There are few sights as reassuring as an AA patrol appearing in the distance when you are stranded at the roadside.
Known as the fourth emergency service, the Automobile Association has been coming to the rescue of distressed drivers for more than a century.
It was first set up in 1905 to champion the cause of the motorist and, in particular, help drivers avoid sneaky police speed traps.
However, as motoring has developed, so too has the AA.
Long gone are the days when patrols clocked up miles on motorbikes and assured members the roads ahead were safe with a simple salute.
Today, the breakdown organisation has 3,000 vehicle patrols, equipped with state-of-the-art technology and tools, attending more than 3.5 million breakdowns across the UK each year.
One of those vehicles belongs to the AA’s new patrol of the year, Mark Spowage, of Sothall, Sheffield.
The mechanical mastermind has been solving drivers’ dilemmas across the north of the country for the past 14 years – and The Star joined him xto see what it takes to be a modern day road angel.
Unlike the early AA patrols, Mark does not need to lookout for helpless motorists.
Instead, a computer alerts him to his first job of the day – a jammed window in the S10 area of Sheffield.
Mark says: “Each day on the road is different, you never know what job is going to come in, but that’s what I love about it.
“I used to work in a garage where you didn’t get to interact with customers, it was like being on a conveyor belt.”
When we arrive at the job, relieved member Ken Ellis explains the passenger window of his Skoda has dropped down within the door – but he is due to set off for Glossop for a Scout camp.
Assessing the damage, Mark discovers the electric cable which lifts the window has broken.
However, he manages to prise it part way up using a simple heave-ho technique.
The remainder of the window frame is then covered with crash wrap – a sticky, waterproof cellophane – which provides a quick fix so Mr Ellis can be on his way.
One happy camper, he circles the big smiley face on Mark’s job sheet to reflect his satisfaction.
Back in Mark’s van – which can be easily spotted by his ‘999 AA’ personalised plates, a reward for being crowned patrol of the year – another job comes in.
This time, it is a motor home in Walkley which will not start.
An interior light left on is identified as the cause of the flat battery which can easily be recharged – good news for owner Wendy Crawley who recently fulfilled a life-long dream in purchasing the vehicle and is planning many adventures in it.
Another happy camper and another smiley on the job sheet.
The next call requires Mark to attend a Vauxhall Corsa experiencing loss of power on the Sheffield Parkway.
“Dual carriageways and motorways are the most dangerous situations to attend,” says Mark. “Crouched by the carriageway as wagons whip by, you just think ‘Lord, please no’,”
However,nothing puts the brakes on Mark’s determination to reach his customers and the Corsa driver is soon back behind the wheel.
Other jobs during the shift include a cracked windscreen, punctured tyre and a shopper at Sheffield’s Meadowhall shopping centre who has accidentally locked her keys in the boot – a common call out according to Mark, though the items trapped inside can be far more worrying than shopping bags.
“We’re often called out to reports of animals and babies locked in cars, which can be very worrying for owners and parents, especially on hot days,” says Mark. “It’s all about remaining calm and getting them out as soon as possible.”