Thursday, March 10, 2011

on the road until...

The message this month, boys and girls, is “Never leave home without fastening your seat belt.” Let me tell you why.

They say that a lot of car accidents happen within a few blocks of home, and it seems that this is true. One Thursday afternoon last month I drove out of my street and turned left down the main road in my Toyota Corolla. I had travelled only half a block when I heard my sister (sitting in the passenger seat) give a gasp of horror.

I started to turn to see what she was looking at, but at that moment there was an almighty impact. A green Mazda, trying to get across the traffic and turn into the other lane, had driven straight into the left side of my car. 

I don’t remember if I tried to brake or not, I was just conscious that my car was spinning to the left and there was a loud grinding noise.

It’s not like they show you in the movies. Time didn’t draw out into a slow-motion scene or anything like that. It was all over in the space of five or ten seconds. What was most startling was the sudden cessation of motion and sound. My sister and I just sat there not moving for a few seconds, stunned by the unexpectedness of what had just happened.

What had happened was that the green Mazda had collided with my passenger side door and scraped along the left side. My car spun sideways, bouncing off the bull bar of the Tarago van beside me; this impact forced me forwards into the rear right hand corner of the blue car in front of the Tarago. The Mazda must have been trying to turn right because my car spun sideways and ended up facing left in the middle of the road.

There was minor damage to the blue car’s rear but apparently no damage to the Tarago. The Mazda’s front bumper bar was detached and hanging down. My car suffered an impact to the passenger door and that side, and to the back wheel on that side. The bonnet was crumpled up concertina-fashion in front of the windscreen.

After a few seconds, my sister and I emerged from the car and looked about blankly. Strangely neither of us seemed to think about whether we were injured (I had a scratch on my right elbow, but incredibly that seemed to be the only physical sign of the crash). I suspect we were both in shock, because we were also oblivious to the fact that we were standing in the middle of a main road at rush hour, with cars trying to get past the accident scene. We just stood there, staring at the damage, joined by the drivers of the other vehicles.

The police turned up -- well, one of them did -- and a tow-truck to take my car away. It was obvious that it wasn’t going anywhere under its own power, since the left rear wheel looked as though it would fall off if you tried to move the car.

I felt sorry for the driver of the Mazda. He was a young African guy, and he looked as glum and unhappy as you would be in his place. I went over and spoke to him a couple of times, but the body language of the others standing around obviously spelled out who they thought was responsible.

The driver of the Tarago van was amazed that I had stopped against his bull-bar but without actually crashing into his vehicle. He had watched me spin into his path and was sure that we were going to collide. In fact it was only later that we absorbed the unbelievable truth that nobody had been injured at all in any of the automobiles involved. That was our miracle for the week, maybe for the year.

As they towed our car away, my sister and I were still wandering about vaguely wondering what to do next. Fortunately a friend named Leon had been driving past and had spotted us standing next to our wrecked car. He turned around at the first opportunity and came back to offer us a lift home.

Leon helped us gather up the stuff we’d removed from the car and drove us to our destination (Julie’s house to feed her animals), returning to take us back to my house. He stressed that we needed to take it easy and suggested we might want to get checked out by a doctor the next day.

It all seemed unbelievable as we sat in our familiar armchairs that evening. Had it all really happened just hours earlier? Was my garage really empty? Perhaps this was all some sort of dream and I’d wake up to find it hadn’t really happened.

The next day was taken up with the usual business. I contacted the insurance company. We notified friends that we wouldn’t be able to join them for dinner, since our movements were now restricted to places within walking distance.

It all worked out all right in the end. The insurance company wrote off the Corolla and I used the money to buy a Hyundai Lantra. Neither my sister nor I seemed to suffer any aches or pains from the impact. If there were any legal problems resulting from the accident they obviously didn’t involve me.

Only gradually did I try and process what happened. The possibility that one or both of us might have been killed was almost impossible to take in. It’s a cliche, but I didn’t seem to be able to comprehend my own mortality.

A few days later, the man at the supermarket check-out asked us if that had been our car he’d seen. When we said it was, he asked if we’d suffered any after-effects from the accident. “Surprisingly, no” I had to say. And it was true. I had expected to have some trouble sleeping that night, but I had dozed off after a few minutes. No dreams or troubled sleep.

Maybe I was made of sterner stuff than I had realised.

Or perhaps the ability of the human mind to avoid unpleasant subjects is even more powerful than I had imagined.


The King’s Speech won a load of Oscars last night. I saw it a couple of months ago and thought it was a fine film.

What struck me about it was that it was basically a movie about the power of radio. In an earlier generation, the speech impediment suffered by the new King would have been a difficulty for addressing visitors to the palace. Probably people attending a royal garden party would have been embarrassed by his problem, but the awkwardness would have been confined to a small number of people.

But speaking to the entire British Empire over the air made it even more important to find a way of dealing with his stutter. As war loomed, the ability of the King to speak to his nation became virtually part of the arsenal of freedom. This sounds like a job for Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue [Geoffrey Rush].    Great stuff.