The words came spilling out of me at a hundred miles an hour. I don't think the police telephonist had any idea what I said. It was 6.15pm, the busiest time of the evening, and without so much as a splutter, my beloved Toy car stopped working in heavy traffic. Unfortunately, we were already stationery - so there was no momentum to carry me to the hard shoulder and out of immediate danger. I put on the hazard lights and tried to solve the problem from the safety of the drivers seat.
This was the forth time in five days the engine had cut out. And the twelfth time since November. I'd called the RAC out twice; taken the car to two separate garages and the last time he'd been under the microscope was 20th June. Provisional diagnosis - an intermittent problem with air in the fuel lines, "but we can't figure out why or trigger an occurrence".
On Sunday, it nearly put paid to a 200 mile round trip to visit my SIL. The RAC mechanic said "in these cars, it's always the o-ring on the fuel filter", covered said o-ring in silicon sealant and taught me how to bleed the air out. First chance I could, I made an appointment for the garage to change the o-ring on Friday afternoon.
On Tuesday, I was whizzing along an empty stretch of the M4 at 70 miles an hour when the revs dropped to zero and the engine cut out; pulled over to the hard shoulder, checked the fuel lines - whopping big bubble - bled the air out and drove home. On Wednesday evening, it wouldn't start - whopping big bubble again, bled the air out and went to a quiz.
And here I was on Thursday evening, desperately trying to bleed the air out, whilst the traffic was getting faster and heavier around me. As the crow flies, I was two miles from the garage where he was booked in. "Please, Toy, just start!" No luck. The engine was turning over but nothing was catching light.
The police telephonist kept my talking whilst organising the highway patrol to rescue me. "You're in the fast lane?" "Yes." "Stay in the car. Is your seat belt done up?" "Yes." "Are the windows wound up?" "Yes."
At this point, a woman in a grey car nearly took the left rear wing off, swerving at the last minute. I sat there shaking.
"I can see some lights." Two St John Ambulance officers pulled up on their motorcycles, blue lights flashing. (Very brave of them. St John are unpaid volunteers.) They talked to the telephonist, got me out of the car and behind the central barrier. Then the Highway Patrol arrived, stopped all the traffic and pushed the Toy to the relative safety of the hard shoulder. I wanted to hug them. I desperately wanted a hot drink, too.
By the time the RAC arrived, I was snuggled into my black coat, standing on the side of the road, and had stopped shaking. "I can see what the problem is: you're out of fuel." "No. There is at least 3 litres in the fuel tank. I've only done 30 miles since the red light came on and the range is at least 60 when that happens."
He checked the fuel lines. Some air, but not enough to demonstrate that I'd run out of fuel. He bled some diesel out of the filter - it was fine. He tested the line between the filter and the tank - no blockages. Finally, he flipped up the back seat, pried off a hatch and opened the fuel tank from the top. He pulled out a white canister (the "module") and proceeded to take as much of it apart as possible. More diesel poured over the roadside.
Wedged in a crevice of the module, under the intake, was a triangular piece of paper about the size of half my thumbnail. That was the culprit.
The mechanic put the Toy back together and told me to start the car. The engine started ran for a few seconds and then died. I said to him "maybe, this time, I really am out of fuel". He said, "No".
We moved onto option 2, which was to tow the car to the garage by attaching a bar between the two vehicles. It meant that I had to stay at the wheel and steer. Gingerly, we pulled out onto the M4. A couple of lorries and a coach ignored us and tried to mow us down. Finally, a nice driver let us out. I was hyperventilating.
For four miles, I watched the corner of the vehicle 6 feet in front of me, unable to see anything except the white line beside it. We drove off the motorway and wound back on ourselves to get the garage, all the while doing at least 40 miles an hour. My left foot was pressed hard to the foot-rest to stop me trying to slam on the brakes and the clutch.
The RAC mechanic drove me home and dropped into the garage this morning to explain his diagnosis. When I phoned at lunchtime to find out when the car would be ready, I was told "You know what the real problem is? You were out of fuel!".