Crash, Bang, Wallop!
Crash, Bang, Wallop!
I passed my driving test when I was seventeen years old. After just six driving lessons. And no, I didn’t have a man walking ahead of the car with a red flag. I’m not that old. Not quite. Admittedly, I didn’t get off to the best of starts in my driving career. On my first or second lesson, when I was attempting a hill start, the handbrake came off in my hand. I think it had less to do with the fact that I don’t know my own strength, and, more to do with the age of the instructor’s Mini Cooper. It was one of the older ones. Such as Michael Caine may have driven in the original Italian Job. The instructor got a new car shortly afterwards. It was a Corsa, or something similar. Anyhow, I passed my driving test at the age of seventeen, in December, and, on that very same day I found out I had won a scholarship to Oxford University. I had the morning off school to take my test. When I went in to school in the afternoon I was summoned to the Headmaster’s office to be told the news of my scholarship to the Queen’s College, Oxford. Apparently I was the first member of the school to win an Oxbridge scholarship since Sir Geoffrey Howe some twenty or so years earlier. Suffice to say that the school was chuffed. I was chuffed. I spent the afternoon in the pub with my two history teachers. Celebrating. That was a good day. I suspect, however, that Sir Geoffrey Howe will be better remembered as an alumni of Handsworth Grammar School for Boys than I shall.
I almost killed myself the first time that I drove alone. It was a few days after passing my test. After my celebrations. It was night time, in December and cold. I was driving too fast. And, as I approached the crossroads and as I applied my brakes, I hit some black ice. I didn’t stop. I sailed through the junction. I managed to keep the car straight. It was a miracle that nothing was coming down the road as I crossed over. I survived. I was quite shaken. I slowed down after that. For a while.
Indeed, I have been fortunate not to have had a serious accident in my twenty three years or so of driving. I hope my luck holds. I have had just three accidents.
The first accident I was involved in was before I had passed my test. I was on a provisional license, driving the family car, a Vauxhall Viva, under the supervision of my dad, with my mom and sister as passengers in the back. I was at traffic lights. The lights turned green and I moved off. I was hit just in front of my door by a motorbike. The biker, who had been overtaking two stopped buses at speed, must have been looking too far ahead, to the next set of traffic lights, and hadn’t noticed that he was on red. He sailed over the bonnet. He bounced. Twice. I think that he broke a leg but was otherwise unharmed. Unlike his bike. He was very lucky. Our car was written off. The force of the crash had shunted the frame out of alignment.
I was about 21 or 22 at the time of my second accident. Indeed the journey from Preston to London, via Birmingham, proved to be one of my most terrifying driving experiences to date. I had to be at a conference in the Midlands for work on a Friday. So, I borrowed a pool car. They gave me a Ford Capri. Two litres of sheer power and beauty with an automatic transmission and bucket seats. It was a bit of a babe magnet. Cool. I took it to Preston to visit my then girlfriend at her parents’ home. Her mom loved the Capri and insisted I took her for a spin. It reminded her of her own “courting” days.
On the way back down to London I was stopping off at my parents in Birmingham for Sunday lunch. This was when things began to go wrong. As I was passing junction 10 of the M6 heading south I was in the outside lane (it is un-pc to refer to it as the “fast lane”). I was doing about 70mph 😉 in a stream of traffic. All of a sudden the car two in front of me span out of control. Fortunately for me, he span into the inner two lanes and I was able to proceed in my lane without hitting anything. As I looked up though I saw one of his wheels bouncing towards me. It bounced in front of me and bounced over me. There was quite a pile up but I drove through, unscathed. I was just like Tom Cruise in Days of Thunder. Except of course that I am taller and not a religious nutter.
After lunch with mom and dad, I continued my journey south. As I left Birmingham it was pouring down. Persistently. Cats and dogs. As I was accelerating along the slip road to join the motorway I hit a puddle. I span out of control and stopped when I hit a sapling. The slip road must have been monitored by CCTV because a police car soon appeared on the scene. The front wing of the car had been ripped off but the nice policeman looked it over and said that I was OK to continue my journey but not to go over 50mph.
I was in the inside lane of the motorway doing a steady 50mph in the rain. I was following a timber truck. A big lorry with huge tree trunks on a flat bed trailer. I was following the timber truck at 50mph when the trailer suddenly became detached from the truck. When it became detached from the truck and headed straight for me. I had to swerve into the hard shoulder to avoid being hit. I survived. It missed me and I was able to drive on, watching the chaos in my rear view mirror.
Three near misses in the one journey. I was pale as a sheet when I got home to London. A whiskey was called for.
The pool car people were none too happy when I returned with the car on Monday morning. But, they changed their tune when they checked the tyres. They were illegal. The tread had worn. Once they realised that they had sent me out with illegal tyres they soon shut up.
The last time I had a bump was Christmas Day a couple of years back. I was driving C’s work car, a top of the range Peugeot 306. We were heading to my mom and dad’s for Christmas lunch. It was snowing very heavily and there was a good inch or so covering the roads. It was awful. If it hadn’t been Christmas Day we would have turned round. In fact we nearly turned round at Butt Hill near Kidsgrove. There is quite a steep hill through the village there. As we began to climb it the Bedford Van we were following lost traction and slid slowly back down the hill towards us, hitting parked cars on the way. We missed it. Just.
I was extra-specially careful after that. Consequently, as I was dropping down the hill to the first series of traffic islands on the A34 into Newcastle Under Lyme, I was doing maybe 5mph at the most as we entered the roundabout. I tried to take as straight a line as possible. We took a very straight line. Indeed, we went straight through the roundabout. The car didn’t turn when I wanted it to. We slid “gracefully” into the high curb at about a 45 degree angle.
There was no visible damage. We continued onto Birmingham. The steering seemed a little heavy but it was difficult to tell because of the snow. We had a very nice Christmas lunch and returned home to Cheshire. The snow had gone by now and we returned on the motorway. C took the car to the garage at the first opportunity. The front axle had cracked. It was a very lucky escape.