THE 10 minutes on hold, waiting for my call to be answered, did not bode well. But then again, I was a "lone female" (highest priority) in a dangerous location (warning light number two), on one of Britain's busiest motorways (less than half an hour from Birmingham), how long could the AA take to rescue me?

Yes, it was the beginning of the holiday season and a higher than average number of cars may well have been on the road, but presumably our "fourth emergency service" had seen that coming, along with the rest of the travelling public.

When it finally answered, the voice at the end of the phone was soothing, and full of reassurance. Struggling to hear me over the roar of the lorries hurtling by on the six lanes of asphalt just yards from where I was standing, my membership details were taken, location recorded, and plans for my rescue were made.

It was just before 10pm on a mild Friday night. According to the AA call centre operator, I'd only be waiting on the hard shoulder - in a safe place on the verge, away from my car - for an hour or so. And, even better, I'd be kept informed of the progress of my knight in yellow nylon by text message. Lonely in the gathering darkness though I was, I could survive that.

But 11pm came and went. No knight. No text. A second call to the AA. Another 10-minute wait for an answer. "Oh yes, there's been a delay, we should be with you in 20 minutes, certainly by 11.30pm."

It was pitch black by now, and the emergency lights were slowly dimming on my car, as was the power on my mobile phone. Suddenly, a 4x4 pulled up, orange lights flashing. Hurrah! Isn't the AA wonderful - you pay your money, they provide a service, and they're such very nice men. But, no. It was the highway patrol. "You all right, love? Been waiting long? Oh, you're with the AA...." The look said it all. I was in for the long haul.

As the gaps between headlights grew and the temperature dropped, my calls became increasingly desperate. The response, however, remained the same. "It's a busy night.... You're top priority.... I've just spoken to the garage we have coming to you, they're on their way from the other side of Birmingham, they'll be there in 20 minutes.... We'll call if there's any further delay...." No one arrived. No one called back.

With nothing to eat, too dark to read, too afraid to fall asleep, shivering with cold, my faith in ever being rescued now shattered, I called again. Strangely, being told repeatedly by the "customer service manager" that the AA's "average call-out time is 36 minutes" was only scant consolation.

Help finally arrived at 2am, after four long hours on the side of the road (during which time, so busy was the AA rushing around the country coming to the help of drivers, that not one of its vehicles had passed in either direction). Just as well I was a "highest priority" rescue....

motoring@independent.co.uk

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