of the way, let’s tell the story of my first drive during ownership.
As I mentioned on PH before, I’ve been longing for an Atom to call my own for several years; I knew as I left for the airport that it would have to be physically impossible for me to drive to not have that car back in London the following day – the £200 receipt for thermals was still burning a hole in my pocket (btw is that how they work?). ;D
Being a smoker I slept on the quick flight over and touched down at Belfast at 13:00 hours – there was a ferry departing Dublin at 16:00 hours so the clock was already ticking in my head.
With multiple cigarettes in my hand the vendor and his buddy track me down and we’re off.
(Vendor = Northern Irish Mark who many of you may know from the Atom Christmas Party?).
Mark has made the serious error, many moons ago, of buying/building his house 40 or so minutes away from the airport, this does not bode well for my 16:00 hour departure – good god man!
Tick, follows tock...
Text message from home, “snow’s just started darling”
The return flight boarding pass was already printed and in my pocket, getting the 16:00 ferry had passed, the snow was falling back at home but there must be a way.
“We’ve had loads of interest in the car” (prompting me for a buying response) “oh, really – it’s been on PH for 2-3 weeks” [act cool – they’ll never notice your legs look like the Michelin Man with the thermals popping out above your trainers, nor the bag you put in the boot which clearly has a helmet in, nor of course the 4 layers covered in the motorcycle jacket you have on – no sir-ee this isn’t a sure thing like a 50 year old virgin going to Bangkok, no, not at all]. :roflp:
We pull in to the grounds, the garage door starts to roll up automatically [must get me one of those] and there is my car that they’ve kindly looked after for me for the past few years.
The obligatory 30-45 minute walk around takes place – I clearly haven’t got a clue what I’m looking for other than to make sure the fan works – Tom has already told me this is a good’un, we’d already discussed a price, I’ve had my cigarettes and a coffee or two let’s go for a run – just as the rain starts falling.
Seemingly from the faces presented, this car doesn’t go out in the rain, but after a momentary pause we’re strapped in and hurtling down the roads of NI with the tail wagging on barely legal Tokoyama-whatsits.
Groovy, I think I’ve done the basics of looking like a car buyer, can I have it now...
Over my fifteenth coffee we agree terms and pay by BACs – after checking, this could take up to 2 hours.
Tick, follows tock...
Over the coming hour of waiting for the cash to hit the bank; these two Gents near desperately try to convince me to get the overnighter from Belfast to Liverpool to be fresh for the morning drive, “oh-no, no, no, no, I’ll shave off 4-5 hours by sprinting to Dublin for the 20:00 ferry. Knowing they’re talking to a mentalist I’m prepped with 25 Euros for the associated tolls, obligatory coffees and a sat-nav to get the self confessed geographically challenged Englishman to his destination with death (top chaps!).
Tick, follows tock...
“Money’s in the bank”
Additional layers + lid are donned from the sports bag which everyone politely had ignored for the past few hours, I got strapped in, pressed the starter and inched out of the garage as a cloud resembling the colour and aggressiveness of the fabled Purple Aki looms overhead.
It’s now 16:00 on Saturday.
I’m kindly guided to the top of the motorway to Dublin, get a pat on the back and set on my way with a barely noticeable shake of the head in astonishment of the task I’ve set myself.
Whhhhhoooooooosh, whhhhinnnne, whhhhoooosh – finally I’m making progress.
My lid has an insert behind the visor which does a supreme job of ensuring no mist is formed, it’s excellent, does the inventor proud.
It does cock-all to remove the mist from your glasses though.
I arrive at Dublin Docks warm but with a face stinging like a juvenile bear’s first foray into harvesting honey.
Prior to being loaded on to the 21:00 ferry I get the first “so did you build this yourself” which instigated a conversation – that time.
3+ uneventful hours follow, bar the massive paranoia – Alcons = no handbrake – every clunk, every bang, even a mild shudder of the hull have pictures of my new P&J being pulverised all over the very empty deck 3 of the StennaLine “Adventurer” not to mention my unconscious mind considering and then implanting thoughts of the Captain being an incompetent yellow moron planning on giving a ‘salute’ to his ex boss on the Isle of Man, but the #1 lifeboat had already been spotted next to the smokers station so that’s some consolation to the lung cancer warnings on my cigarette packs “smoking kills”, but I digress...
As I go to disembark, my newly purchased P&J/grim-reaper has attracted a crowd, “did you build that yourself?” They’re built in Somerse..... not the last time I’ll start that sentence today (Sunday early hours).
As I go through the motions of plugging myself into the car much like a life-support system with Autocom phones, nav, seatbelts, untangling, gloves, lid with exceptional mist clearing ability and finally glasses (which do not) I’m knowingly told a secret by a deck stewardess...
When all the cars turn right at the end of the run off ramp, go straight, you’ll miss all the roundabouts and lights in town, she says unknowing I’m geographically challenged.
