So Ethel is home and the only change she can see is that the hydrangeas have come on. She will now go off to see John Goldsmith for a major service and overhaul so as to be ready to fight another day. Meanwhile, I am starting to unpack it all. I loved the majesty and scale of Mongolia. And I have loved being with Fangio. And I have loved the sense of adventure, the challenge, the length, the self-dependence, the camaraderie, the empathy and the affection but most of all I have loved the driving. I relish her strength and the sound that she makes as she pulls up through the gears. And I am never tired of looking at her. And my pitiful ego has basked in the attention that she draws. I wake in Somerset confused as to where I am. I must now return to the rest of my life in the knowledge that, yes, I am changed, just a tiny weeny bit. And I am grateful.
So having survived the 13,500 km to Paris without this ignominy, Ethel is pulled on board and makes the final 50 km under somebody else’s steam. I think back to the twenty five or so cars that had gone sections this way in the past six weeks and tell her not to be ashamed. We reach home at 1pm and I wander in the garden and breath the fresh sweet smelling night air. I am so grateful to her for making it to the UK as if she had given up in France it would have been a whole other ball game of difficulty.
It’s all a bit biblical but Ethel decides she’s had more than enough 50 km from home. She’d been running very hot from Paris but managed to get onto the Eurotunnel. I’m grateful as I don’t have AA international recovery (they wouldn’t give it to me). We climb off the train huffing and puffing and soldier up the M20 at boiling point and drop in to see my mother. My beloved, the new Fangio, is calm and seems to be enjoying the adventure. Then coming down the A303 poor Ethel starts to lose oil pressure and is clearly struggling. Rather oddly her heating system has stopped working so I sense water pump failure but calling John Goldsmith he worries that maybe her head gasket has gone. We capitulate at the Solstice Service Station, pull in and call the AA. A nice man in a yellow van arrives and declares either the water pump or the head gasket has gone and there is no choice but to flat pack her.
We get ready to leave Paris and Ethel is clearly upset. Place Vendome is empty when I go to collect her, most of the other cars have been lorried away. She hated waiting in the Paris traffic and had boiled again. She overheats spectacularly just getting her the few hundred yards to our hotel and I know that driving her to Somerset today will be a challenge. Now that I am such an accomplished mechanic I grab the tool kit and remove her thermostat by the side of the road. Pedestrians watch in awe at the aplomb and I have no regard for the resulting traffic jam that reaches back to the Bois de Bouloigne. To her great surprise I accomplish this feat without any noticeable collateral damage and realise that I have come of age. So I go and have a coffee believing that I have cured her and call my bank manager for a second mortgage to pay for it.
I think about what it means. And about endurance. The toughest part of the whole event was sitting through the five hour celebratory dinner in Paris and realising that there wasn’t going to be a prize for the cleanest car. And I think about air travel and I marvel at the achievement of Prince Borghese one hundred and ten years ago when he threw down the challenge and took eight weeks to reach Paris across unmade tracks following the telegraph poles of the day which sent back race reports (now called blogs) to reach Paris with petrol brought to him by camels. And I wonder if I am changed. For sure I know now to my great surprise that things go on without me and that I don’t really matter. But I resolve not leave the UK for such long periods again because it seems that all hell breaks loose. We say goodbye to the blessed Fangio and his misses. For he was the most perfect companion.
And then in scenes of euphoric jubilation crosses the finishing line. Both she and Fangio are in tears. I will need to top up her radiator tomorrow. But for now it’s a cold beer with my beloved.
Ethel limps to Place Vendome steam rising in excitement as she knows who will be there.
Ethel reaches Reims and boils over. In my excitement I had forgotten to keep an eye on her temperature guage and turn on her heating which keeps her cooler and her second fan. But never mind, she will be fine in the morning for the journey to Paris. The parties go on but they like Ethel are losing steam. There’s a sense of the end.
The little brown berry has also made it but, my goodness, they have struggled. They barely made camp in Mongolia before midnight on any day and had to have the suspension of the car rebuilt and elevated six inches in Russia. Not much of what is under the bonnet today (or should I say in the boot) hasn’t at some point broken and needed to be replaced. Notwithstanding their difficulties they were medal hunters for much of the journey but gave up in Switzerland unwilling to take on the steep climbs. A couple from Washington DC, we have loved their company.