“Why is there no hot water?” It was a squawk from a daughter that sparked an investigation that led to an adventure that made me wish this Mercedes-Benz G-Class was staying not for a few months but the rest of my time on earth.
The answer was simple: for reasons too boring and revelatory of my domestic incompetence to tell, the Frankel household had run out of heating oil. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was the ‘beast from the east’, that spot of proper weather that visited us in March. We live so remotely that every time I give someone directions, I include the line: “And when you find yourself thinking no one could possibly live down there, keep going.”
The oil tanker struggles to get to us at the best of times but, with snow already inches deep and falling fast, if I wanted oil, I would have to go to it. And I didn’t want it, I needed it – desperately: we were about to be cut off for three days.
I rang the oil depot and to my relief got an answer, but the bloke said they were packing up before they got cut off too. I begged him to hang around. “How long?” “An hour?” “Thirty minutes.” “Forty?” I pleaded. “If you’re not here in 41, don’t come.”
Normally I’d take my trusty old Land Rover, sitting on tyres designed to get an army through the Bosnian winter (yes, really), but it was just too slow. But if the major roads had been gritted, the G-Wagen might, just, get through in time.
It seemed a fool’s errand but with temperatures hovering around double digits below, pipes in our elderly and unevenly insulated house would freeze and burst, and not being able to keep warm or clean would soon be the least of our problems.
But then I got in the big Benz, slammed the door, heard the locks trigger all around the car to seal me in and was instantly suffused with a sense of well-being. Cocooned inside this indestructible vault, it seemed absurd to think it could be defeated by something as trifling as a few inches of snow.
And so it proved. On that 20-mile journey, the only other cars I saw not in the ditch were two Defenders. But I made it and recall no particular drama in doing so. By the time I’d loaded the oil and returned home, the lane near my house was identifiable only because it had no trees growing out of it. Only then, going up a steep hill, did I feel the car slow a touch and see the traction control warning light flash on. But the Merc had a little think, shuttled some torque here and there and carried on regardless. I didn’t even need the diff locks.