Monday, December 29, 2014

the right car

The traffic is so backed up you can tell there’s been an accident. It’s difficult for the drivers to make room for us as we pass, but they do their best, and we make it through the chaos with the cars parting right and left like the teeth of a zip. Eventually we see blue lights up ahead. Closer still, and the elements of the drama become clear – a lorry and trailer stopped at an unnatural angle; a four-by-four perched on its side up on the motorway barrier, as neatly balanced as a toy.
The driver, CJ, a smart woman in pastel knitwear and white slacks, is standing in the middle of the road shaking a mobile phone at a plump, middle-aged guy who watches her warily whilst he makes his own call. The police have only just got here. It’s apparent from the way they busy themselves setting up Accident signs and sorting out the traffic flow that this isn’t an entrapment, or a serious injury RTC. I put on my yellow jacket and jump out of the ambulance.
‘Do you see what you’ve done?’ CJ screams at the lorry driver. ‘You could have killed me and my child. She’s three years old. Three!
The lorry driver winces, turns to the side and puts a finger in his ear.
I go over to an AA van where I can see a child in a yellow plastic mac sitting in the front seat, happily drawing. She looks up when I go over to say hello.
‘She was strapped up in her seat so she hasn’t been hurt,’ says CJ, hurrying over to stand with me. ‘It’s a Cybex,’ she says. ‘She’s probably better protected than any of us. Although BMWs are practically indestructible. If you’re going to have a smash, it pretty much has to be a BMW.’
I pick up the little girl and carry her over to the ambulance with mum following behind, making a call.
Darling? Call me when you get this. I’ve written off the Bee Em.’
‘I’ve only had it ten days,’ she says, stopping at the bottom of the ambulance steps, but then suddenly thinks of something else and hurries off to shout at the lorry driver again.
The little girl is perfectly happy.
‘I drew a engine’ she says, waggling her red-booted legs on the trolley and waving the pad at me.
CJ comes back, striding onto the ambulance and dumping herself down on the opposite chair, checking her phone one more time before dropping it into her bag.
‘Are you all right, sweetie?’ she says to the little girl. ‘Are you being a brave girl?’
‘A tooth came out,’ says the little girl to me. ‘The tooth fairy will give me a pound if she can find where mummy put it.’
‘I know where it is, darling,’ says CJ. ‘Don’t worry about that now.’
She checks her phone again and then looks at me as if it’s my fault she hasn’t had an answer.
‘I wait two years for delivery, then lose it in just over a week,’ she says. ‘Jack’s going to kill me.’

We check them over. Apart from a little muscular pain everything seems fine. I write the whole thing up whilst Rae keeps the little girl entertained. Mum is quite shaken up by the crash, veering from an anguished kind of dry-cry to a matter-of-fact tone that wouldn’t be out of place on the sidelines of a play session.
‘Do you want my email as well?’ she says, handing me her card. ‘I chose the name of a flower because, well, basically my philosophy is why be boring?’
She checks her phone again.
A police officer comes on board, taking off her hat and smiling warmly at everyone, especially the little girl.
‘He tried to kill us!’ says CJ, suddenly hysterical again. ‘Have you seen what he did? My child was on board!’
‘It looks pretty dramatic, I’ll give you that,’ says the police officer. She puts her hat down at the toddler’s feet, takes out a notebook and pencil, and gets ready for details.
‘Oh that’s a pretty ring,’ says CJ, suddenly changing again. She reaches out her hand and pushes the officer’s notebook down so she can get a better look.
‘Thank you! It’s my grandmother’s’ says the police officer. ‘I’m glad you like it.’
‘Like it? I love it!’ says CJ. ‘So nice that you can keep these family traditions going.’
‘Yes. That’s a part of it.’
She gives CJ the same smile she gave the little girl, then gets her pencil ready again.
‘Tell me what happened,’ she says.
‘I was coming up the slip road following directions, not speeding or anything, doing everything absolutely by the book – because this is a new car, you know. Forty-five thousand pounds. I’ve had it ten days. And then this clown, this psychopath in a tee shirt, he comes up on the inside, obviously speeding, and ploughs into me. God knows how he didn’t kill us. Picked us up and dumped us onto the central reservation.’
‘But you’re all okay, are you?’
‘Are we? I don’t know. I think so.’
‘They’re fine,’ I say. ‘Minor. Muscular.’
The police officer breathalyses CJ, then says she’s going outside to have a quick word with the other driver.
‘A quick word? I want him arrested and thrown in prison. He tried to kill us!’
The police officer makes placatory noises, then grabs her hat and withdraws.
‘Look, mummy! Look what I did!’
The little girl holds out her picture and CJ glances at it.
‘That’s super darling,’ she says, then cries again in a sudden squall of distress.
‘Ten days!’ she says. ‘Ten days! What a joke!’
‘Try not to worry,’ I say. ‘The main thing is you’re both okay. Your insurance will get you a replacement car, and then when the money’s settled you’ll be able to get another.’
‘A replacement car!’ she says, blowing her nose and almost twisting it off with the handkerchief. ‘No doubt that’ll be a Range Rover. I wouldn’t be seen dead in a Range Rover.’


TomVee said...

