Guest Post: Hell On The M25

My Guest Poster today is Cressida Downing.

Cressida is an Editorial Consultant,  as well as a mum of two, and a self-proclaimed follower of the Frequent Gin school of parenting. She runs her own consultancy over at The Book Analyst and also blogs for Writers and Artists regularly, but sometimes gets the urge to do a bit of ‘mummy blogging’ and when she does, I’m only too happy to have her guest post for me!

I’m not a confident driver.  I didn’t learn to drive until I was in my twenties (I spent a lot of time in London – there was no need) and although I tend to be fairly happy to drive for about an hour or so, more than that makes me anxious.

The first day of the half term the kids and I were invited to a birthday party.  The mother of the birthday boy is an old friend of mine and we’d been trying to arrange to see each other for over a year.  They live in Kingston Upon Thames and we’re just north of Cambridge.  Google maps told me it would be about 2 hours.  I thought ‘how hard can that be?’ and we set off.

We left home at 10am (party started at 12.30) with one child in football kit (it was a football party), a few snacks, and a nicely wrapped copy of Oliver Twist for the birthday boy.

I didn’t take a sat nav.  They don’t agree with me so I figured the maps and the ten year old navigator would do the trick.  We bombed down the M11 listening to Now 84.  Then we hit the M25.  There were ‘delays’.  For ‘delays’ read sitting in stationary traffic that crawls every five mins or so.

We had to go 14 junctions.  There were ‘delays’ for 4.  We would get through this, it would be fine.  Then we hit the next ‘delays’.  These ones were promised (thanks to the flashing signs) all the way up to our junction.

We texted our party host.  ‘We’re probably going to be late’.  ‘Turn around,’ she urged.  I don’t know why we didn’t…

Then the boy needed the loo.  We were nowhere near services or even the hard shoulder – marooned four lanes across, but with the traffic moving just enough to stop us being able to get out.  I briefly considered having him open the back door and do a ‘wee-past’ on the central reservation as we crawled along but we decided to test the ‘you can wee in a bottle’ theory.  He could – and did.

By the time we got to our junction, the party had ended.  I still hoped we could help with the clearing up perhaps and catch up with my friend then.  Also I didn’t want our trip to be wasted.

The trouble was that the road we were now on – off the bottom of the M3 – had come to a complete standstill.  We were at least ten miles away.  We texted again. ‘Give up,’ she texted back.  We had no idea how long we’d be in this new queue so we did.

By this time we were hungry and very very fed up.  Small boy burst into floods of tears, he’d been this close to a football party and it had all gone poof.  We turned around in the queue and stopped at a pub that was still serving food.  It was just after 3 and we’d been driving for five hours.

We ate, drank, used the toilets, played hide and seek with the child in the pub, and stretched a bit.  The only saving grace about the day was that all the delays had been on ‘our’ side of the M25.  Going home should be a lot quicker.

Back onto the M25.  We stopped at the next services for food and drink bribes (and another loo stop).  By this time we’d gone through Now 84 several times, tried out a variety of radio stations, played about 100 games of Who Am I, and about 20 games of I Spy (‘something with ‘A’’ – ‘Atoms’!).

The nasty flashing signs were warning that the motorway was closed a few junctions around – but that was after our M11 junction so we should be fine.  About two miles before our M11 junction, it all just stopped.  Not crawling along, not slow traffic – absolute stop.

I found a travel report on the radio – they’d shut the M25 to allow an air ambulance to land.  We’d gone though our snacks and drinks, we’d run out of entertainment – and it turned out we were stuck there for another 2 hours.

Time to check emergency supplies.  I had a CD of poetry, two warm towels that could act as blankets, a box of Capri suns that were out of date, and a very old packet of jaffa cakes.

We spent the next two hours wrapped in towels, playing a ‘guess the song on Now 84’ game – if the boy and I lost, the girl got to throw a jaffa cake on the verge.  We also cracked open the Dickens and read the first two chapters of Oliver Twist.

We also started thinking about what we needed in a car kit.  Blankets (not towels), bottles of water – which double as possible pee containers, snacks that don’t melt and don’t go off, some books on CD that everyone likes, and some self-heating coffee.

We finally got home at 9pm, 11 hours after we started.  At least the car hadn’t broken down and we weren’t in an accident.  The kids are 8 and 10, so were a lot more compliant than if they’d been younger.  It could have been a lot worse.

What do you suggest for a car emergency kit?

M25 traffic