Clara goes to Rochdale

To aid with getting the full feel of this little episode in our adventures in Clara, it may be worth watching or re-watching Apollo 13 or the more recent stranded in space film Gravity. Both of those stories will help you to understand just how helpless and far away I felt last week… I also need to mention my absolute gut renching hatred for McDonald’s. I simply detest everything the company stands for. I’ve always felt this way and yes this information is relevant for what is to follow. It may also be worth grabbing yourself a drink and a biscuit. This is rather a big one…

For the last 2 years running I’ve spent a few days teaching up in a school in Rochdale. This year I was asked back once more, but decided to ditch the usual hotel accommodation in favour of a night in Clara. I’d be taking her anyway, so it seemed pointless to pay for an expensive hotel. The campsite I found looked lovely, was half the price of my usual hotel and was actually nearer to the school than my hotel. It was perfect. The day before my trip north and Clara died on my way to collect Sawyer from school 😯 This was far from perfect!!!

fuel filterClara’s problem appeared to be a familiar one. Fuel was not getting into the engine. We’d been down this painful root a few years ago. Since then Clara’s fuel pump, fuel pipes, battery and fuel filters had all been replaced for new, and we’d not had a problem. I still don’t remotely class myself as anything near a competent mechanic, but I had done most of this work myself. I was also reasonably confident what the problem was and how to fix it, so maybe my novice mechanical powers are improving slightly. I therefor decided that the best course of action would be to replace one of Clara’s fuel filters. I had a spare and the job wasn’t massively challenging. Or shouldn’t be…

Unfortunately when we’d had our epic and hugely traumatic breakdown in France two years ago, a garage had decided to encase one of Clara’s fuel filters in a thick plastic cylinder, which they’d securely fixed to the under side of Clara. “It’ll stop it flapping around under the van,” they’d told me. And to give them their due, it certainly had. It also made it impossible to actually see if the filter inside the opaque cylinder was dirty, and it also made it damn near impossible to remove!!! The fuel pipes were seemingly glued to the ends of the cylinder and the cylinder itself cable-tied in about a million places. Thanks garage 🙄 I needed Clara to get me up to Rochdale the next day and I really didn’t have time for any major mechanics… Instead I ‘fiddled’ with the filter, sucked (and swallowed) petrol towards the engine, syringed some fuel into the carburetor and Clara leapt into life 🙂 I would now pray that Clara would behave for the next two days… The mere fact I’m blogging about this, implies she didn’t.

Tuesday morning and all was fine. Left home around 6.00 AM, trundled onto the M1, headed north and I was parked up at my Rochdale school before 8.30. Clara had behaved beautifully. After a pretty ‘full on’ days teaching I left the school and headed to my overnight campsite, but not before calling at a nearby ASDA for some provisions. With food and alcohol stashed into Clara I rolled out of the car park and Clara died 😯 It was the same fuel issue as before. My heart sank. Shit, shit, shit and shit. The next 10 minutes was spent hastily emptying the back of Clara, to get at the engine. Shit, shit, shit and shit. If I had some spare fuel I could try the little syringe into the carburetor trick that usually worked, but I had none. Instead I tried the ‘easy-start’ spray, which failed miserably. I then tried to manually suck the fuel through the pipe to the engine bay, which a) tasted bloody foul b) failed to start Clara’s stubborn engine. It was no good, I needed some spare fuel.

After asking a couple in the ASDA car park where the nearest garage was, I set off with my trusty fuel-can. Thankfully it wasn’t a million miles away, but just as I walked towards the pumps I noticed the couple I’d asked directions from driving out of the garage!!! They were actually going to the same bloody garage, but couldn’t offer me a lift 😯 Back at Clara I sucked a little fuel into my syringe and injected this down into the carburetor. I then leapt into Clara and gave the ignition a try. The engine fired for a second then died. I repeated this process about four times, and each try was as fruitless as the last. The syringe trick always worked. I was now in a mess… But nowhere near as messy as I was about to be.