My instinct tells me that Mrs. Beemer here isn't quite so innocent in this collision as she would have it.
Anyway, glad that no one got seriously hurt and especially that the toddler is fine.

petrolhead said...

X5s are definitely better (looking, at least) than Rangies by far!

Daniel Rutter said...

I think you may have found the Embodiment of the Bizarre British Middle-Class Habit of Always Driving A Brand-New Car.

I watch Fifth Gear, and they have used-car-bargain segments that invariably involve some amazing 200-mile-an-hour megacar about three years old for the price of a cup of coffee, and I (in Australia) absolutely could not figure out where those incredible bargains were coming from. Like, double the Fifth Gear super-bargain-hunter price, and you're still at half of a very good price for the same car in Australia. Maybe a third, or a quarter. And the UK doesn't have incredibly low taxes or fuel prices or anything else in the UK that we don't pretty much have in Australia. Japan has punitive taxes on older cars, so very young used cars flow out of that country into the grey-import markets of various other countries. The UK has nothing like that.

But what you do have, is people who buy/lease yet another brand new car, every year or two. People who actually care about getting a number-plate with the latest new letter at the start of it. People who think anything two years old might as well be a Morris Eight that chickens have been roosting in since 1951.

American car culture is pretty crazy. A while ago, the elephantine Ford F150, its smallest engine being 302 horsepower, its lowest curb weight being 2125 kilograms, and its usual seating capacity being two, was briefly demoted from best-selling "car" in that country to number two, behind the Toyota Camry. But don't worry, the monstrous truck soon regained its crown! Take the whole "F-series" together - in which the F150 is the baby - and they outsell the next-most-popular vehicle by 40%.

I'm starting to think the UK car market may be even crazier, though.

jacksofbuxton said...

What a charming lady.

I'm sure her husband has told her a million times not to exaggerate.

Spence Kennedy said...

Tom - Yep, all fine, although I think they were quite lucky. It was all fairly low speed, just that the weight of the truck and the angle of the whole thing was enough to put the car up on its side. Extraordinary position to end up in!

PH - If I had to get a 4x4 it'd be one of those old Toyota Hilux. Then I'd get someone else to drive, and I'd sit in the back with the dog and a shotgun. So long as it wasn't raining (in which case we'd lie down and pull the tarp over).

Dan - You're right about that. It's a strange obsession, and one I've never understood. Apart from anything else, I'm far more comfortable driving a beat-up car. So long as it drives well &c. When our last car got written off (ah-hem) the insurance gave us this pimped-up thing, absolutely immaculate, not a scratch. I could hardly bear to take it anywhere, I was so paranoid it would get marked. Supermarkets were the worst. I'd have to park way over the other side. I was so relieved when I handed it back, except the insurance woman got a bit CSI - she went over the whole thing with a torch, boiler suit and plastic hat (virtually). Found a mark on one of the hubs that must have been caused by a careless moth - graciously allowed that to go. But that's the level of stress. I'm happier with pre-scratched / dented.

BTW - maybe that's another good reason to move to Australia... or the US. I do like trucks.

Jack - It was hard to know what was emotional shock and what was normal. Bit of both, I think. The little girl was amazingly hardy, though. You wouldn't think to look at her, happily drawing away, that she'd just had to climb out of a car on its side in the middle of a busy carriageway!

* * *

Thanks for the comments!

Sabine said...

Now, I've been in a similar accident with my child - not quite as young as this one - and we got out ok, my already old and battered car now completely totalled etc., so, yes, I DO understand the hysterics and the possible deranged attention towards the car. I don't want to know what it was that I screamed into the face of the idiot who almost crushed us into oblivion. But I am certain it was quite unlike me.

Still, Jack might indeed think of killing her. It could be totally understandable.

Spence Kennedy said...

These things are terribly shocking, it's true. Who knows what you're capable of when the adrenaline's flowing like that? Needless to say, I'm very glad you came out of it all right, too, Sabine. A horrible thing to have happened. (And equally horrible are the after-thoughts, the what-ifs...)

Sounds like that old car served you very well, though. It's amazing how attached you can get to these things, and how upset you can be when they finally go. I was upset when our (cosmetically dreadful but heart of a lion) Peugeot 205 diesel got written-off. It'd been through some tough winters, practically ploughing the road to get me home. Poor thing. It deserved a Viking funeral, not that ridiculously off-hand shunt... oh well. It's just a car.

Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

Cars, such a status symbol to some. Others, like us, just want to get around safely. When I bought my current tiny Toyota in 2003 it had 8000 miles on it. The newest car I have ever owned. Now it has 178,000 and still going well. I hope not to have to buy another before I die. Tires will be coming soon.

Wrecks can turn people weird. I can recall one in Idaho where they tell me I "spoke sternly" to the other driver; I remember none of it...

Spence Kennedy said...

I think I'm in a particularly odd group - I love driving & biking, but wouldn't qualify as a petrolhead because I only have a rudimentary knowledge of mechanics and don't much care about latest models &c. A utilitarian petrolhead, then.

Your Toyota sounds great. We just got a Yaris, and it's been fine.

Wrecks are odd, the way they change people. Such a rush of adrenaline, it's bound to have an effect. I wonder what you're like when you 'speak sternly'! (Find it hard to imagine - but given the right wreck, I suppose...) :) x