A full “Cold Moon” over the A14 in Cambridgeshire, England, at 6:55 a.m.

After the beautiful mildness of the last three months, the frigid weather has come as a shock.  When I went out this morning to drive Meg and myself up to Derbyshire, I found a layer of ice covering the car.

Right before I turned the key in the ignition I thought, something bad is going to happen today.  I am not particularly superstitious, but this feeling was so strong that I wondered if I should I delay leaving for 30 seconds and perhaps change my luck. Or will fooling around with destiny make everything worse?  I pushed the thought from my mind and I set off with a sleepy and grumbling Meg in the backseat, still wearing her pajamas and dressing gown.

As we drove west along the A14 towards the M1, the full moon, called a “cold moon,” (the “wolf moon” is next month, according to The Farmer’s Almanac) was almost hypnotizing in its size and beauty and the wisps of clouds that drifted creepily across its surface.  All that was needed was the silhouette of a witch on a broomstick.  As the sun rose behind us, the moon slowly sank over the horizon ahead.

Driving along the M1, we heard on the radio that there was black ice all along the A6 between Ambergate and Matlock, with traffic backed up due to a major accident.  This road was near Crich, and we would be crossing this portion of the A6 to get to Julie and the farm. I hoped that the accident wouldn’t be where Meg, my sensitive child, would see it.

As we left the M1 towards Matlock, a text came in. I pulled over and read it:  my first cousin Kevin on my mother’s side and his wife and son would be at the Loaf for breakfast, can we join them?  We drove into Crich along Roe’s Lane, and I again reminded Meg that her great-great-grandfather Joseph Roe had given his name to this road. “I know, I know!” she said.

Crich marketplace was decorated for Christmas with a large, gorgeous Christmas tree trimmed with lights and small fir trees attached at 45-degree angles to houses around the marketplace.  I pulled in front of my aunt Hilary and uncle Ian’s former shop, Crich News, now occupied by a Bangladeshi restaurant.  I got out of the car,  slipped on what I identified too late as black ice, righted myself, and saw the car keys fly out of my hand and disappear in slow motion down the drain.

DAMN!  This was the bad luck I’d sensed!  I could see myself spending the rest of the day–or weekend, if Enterprise couldn’t get me a new key–dealing with this problem and all my plans for the weekend would be shot to hell.  Damn, damn, damn!

Nothing to do except meet Kevin at the Loaf and call Enterprise.  A woman in the cafe who knows me learned of my problem.  She said, “This seems to be exactly something that would happen to you. I don’t know you well, but you seem to bring on things like this.”

I gritted my teeth.  I do not need this, I thought. I really do not need this!

And then I thought, could this woman be right?  After all, my life has been a series of a few ups and many downs recently, most of my own making.  I convinced Katie to put in a crazy last-minute application to a school in England I had only read about;  Katie was accepted just four days before school was to begin;  we packed and left two days later, then at Border Control we almost got thrown out of the country;  we don’t have the visas we need to stay here; we live in a rented house where the heat keeps breaking down; Meg is completely miserable and doesn’t want to be here, Katie is having too good a time;  I am completely overwhelmed with the work of setting up a temporary home for us.  This entire trip looks to be my worst idea ever. Yeah, you could say that I brought all this grief down on my own head.

I became very quiet, very depressed.  Kevin drove us to the farm with our stuff and there we were at Julie’s, explaining the situation to another family member.

Julie, my first cousin on my father’s side, said she’d drive me back to Crich to meet the AA man.  Carol, the wife of my cousin David, said she’d feed Meg midday dinner, so that was sorted.

Craig, the AA man, opened up the drain cover, taped a magnet to a long piece of wire, and started fishing. The drain was very deep–three feet to the water level, three feet of water, than another foot of silt.  Julie and I stood around while he worked, our feet starting to lose all sensation in the cold.

Several people offered assistance, one man approached us holding a wetsuit, which Craig declined as the drain was too narrow for him to stoop, although Julie announced that she was flexible and might give it a go.

The man with a wetsuit.

A second person brought us a magnet (only magnetic on one side, so no use because it you stuck it to Craig’s magnet, then it would have no useful magnetic surface),  then returned ten minutes later with the same magnet now clamped to the end of a spanner and therefore very usable.  Craig taped the second magnet to his and went back to fishing.

Someone else brought a mop to swish around in the silt, and a woman who lived in a house near the drain brought a cup each of tea for Craig and me, and a milky coffee for Julie, who was making the most of this experience.

After an hour of unsuccessful fishing, Craig devised another plan:  he’d empty out the drain.  A bucket appeared, and he started bailing out the water.  After another hour, a good two-plus feet of water had disappeared from the drain, and it was down to about 8 inches of water, and a foot of silt.

Six feet down, and almost to the silt

Another half-hour went by, another cup of tea was provided to Craig and me, and then Craig called out: he’d got it!

After 2 1/2 hours, success!

The water- and silt-sodden key miraculously still worked.  As I drove the three miles to Julie’s, I thought more about the woman’s comment this morning that I bring bad luck upon me and I thought:  yes, I’d just spent six hours from 9:30 in the morning to 3:30 in the afternoon dealing with the bad luck of losing my car keys down a very deep drain, wasting the best part of the day and freezing my feet off.

But look at it another way:  I wasn’t hurt when I slipped on the black ice when I could easily have broken my arm;  my cousin Kevin helped me by driving me to Julie’s, and it turned out that he and his son had actually gone back to the drain and tried their luck at fishing it out for me;  my cousin Julie had driven me back to Crich and had stood around with me for a good hour and a half offering moral support; a woman who lived on the marketplace had given us not one, but two cups of tea;  another person had brought a wet suit, another a magnet, then the magnet attached to a spanner which proved very useful; another provided a mop, and another a bucket on a rope.  And Craig, the wonderful AA man, had kept at it for a good 2-1/2 hours and finally got my key back.  How lucky is that?

And, to end the story, remember that accident on the A6 that I heard about on the radio while I was driving on the M1 much earlier this morning?  Well, it was my cousin Tony, a volunteer fireman, who was on the scene extricating the two men who were trapped inside an armoured lorry/Brink’s van.  No one had been badly injured.  All of which proves the wondrousness of cousins!

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