EV Tales #5: When Chargers Don't Work (North East - West Cumbria)
Stage two of our grand tour takes us east to west, up and over the Pennines and towards Cumbria. A beautiful drive that I know well. Permanent barriers and snow posts remind summer drivers that the A66 is often impassible in Winter.
We don't strictly need to charge but Onto subscription options seem to be thin on the ground in West Cumbria. We're getting used to this kind of two-steps-ahead thinking. We find a BP Pulse on the outskirts of Appleby in the grounds of a spa hotel (Appleby Manor). We wonder if the toilets will be available to 'all public' (see Tale 3)
'Here you will find a place to relax...sit back and enjoy real pleasure. Open log fires, a fine selection of wines and whiskies together with an award winning restaurant, excellent bedrooms and superb views over the Eden Valley.' ...as you charge up your car...
The fast charge has been having tantrums lately according to Zap Map contributors and sure enough it declines my charge card.
I call the BP helpline and the operator attempts to reboot the station from afar. From Milton Keynes in fact. He's unsuccessful and explains to me that he's unable to communicate with it. I feel for the charge station. Alone, excommunicated, unusable. Like a hightech penguin with useless rubber wings, banished from the flock for his independent streak.
The operator asks me to hang on before I hang up. He thinks there are two charging stations at the manor, not one. I swear this is the only lonely penguin I can see here in the courtyard but Lucy has a wander and finds another, smaller version, fixed to the wall. Similar to a village defibrillator but serving a slightly less pressing need. It's a 7kw. And it's been ICEd - blocked by an internal combustion engine.
We'll need to break out the cable for this one. It's a heavy orange thing. I feel like a roadie managing cables for Westlife at the O2. But before I can start I see it's held with a stout black cable tie. I'm loosing my teacher touch. You'd expect me to have scissors, glue stick and a highlighter to hand. Lucy passes me scissors from her crochet bag but only after she's watched me for a few minutes, man-yanking and even trying to bite off the tie wrap.
The cable plugs at each end are helpfully marked: one with 'C' and the other with 'C'. I think the one marked 'C' must be for the Car and the other one marked 'C' is for the Charger. It turns out they're different shapes so it's impossible to attach the wrong end.
The cable is long enough to weave around the ICEer. I'm just about to set things going when the owner appears and drives off. I move the car and do a Bannatyne. The car is much closer to the defibrillator but somehow the 10m cable only just reaches. I must be hard of shape and space.
I stretch it out, plug it in, tap away on the screen and nothing happens. Apart from some LEDs set in a nice curve that flash green, blue and red, communicating absolutely nothing of use to me.
Rumour has it (Zap Map again) that using the BP app may circumvent this kind of issue. I download it and get set to go but it wants credit. I'm in Yorkshire for goodness sake. With a Yorkshire upbringing. I'm not going to pay if Onto have given me a pre-loaded all-you-can-charge (well up to 1250 miles) card.
I call Onto and explain the issue. About being in the north and feeling thrifty. I'm told I can pay with my very own money and bill them later, or ask BP to make it all happen remotely. I'm assuming this charge station has made better life choices than its larger penguin brother and is still on the grid. So I call BP and get through to Oliver. In Milton Keynes.
Oliver is more than happy to help. And chat. And set me a challenge. I claim I'm in the middle of nowhere. He says I'm not. I get 20 questions to discover BPs remotest or most inaccessible chargers. I take a stab at Kremlin parking garage, Sahara and Everest basecamp. Surprisingly all incorrect. Oliver (from Milton Keynes) has me bring up the BP live map and take a look at London. And there, right in the middle of the Thames, near Beckton Sewage Works is a charging station. No doubt for all the electric boats they have down there in that London. 'And now go west a bit,' he says. Egham I offer. 'A bit further,' he says. Surely not Bridgend? A tiny bit more. Eventually I arrive at two dots north of Venezuela. Barbados and St Lucia.
Oliver takes charge of my charger. He asks me which of the two sockets I wish to use. I say, 'Can I have a socket 1 please Bob a reference, Oliver, which you may not get'. 'I'm an 80s child,' he says. I tell him to Google Blockbusters when he gets off shift. Or during his shift if there's a lull in needy customers.
Blockbusters was a TV gameshow for young people who'd just about mastered puberty. The aim was to form an unbroken path across or up a board of connected hexagonal tiles. Contestants chose a letter or blend marked on the tile they wished to claim, and host Bob Holness patronizingly asked them a general knowledge question starting with that letter. Hence the ultimate sixth-form snigger-fest, 'Can I have a P please Bob.'
Looking at some old clips on YouTube I marvel at the set up. Two against one, winner(s) stay(s) on, and how an episode of the show would stop right in the middle of a round rather than be edited to satisfactory conclusion.
Bob makes a point of soothing the nerves of contestants from state comprehensives, pitted against double the number of humbly smug private school teens, by continually pointing out how nervous they are.
The Blockbusters game board oddly represents our journey so far; each hexagon tile a charge point connecting our starting point and destination.
Oliver gets us charging remotely and invites me to use the BP HQ chargers in Milton Keynes. I will. But I'll phone him from outside the building and fire a series of general knowledge questions at him first.
We have up to 3hrs to kill, buy tea and biscuits at the manor and chat to the owner. He has a Polestar EV with an enviable 280 mile range. I have a hunch now about BP Pulse's presence at Appleby Manor.
I wonder what the holiday inn Northampton would make of all this. We were welcomed fed and watered in Appleby. 8 homemade biscuits, 2 huge 2-bag tea pots and toilets all for £7.90. Not each. I will come back. And tell other travellers to stop by aswell.
We make it to the Cumbrian coast. I'm still full from the biscuits, but there's a lamb stew on the hob.
In EV Tales #6, find out if the lamb stew was any good, meet our daughter and discover the winner between our Corsa and Avanti trains (yes, you guessed right).