I was reminded by someone at work, today, just how easy life has become with the internet.
“Oh, my car insurance just ran out,” she said. “I’d better renew it.”
She went online and five minutes later she was done. Easy.
I recalled the time, a few years back, in the eighties. Eek, that was thirty-odd years ago! Hard to believe.
We were camping. We had chosen a site miles from anywhere, up in the mountains behind Harlech, in North Wales. It was raining. Some things don’t change.
“The car tax runs out at the end of the week,” I said, looking at the disc on car windscreen. There was little else to look at. Beyond the windscreen there was mist. We were sitting in the car because we needed a change from lying in the tent; letting the oxygen run down to our feet for a change.
“Is it a problem?” said Sarah.
“Nah, we’ll be home in a few days. There’s no need to—”
And I stopped. We always renewed our MOT and car insurance a couple of weeks ahead of the car tax to be on the safe side. You can’t get a tax disc unless you have MOT and insurance, and in those days we didn’t have anywhere to park off-street. I’d been caught out once before, incurring fines and points and humiliation even though I’d been honest and never driven the car.
I rummaged through the glove box and, sure enough, our insurance expired a few days before we’d come away.
We had to renew it.
These were the days before mobile phones, never mind internet. We set out on foot to the nearest phone box, about four miles away. At least we knew where it was; we’d used it on one of the many occasions that we’d broken down in this valley.
Did I mention, it was raining?
I suppose we could have waited until it stopped, but we’d been there, soaking up rain, for the best part of a week and it had shown no inclination to stop up to now. Also, it was Friday afternoon. Insurance companies closed for the weekend in the good old days.
So yes, we walked, in our not-very-waterproof waterproofs, and we got wet.
You can fit two people in a phone box. It’s cosy, but on a wet Welsh afternoon, cosy is good.
This was a phone box with two buttons, A and B, marked in big white letters. I didn’t understand the principle then. I’m glad I don’t have to understand it now. Whichever order you chose to press the buttons the general idea was that you pumped prodigious quantities of silver into the heavy black box and you got to talk for about thirty seconds before the phone started beeping at you with insatiable hunger for more.
“Hello, XYZ Insurance here.”
“Oh, hi. My name’s—”
Beep beep beep.
Insert cash. Press button A. (or B?)
“Yeah, my name's Mike Wood and I need to—”
Beep beep beep.
It is a painful process. We fed the beast and watched our supply of change dwindle. We were put on hold. We were cut off. We dialled again and had to wade through the formalities of name, reason for calling, redirect, beep beep beep, several more times. The inside of the box got hot and the glass steamed up. Hearing was difficult with the rain hammering on the glass. The wind somehow managed to rock the whole structure, even though it was built from glass and girders and buried in concrete.
“Insurance? Would that be household insurance? Life insurance? Buildings ins—”
“Car insurance! I need to renew! I need to pay you money!”
We were down to our last ten pence. I was on the edge. My sanity was about to burst out of the phone box and make a break for it.
But I’d reached a sensible person.
“What’s the number of your call box?”
I read it out. Not easy because some of it was hidden under the graffiti. Who walks a gazillion miles with a can of spray paint to vandalise a phone box in the middle of nowhere?
Beep beep beep.
But yes, she rang us back. Ten minutes later and we were insured. Broke, but insured.
It would have been nice to drive back, but the car was with the tent, so we walked. In the rain. And the wind.
We live in an age of miracles and wonders. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
More camping and caravanning tales can be found in Travelling in a Box. And for a limited time only (until 14th June) you can get the e-book for just 99p (or 99cents in the US). To buy a copy, take a look at the new web site, TravellinginaBox.com