The sun was shining as the countryside unfolded beautifully on the July morning. The green of the hills, the blue of the sky, the humming of the engine on the Harley Davidson as we rolled along the quiet byways of Scotland, enthralled and thrilled. It was nothing short of an exhilarating experience. We were heading for Arrochar for our morning coffee, before going over the Rest and be Thankful for the next part of our journey.
Before we reached Arrochar, we developed a flat rear tyre. On a motorcycle, this is not good news, as the bike has generally to be recovered, unless there are safe working conditions. We were on a very narrow and winding country road, parked as near to the road side as possible, but still perilously close to a number a bends and oncoming traffic. This was not a suitable place to be playing about with wheels. We started calling for help. It was just before 11.45am.
Thoughts of our morning coffee faded, as we confronted the reality. My husband has fully comprehensive Insurance, which includes roadside recovery, with Carol Nash Insurance. He phoned the Insurance Company, who referred his case on to the AA. The AA then phoned to inform us that they could not assist before 3.15p.m., as the driver must have his lunch break to comply with the law, and our situation began to look quite dangerous. At the height of the tourist season and on such a lovely day, there were several foreign drivers, buses, and motorcyclists competing for the tarmac. Several had to slow to give way because of the width of the road and the obstruction – however minimal – of the bike.
We begged the AA to try a local Garage – to ask for a recovery vehicle. We had drunk our apple juice (all that we were carrying in the way of drink) by this time, and were becoming exceedingly hot and bothered by the road side, with no access to refreshments. At around 1p.m., we were informed that the AA had found a local garage, who would attend within the hour. Just before 2.p.m., the recovery vehicle hove into view, containing a burly, smiling driver. We were thrilled to see him. We started to stow the pieces that could be put away in the cab – the now extraneous helmets, and items of gear which we had been carrying, went in the cab. Then my husband asked me to control the traffic while he and the truck driver loaded the bike.
Busy with my chore of allowing the traffic through in turn, as this breakdown vehicle impeded the sight of oncoming motorists, I had no clear understanding of what happened next. All I know is that it was inexplicable.
I saw that my husband was having difficulty loading the bike, and that he was struggling to keep it upright. Then I heard the driver being very strident and swearing: telling my husband that he would not carry his bike. I went to see what the problem was and found that the driver wanted to tie the bike down by its handlebars, which my husband pointed out was going to cause damage. Half a ton of motorcycle cannot be safely tethered in this way and puts a huge strain on the bars. Having run his own 24 hour Emergency Breakdown Company, he tried to explain this dimension to the driver, who responded by being impolite, rude, aggressive and insulting. We were going to be put off the recovery transport, he announced. He was refusing to recover us.
Desperate not to be left in such a position, we then asked him to carry the bike the way he wished, if he would take responsibility. He wouldn’t. We were being left at the roadside.
I tried to reason:I begged the driver not to leave us: I told him that we had already waited for two hours. However, he was not to be mollified. He lowered the flatbed truck, and unloaded the motorbike.
His parting shot was to me, on my traffic control:
“I don’t know why you’re bothering. Nobody will listen to you!”
And so he drove off – leaving us anxious and fretful, and wondering how much longer we would have to wait. We were getting very thirsty in the hot sun, so I walked along the verge of the road to see if some campers, whom I had spotted some distance away along the shore, could spare any water. They did not have a large amount, and what they possessed was in 2 litre milk containers, so they asked if we would only take what we needed and return the bottle. I trod the road again with the jug of water, and we cut the top off our apple juice cartons, and filled them to the brim. As I returned the jug, my husband continued with various attempts to find a solution.
There was now a great debate about what to do. The AA said that they could no longer attend, as there was no patrol in the area , and if any Garage came out to get us, it would be the same one as previously, because they had the sole contract for that area. Eventually, we managed to convey that the problem had been with the individual who tried to load us in the first instance, and we were promised a different driver. And so another two hours passed. Passing motorcyclists stopped to offer us drinks, talk about the problems of inner tubes and possible solutions, and express their wonder at the length of time we had been left in such a vulnerable position.
When, just before 4p.m., the second recovery vehicle approached from the same company, we were both exhausted. The driver on this occasion was very pleasant and receptive, respectful and interested. The bike was loaded and secured in a safe manner, and in accordance with my husband’s instructions. The driver on this occasion could clearly see the reason for not using the ends of the handlebars to tie down the bike.Then the Garage phoned us to request that the driver to call in on his way past, to allow them to inspect the manner in which the bike was tied down, as the previous recovery had provoked such controversy. As we approached the garage, the driver showed me where I could purchase something to eat and drink. I managed to buy a crisps and milk while the inspection was carried out. This helped to ease our hunger as we had not eaten since 9a.m. The garage passed the load as secure , and the driver delivered us home and assisted in unloading the bike. It was now 6p.m.
It had been a real experience: a demonstration that the representative of the company has a great deal of power, and must be able to represent the values of that company. That failure to do so, will result in all manner of complications. That, once someone has lost their temper, there is no reasoning or rational argument that will persuade. That communication is lost in the simplest of ways.
There is an added element: had the first recovery man carried out his responsibilities dutifully and with good grace, we would have arrived home in time to get the flat tyre repaired at the local motorcycle garage. As we were delayed, through no fault of our own, my husband now cannot ride his bike for the next three days, as the local garage is closed. A rather heavy penalty to pay for someone else’s demeanour, wouldn’t you say?
There was a powerful contrast to our breakdown in France, just two years ago. There, our recovery had been prompt, although the area was equally remote. There, the driver had been courteous, despite the difference in language. There, smiles and nods were the order of the day. There, we were guided and directed to a specialist who could help us in a town several miles away – for a final electrical check – just to be safe.
And the episode made me consider the question: had we been strangers in a strange land, what would we have made of the lack of help and courtesy we received? What would we have made of the rudeness and aggression? What would we have thought of Scotland?
Would we ever have returned?
© Linda Jane McLean