I haven’t done a WordPress challenge for ages, but today’s challenge struck a chord: “Share a time when you narrowly avoided disaster.” This is a post I wrote a long time ago about a hair-raising experience in my VW that would have cost me my life if I’d been a few seconds later on my schedule.
I bought Helga when I finished my degree. My grandfather had left me some money a long time before “to give me a good start in life”. And the best way I could get where I wanted to go – France – was with four wheels. When I answered the small ad, I literally cracked for this shiny VW with her generous curves, round eyes and military green sheen. I could have sworn I saw her chrome bumper smiling at me in the Norfolk sunshine. Her left-hand drive made her the ideal companion, and the price was more than affordable. How could I resist?
Helga has accompanied us everywhere on our travels except for the U.S, meaning that she’s probably had as many number plates as James Bond had passports. Our obstinacy to keep her has resulted in the car equivalent of cosmetic surgery and a heart transplant over the years. After more than twenty years of TLC, “Helga” the 32 year-old VW Beetle still purrs and shines her way through the local countryside; she has become a collector’s item that makes girls go wobbly at the knees, and Bigfoot knows it. He has his eagle eye on her for his student days, but he’ll have to push his mother off a cliff first.
Helga and I have had some pretty hair-raising experiences together. One close shave in particular made Helga my lucky star: that day back in 1991 when I had an encounter with a flying car as I chugged down the motorway between Portsmouth and Southampton on my way home from work. I kid ye not. What happens when wheels that are turning too fast on a motorway hit loose gravel? They skid. That’s how the Fiat Uno travelling in the opposite direction walloped headfirst into the crash barrier then flipped neatly up into the sky before my eyes like a giant white tiddlywink. It was one of those slow-motion moments you see in Starsky and Hutch, except this was real life.
I blinked as I saw the white car roof sparkling in the blue sky, and my stomach tightened into a knot. Would I be able to choose the yellow brick road and not the bright lights after being reduced to a pulp by Fiat’s failed aeronautical trial? I’d always loved watching the Wizard of Oz. I was relieved that I wasn’t wearing my stripy socks – it’ be just my style to be found with my legs sticking out from under the wreck like the Wicked Witch. And come to think of it, now that I was inches from discovering whether God really existed, I wouldn’t even be able to tell my parents. Dammit, Janet.
I peered through the seagull shit adorning Helga’s windscreen. The car was now falling and turned to show its strangely clean underbelly as it started its descent. I wondered who the occupant was, and if time had suddenly frozen for them in the same way as they viewed the motorway and their lives from a whole new perspective…. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have an unplanned stop on the M27. If you haven’t fastened your seatbelts, it’s too late now. Your landing will be cushioned courtesy of Helga the Beetle and her faithful companion”.
As the car disappeared out of my field of vision above Helga’s roof, I stopped gaping, hit the accelerator, and willed Helga to awaken the girl racer hopefully lurking somewhere in her innards. Lots of things went through my head. Unsurprisingly, what I presumed were my last thoughts were neither poetic nor philosophical:
1) Would my man find the steak I’d taken out of the freezer before it went off if I never made it home?
2) Why didn’t my “O” level maths curriculum include how to use the estimated weight, trajectory, speed and curve factors of a falling object to calculate its impact with a car travelling at a fixed speed of 80km with a slow acceleration and a petrified driver at the wheel?
3) Of all the stupid ways I could have imagined dying, I’d never have thought of this one: 10/10 for imagination, destiny. I’ve always enjoyed making people smile, but this time the last laugh’s really on me – this is going to be the most entertaining demise on our family tree.
4) I should have called my parents last night. You never know when you’re going to have a Chicken Licken moment and have the sky fall on your head. Or a car.
5) Was that last red light in central Portsmouth responsible for all this? If it had been green I would have been in the position of the car in front of me, which was accelerating as the driver looked in his rear view mirror……
Pulled back to real life, albeit perhaps not for long, I looked in my rear-view mirror to see the car behind me braking, it’s driver looking anxiously upwards.
A little like a bad take in a 1950’s disaster film, the car dropped out of the sky between our two vehicles and slammed bumper first into the tarmac before executing a neat double somersault and landing on its four wheels, neatly parked and smoking gently on the hard shoulder. Whilst I parked Helga, the driver behind me had done the same and was talking to the occupant, no doubt asking how he had gone from being Mr Ordinary to an incongruous mixture of Evel Knievel and Dick Dastardly in the space of seconds.
My knees had turned to jelly; I wobbled my way to the little orange phone on the side of the road, called the emergency services, then followed their advice and sat in Helga, gabbling to myself and counting my blessings until I had stopped shaking. The driver of the car behind me was a nurse, and took care of our newfound pilot until the ambulance arrived. He had got out of the car, and was stumbling around the hard shoulder saying “my elbow hurts, and my wife is gonna kill me”. I don’t think he realized just how lucky he was to envisage the luxury of being told off by his wife.
The following morning I arrived at work, where one of my colleagues was moaning about her husband. She had planned to come to work in her new car, but her husband had test driven it a little too fast after leaving the garage showroom. He had ended up with a broken elbow after a spectacular view of the M27 and a cute little VW Beetle that he almost squashed on landing……. It’s a small world.
If you have the time and the inclination, please pop over here and vote for my entry in the Expat’s Blog contest: Thank you!