My only option now was to attempt to change the clearly blocked fuel filter, on a fairly busy road outside ASDA and right opposite a McDonald’s. Far from ideal. So I tried to push Clara round the corner and off the road. I probably moved her about 8 inches forward, and then rolled back again 🙄 I tried again and again to move Clara forwards, secretly hoping that at least one person sat watching me outside McDonald’s or at least one of the many people cursing me as they overtook me, would offer to help. Not a single person did. The repair job would therefor take place on a fairly busy road with me half under Clara and half in the middle of the road. I’ve no real idea how close I came to losing my legs that afternoon, but more than one driver screamed as they swerved past me 😯 The burger munchers in and outside McDonald’s just sat back and watched.

As I’ve earlier mentioned, thanks to our over zealous garage, the blocked fuel filter was insanely protected and fixed to the underside of Clara; right next to the fuel-tank. No amount of pulling would release the fuel pipes from the filter, and boy did I pull. In desperation I reached for the Stanley knife. All cable-ties were cut and removed. I then sliced through one of the fuel pipes and quickly attached it to one end of the new filter. Fuel then started to piss out of the old (apparently blocked) fuel filter. Shit, shit, shit… I stuck my finger over the old filter, just as fuel began pissing out of the new filter!!! SHIT!!! I needed to connect both pipes to the new filter asap, but just as before, no amount of pulling would remove the pipe from the other end of the old fuel filter. I cut that off too and went to reconnect it to the new filter… My pipes were now too short 😯 And to make matters worse, the pipe that was connected to the fuel-tank appeared to be leaking too!!! No amount of tightening seemed to fix the leak and in the end I concluded the pipe was split. It would have to come off.

The smell of petrol wafting around Clara was now failry pungent. The burger munchers across the road (especially the ones sat outside) had noticed and were far from happy. What a shame!!! Back at Clara and it really was make or break time. I would have to remove the short split pipe from the fuel-tank and attach a longer piece, which luckily I did have. This could then be attached to the other end of the new fuel-filter and all should be good to go. Unfortunately removing the pipe from the fuel tank would release about £20 worth of petrol onto the floor. There’d be no way of stopping this. I’d have to attach the new pipe pretty bloody quickly. I also now had no fuel-can to collect any fuel into, as it was already full!!! Clara’s washing-up bowl would have to do… So, with new pipe, tools and bowl all close to hand, and with cars still swerving past my outstretched legs, I took a deep breath and removed the split pipe. Fuel instantly began pissing out from the fuel-tank into my bowl. I then attempted to attach the new pipe. I pushed and twisted and pushed, but the pipe simply wouldn’t fit onto the fuel-tank. I tried again and again, with petrol soaked arms and clothes, but still the pipe would not fit. Why why why? Again I tried. By now my hands and arms were literally burning with the amount of fuel on them. The pipe would not fit and my bowl of fuel was now overflowing onto the road. I hastily swapped the full bowl for one of Clara’s large salad bowls 😯

I was now feeling utterly defeated. My only other bowl would also soon be full. There was already a potentially lethal pool of petrol under Clara. I was so sodden with the stuff I’d probably burn for weeks. And still the fuel poured from Clara’s tank. I couldn’t fix her. She’d beaten me and it was time to admit defeat. I would call for help… And this was when I realised that Clara’s leisure battery, which powers my phone-charger, was flat. My phone had 1% life left in it. SHIT, SHIT, SHIT AND SHIT My answer-machine message home lasted about 5 seconds and went something like this…

“Hi, it’s me. I’m in a real mess. Phone’s about to die. Clara’s died and I need the breakdown people. I’m outside ASDA Rochdale near the Range and McDonald’s …”

My phone then died… I had no idea if or when Tracy would hear my message. No idea if she’d be able to find the breakdown information, or if any breakdown assistance would even be able to find me? There is more than one ASDA in Rochdale apparently. I suddenly felt very lost, helpless and a long way from home, which signalled the arrival of Bob and Sue (I think it was Bob and Sue?). On their way to do their food shop, the keen caravaners had spotted my predicament and had decided to stop. I wasn’t really sure if there was anything really to help with, but it was nice to actually speak to someone. Sue was a self confessed God worshipper and she insisted the good Lord would make things right. I’m about as anti God worshipping as they come, but what the heck, I was willing to give anything a try now.

