Sunday night. The weather outside is bitter and so I was very happily sitting doing a jigsaw in front of the fire. The Loyal Hound lay curled in his basket, dreaming of rabbits and twitching with the thrill of the chase. Outside the temperature was dropping to an icy -5 and the compacted snow on the road meant that there would be no going anywhere for me that night. The weekend had been pleasing though. A dinner party on the Friday night, DIY and long walks on Saturday followed by tea with friends and then Sunday had been spent stripping yet more woodchip and making a hideous mess of everything I had tidied the day before. I had waited for the sun to soften the snow on the road and had slid my car to the end of the road so that I could get out for work the next day. All was well in my little Welsh world.
So, you have the scene in your head? Isolated from the world there is me, doing my jigsaw. The television murmuring away in the background. The hound snoring and twitching in the corner. The fire crackling quietly away to itself. Into this idyll comes a gentle 'tap, tap, tap' at the window.
Not expecting this, I almost wondered if I had imagined the sound but glancing up I saw a pale face at the window. My heart leapt. The face moved back from the window. I resisted the urge to shut the curtains and pretend I hadn't seen anything and, assuming it was my neighbour (it was only a brief glimpse that I got of the face so I wasn't sure), I went to the front door to see what he wanted.
Round the side of the house came a man. Small and unthreatening he looked exhausted by life. Dressed in what you might call 'office' trousers, ordinary shoes and just an anorak to keep out the cold he might have been dropped in by Martians he was so unsuitably clothed for deepest, rural wales. He was pale and his hair stuck out from his head as though it had never seen a brush. His general shabby air made him ideal to be typecast as the worn out and unglamorous PI.
Without so much as an apology for frightening the living daylights out of me, or an introduction, he said baldly. 'My car is stuck'. Not 'Could you help me' I noted.
"Where is it stuck?" I asked. Though I was pretty sure I knew where. There is a car park for walkers down the track from me. The access to it is down a short slope and only that afternoon it had taken four of us half an hour to get a car up the hill. No great surprise then when he said 'at the car park'.
I enquired if he had tried to get my neighbour. In a low voice that I could scarcely catch, he said that he couldn't get him to answer the door. Pulling on a coat, hat, gloves and boots and grabbing a torch I locked up and followed him out into the night. Well, I couldn't leave him there to freeze could I?
The neighbour was at home so leaving him to get straw (for grip on the icy road) and other handy bits and bobs I went to look at the car with the PI. I wasn't feeling hopeful about the whole thing. Unless he had a four wheel drive there was little hope we could get him up the icy track.
It's about a five minute walk to the car park. The air was biting at any exposed skin and I wondered how he wasn't shivering convulsively. I asked his name. Asked again. 'Roy' he finally answered. Then I asked him what he was doing up here. I mean he wasn't dressed for a walk or for fishing which are the two main reasons people come here. 'Where had he come from' I added.
'From Rhyl. I came down at about five o'clock'. I was dumbfounded. I've always wondered if people can be dumbfounded and now I can tell you with conviction that they can. This shrimp of a man had come down a track covered in several inches of snow, snow that was compacted to a lethal icy sheen on the road. Even coming down in daytime would have been risky but to come down as it was getting dark and the frost was setting in was ridiculous. 'Did he have a towbar' I asked. He didn't know. 'What about a snow shovel. Better shoes. Gloves?' Frankly, anything that would be sensible to have with him if he was going to risk a road like that. Unapologetically he said no. He seemed to feel no sense of responsibility for getting himself into the situation he was in. As a result, I was feeling very little sympathy, and what little I did have was chilling with every whispered word he uttered.
I mean. No-one in a four wheel drive would have tried that road at 5pm on a freezing night. Certainly not on their own. Would you drive down a forest track thick with snow and ice, with no certainty that anybody lived there (you are unlikely to find houses down these roads)? Nobody would. I do live here and I wouldn't drive down it in that state and I get a lot of practice driving on snow and ice.
Getting crosser and crosser with him by the minute I stop talking to him and in silence we reach his car. It had slid off the road into a ditch in his efforts to get it out of the car park and nobody in their right mind would think that it could be pushed off the sloping ditch without the help of a towrope (which he didn't have) and another vehicle. Why didn't he just say that? Why make me (and my neighbour who was following us down) walk down there to view the car with him?
I thought longingly of my fire, the jigsaw, my Sunday evening and shivered under the starlight. Curtly I said to him 'we can't push this out of the ditch with just three of us and even if we could, we'd never get you up the hill'. I wished I could be kinder about it but he seemed to expect me to work miracles for him as a matter of course and it made me angry. Anyway, I knew what I was talking about after the efforts of the afternoon when the snow was softer and not hardened by the frost. He was going nowhere until morning. This left another dilemma. What to do with him.
My neighbour and I decided to take him back to his house. I had already decided he wasn't coming anywhere near mine. I would go back to mine and see if I could find anyone prepared to come down and pull him out. It was a fruitless effort. Not even a tractor was going to risk getting stuck. I headed back over to my neighbour's house to break the news to them.
The shrimp was sitting in a chair by the gas fire. He wasn't speaking or even getting involved in the conversation about how to rescue him. I wanted to hit him. There we were, doing our best to help and he couldn't have been less interested. Even when we asked him what he wanted to do, he would just shrug. He obviously felt it was our responsibility to rescue him.
Vexed beyond belief by this stage I said the only thing possible was that he walked to the top of the road to meet a taxi we could book for him. They could take him to a pub and he could sort out his own rescue in the morning. No comment on this plan from the PI. Exasperated, I then said that another option was that he could try the RAC. Was he a member? 'Yes' came the answer but not with any enthusiasm for actually ringing them. I wasn't hopeful they could help anyway. How would they get down the hill, and back up it again anyway? We'd end up with more stuck people. My neighbour said he was welcome to stay the night with him if he wanted to - an offer above and beyond the call of duty. Not a word of thanks for that offer. Just a shrug of the shoulders.
Normally, I would have offered to walk anyone in that situation up to the road to make sure they got to the top safely, but I was sick of him. Having curtly pointed out that he couldn't expect anyone to risk their vehicle coming down a road he had no business coming down himself, or words to that effect, I left him with my neighbour and returned to my jigsaw.
A couple of days later I saw my neighbour who said that the drip had got a taxi and disappeared into the night without a word of thanks.
The whole thing was extraordinary in the extreme. It seems like a dream now, or perhaps a film seen a long time ago and not quite remembered. The tap, tap, tap at the window. The silent, translucent man in his city clothes, the frozen night and the icy lake. Everything else aside it gives me a greater appreciation of The Good Samaritan. I felt extremely uncharitable and resentful about the whole thing and by the end was set against being helpful.
It does go to show though. If the PI had been friendly and appreciative, I would have felt totally differently about the whole thing. You get what you give seems to be the lesson in all this.
The price of health
1 day ago