This was the start for the next 12 or so hours to go terribly, terribly wrong.
Was it Asda or Tesco I turn right at?
After the standard suburban wasteland of council housing and corner shops I’m aquaplaning down Wales’ finest country roads – surely the dock planners would have a major trunk road leading to the motorway network from the Welsh/Irish ferry hub?
They probably had, it was just that I was not on it.
Even though several hundred miles from my London destination there’s still that feeling that you’ve made so much progress in one direction that it would be futile to re-trace your steps and go the right way + you’ve a decade old sat-nav kindly lent to you whom certainly and may I say very politely tells you where you should turn next to get back on track with a certain reassuring confidence.
Safe to say I was lost, but moving, albeit in an uncertain direction, which in man parlance is “making progress”.
Whilst “making progress” my heart skipped a beat or two as our 0.5 tonne hero was lifted from gods good earth on a bow wave of snow, slush and other unfathomable evil demons conspiring to ensure my first drive during ownership would be my last.
I had found the snow – or it had found me and it was going to be my new best friend for the next 11 or so hours ‘weather’ I liked it or not.
This journey was never planned like this, clearly as you can tell, it was never planned at all, but much like teenage dreams of that first union my first Atom drive under ownership was to be a perfectly blended mix between the Monaco Grand Prix and the final scenes of Roger Rabbit where they drive off through toy-town after defeating the evil dude from Back-to-the Future (sorry if that was a spoiler!).
Alas, it was not to be.
The bow wave never diminished, it increased as my speed as well as the fog lowered to a density seldom seen nowadays and only a distant memory of my days walking to school as a child.
It was heartbreaking, 600 HP/ton beneath my foot and the ebbing of my will to live as my speed decreased from 80, 70, 60, 50, 40, 30, 20, 10mph with only the occasional glimpse of the white lines visible through the skeletal chassis to my right mixed with dense fog; my exceedingly excellent education told be that the 50 mile journey (at this stage) to Brum would take me 5 hours at this speed (genius me), the car was barely in touch with the road, I hadn’t had a cigarette for hours, my feet were blocks of ice and the 5 hour realisation of comparative safety of a Premier Inn was too far to imagine.
I knew if I stopped I’d die as my will had practically been sucked from me by the sub-zero temperatures, I knew if I continued I’d likely be hospitalised as I don’t have the eloquence to describe the road conditions and my driving skill amongst peers is adequate at best; at this very point in my journey I came across a dual carriageway, a 4x4 which I had clearly been holding up scooted past and in the few feet it took before he disappeared into the deep fog he crossed back over the mountain of ice and slush in front me – bang!
Having the visor open by 4/5 fingers to be able to see allowed just enough room for the projectile velocity ice leaving his rear tyres to hit me in the face – hard.
Not knowing what the substance was that was flowing down my face, iced water, blood or both, a mild but growing anger that I was driving my dream car and have a loving family at home I thought whatever a right minded PetrolHead would.
Peddle down, I slipstreamed that bastid 4x4 all the way to Brum, sometimes facing forward, sometimes sideways and sometimes with my eyes well and truly closed.
The Premier Inn came and went – I will not be defeated.
After this moment of true self awareness, the miles chugged by, 1 in every 15 motorists took pictures of me on the move (these just being the ones I noticed), I gave gestures of having a great time and this self deceit actually and genuinely lifted my mood.
Every hundred or so miles I’d top up and get my core temperature back up with a coffee; every RedBull (of which there were 3 large ones) gave me just enough to face the next 100 mile stint.
Friends on FaceBook (sorry) were all congratulating me on the purchase unaware of the crisis that had been averted by projectile ice making me find my true grit – which I was to have ½ a ton of dumped in the car by a number of local council gritting vans, who’s actions last night probably kept me and many more besides facing in one direction (for the majority of the time).
I grabbed an unintentional 2 hour power nap at a service station table somewhere on the M1, feeling far worse on waking, topped up with fuel and a RedBull I settled in for the final stretch, thinking the worst of the snow was ahead.
The roads had that salty whitewash look to me, cold – yes, but dry, very, very dry.
If I survived that, I’m clearly invincible – whhhhhhinnnnne, whhooosh, whhhinnnnne – POW!
Dancing in between ice peaks on the cats-eyes, HGVs and fruit-loop Eurobox drivers I gave a good account of myself; posed for pictures whilst on the move and showed the driving public what British engineering was capable of, my fingers and feet too numb to care.
Finally, the M23 Croydon turn off, mildly taken sideways I came to the outskirts of home, a couple of hours san cigarette meant a quick stop to light up – lid/gloves off, ciggy in hand – how cold could I get in the next 5 or so miles to home?
Good god – the lid dulls so many senses, all of which enhance the Atom experience, with helmet off, cigarette in hand and measurable minutes from home I drove the last 5 miles like a returning king, photographed, waved at and admired – seemingly they knew what I’d been through to get here; the car danced and I smiled.
I love owning an Atom.