I relayed the sorry story to my new friends and told them about my many failed attempts at fixing the new fuel pipe. Bob thought hot water might soften the rubber pipe, so Sue dashed into the evil McDonald’s and returned with a cup of boiling water and a pile of napkins. Apparently the petrol fume complaining had significantly increased, yet still the stony faced burger munchers refused to offer the slightest crumb of help. I now had the good Lord on my side and I was confident he’d plunge these unhelpful louts into a pit of fiery chip fat when the time was right. Bob dropped my fuel-pipe into the boiling water, while Sue handed me the napkins. I really was in quite a spectacular mess and to be honest, I was way beyond a paper napkin or two.

While my rubber pipe slowly softened and fuel continued to pour onto the road, Bob, Sue and I compared Derbyshire camping stories. Unknown to me, there was now a full-on search for a broken down ‘flowery’ campervan. Tracy had contacted all the Rochdale ASDA stores and our breakdown people were also now well into recovery mode. Stood in petrol sodden clothes, I was blissfully unaware of all of this. I’d already had thoughts about spending a rather smelly night in Clara right where she was now abandoned. What other choices did I have? Sue was still determined that the good Lord would somehow save the day, so with a now softened rubber pipe, I went for one final attempt at fixing Clara.

Fuel was still pissing from the fuel-tank, but so what. I few more drops onto the road or me, really wouldn’t make that much difference now. A stray spark, match or cigarette stub and Rochdale would get a rather spectacular firework display. A rather lovely school would also be minus an art teacher tomorrow 😯 It was a sobering thought. The pipe therefore had to fit. It simply had to. Clutching the still warm pipe, I lowered myself into the ever increasing pool of petrol, scraped any old rubber from the fuel-tank connection and pushed the new pipe into place… IT WENT ON. IT FUCKING CONNECTED 🙂 🙂 I pushed the other end onto the fuel-filter and gave all the pipes a good tighten. Clara’s leaking fuel had finally, mercifully stopped. Pretty much all of my collected fuel was then carefully poured back into Clara, with the aid of a funnel, fuel-can and discarded McDonald’s paper cup. The shitty company did appear to have it’s uses after all.

All that was now needed was to get Clara started again, and to pray that she (and me) didn’t explode in the process. It was at this point that my ‘not remotely a car mechanic’ title came into serious doubt. I knew that Clara wouldn’t start by simply turning the ignition. All of her fuel pipes were now bone dry and It would take ages to suck the fuel from the petrol-tank back to the engine. It would probably flatten the battery by doing so. I would therefore do the little syringe trick to hopefully give Clara’s fuel dry engine a helping start. This is when Bob uttered words that I genuinely never expected to hear… Stood with tools in hand, as black as a miner, peering into Clara’s engine, Bob said, “well you clearly know what you’re doing.” He actually said that to me. Mr I know bugger all about cars, ‘clearly knows what he’s doing’. Wow!!!

And do you know what? I really did know. After two attempts Clara’s engine sprang into life. If the good Lord had anything to do with this, then I thank you. Where-ever or whoever you may be. Sue was convinced and promised to tell her church the miraculous story this weekend. I really couldn’t care what people believed in at this very moment. Clara was fixed, we’d not blown up and that, for me, was all that mattered. I told Bob and Sue that I really wanted to hug them both for all their help and support, but knew they’d probably not want me anywhere near them in my current state 😯 Sue then came up to me a pushed £10 into my pocket. “That’s for all the petrol you’ve lost…” I told her not to be so daft. I should be giving them money, but she was having none of it. It was the good Lord’s wish…

To Bob and Sue; I thank you hugely. I also apologise if I’ve got your names wrong. To my wife; I apologise for stressing and wasting a huge chunk of your afternoon/evening. To Wendy from our breakdown company; I’ve never met you, but apparently you were a huge help in trying to locate me, and were massively considerate when I finally called to cancel to search party. To the bewildered campsite owners; I genuinely don’t normally look or smell anywhere near as bad as I did when I finally rolled into your lovely campsite. And finally, to all of the Rochdale burger muchers who watched me struggle for nearly three hours; I hope your meal was thoroughly ruined by the waft of petrol that came your way. That fiery pit of chip fat awaits you. Amen…