"Martin, stop!" says Jill, with an air of urgency. But I have seen the same thing at the same time. I slow the car, scanning the scene ahead, trying to absorb the scene before me. "Right, I just need to Ö". I am searching the dashboard for that elusive, rarely used button with the triangle on. And I'm checking the road behind me in mirror - I don't want to become part of the accident too. There. My hazard lights are on now and there is no one else behind me. It's only just gone six in the morning. It would have been a different story later in the day with the road full of holiday traffic. I open my door; not what I would usually do in the inside lane of a fast dual carriageway. "Give me your phone," says Jill. I'll call the police". I'm not surprised that Jill takes the admin role. She knows she's no good with blood.
So I'm on my own then. I canter up the road, having stopped about 80 yards short of the other car. I'm searching through my mind for some first aid references that I might need in the next few minutes. As I trot past the broken glass, earth and other debris that litter the road the only things that come to me are about resuscitation and how to stem bleeding. It seems like that is all that's left thirty years after my first aid course.
The car is blue and has come to rest broadside on the inside carriageway. Both the tires, that I can see, are blown out and it looks like every part of the body is crumpled as if it has been scrunched up and discarded. I can see that both the air-bags have deployed and have already deflated. There is no movement. I've only ever seen crashed cars like this hours or days afterwards. This still life scene must have only happened minutes, no, seconds before. The driver is, I think, a middle-aged woman. She is slumped forward, not over the wheel, but suspended by her tightened seatbelt a few inches above it. She is unconscious. Sitting next to her is an old boy with blood dribbling down his face in three of four streams. I can tell these are from minor cuts in his forehead and look worse than they are. No need to stem that flow then. "Are you OK?" I think that's probably what I said. The old boy is surprisingly 'with it' and I am immediately impressed at how the cockpit of the car seems untouched by the impact, apart from having no glass left in the windows that is. It seems like both occupants are covered by a fine layer of dust. The old boy may just look like that normally, in contrast to the bright red of his blood. For the woman it may be that her blood has drained to a more needy part of her body. For some reason I don't doubt for a second that she is alive. That is probably due to the condition of the inside of the car, the airbag, seatbelt and there being no immediately visible sights on injury. The old boy is starting to talk to her: "Wake up, Lynn", as if she has just fallen asleep. Is that what happened? Did she fall asleep at the wheel? I gently hold her arm and call to her too. After about thirty seconds her head is rocking back and forward slightly and she is moaning unintelligibly. This is an improvement, but no real use to me. I'm now aware of someone else nearby telling me that he saw the car tumbling as he drove on the opposite carriageway.
He had stopped and run back. I try the door handle and for a moment I wonder if it has jammed shut, but it's just a bit stiff and it opens with an accompanying tickle of falling glass. Lynn is getting audible now: "Where am I?" "You came off the road, Lynn" responds the old boy with an edge of impatience that tells me he is family. He must be her father. "Does it hurt anywhere?" I interject; keen to establish whether any of my rusty first aid skills will be needed. "It hurts everywhere". This woman isn't working well with me, but I'm starting to feel some sympathy for her. It's still so early and already her day isn't shaping up well. I've noticed that her seat belt is cutting painfully into her left breast and so I ask the old boy if he can reach to unfasten it. This he does.
"What happened?" asks Lynn. "I told you, you came off the road, Lynn" retorts the old boy (he's definitely family). "We're calling for an ambulance. Don't worry you'll be all right" I say with all the authoritative reassurance of a lapsed first aider. "I'm going to be sick" offers Lynn. Now, in my own mind I've decided that she is just shaken and bruised, and with a small cut above the eye that is only now starting to dribble blood down her cheek. But I'm thinking that vomiting over herself is not going to improve her lot, so I ask if she can turn her legs out of the car. From what follows later it turns out that this was not great thinking from me, but thankfully Lynn doesn't feel like moving, but doesn't vomit either.
I am aware that someone else is talking to the emergency services on his mobile behind me. And then another man appears saying "I'm a doctor. Shall talk to her?" I'm impressed by anyone willing to make such an offer and relieved too, although just a little displaced having to hand my first-on-the-scene baton over to another man. But
I immediately fall into a support role as Jill calls me over to hand me the phone. "It's the emergency services" she says "They want to talk to you. I don't know where we are". I don't know that either, but they now seem to have got that information from someone else. He says they are dispatching police, but uses the unexpectedly disconcerting phrase "you are our worst nightmare"! It seems that we are at the furthest point from all of their nearest units. Some are coming from the M5 and some from Wincanton which we had passed several miles ago as we sailed past on the A303. The Doctor seems to be doing no more than asking questions and so has a list of details ready to pass on to the ambulance guys, who arrive shortly after the police.
Now I am just a bystander and respectfully move away from the action to let the professionals do their job. At this stage Jill is handing out cups of tea to the other bystanders. This is coming from the flask that was meant to keep me going all the way to Cornwall. The guy who was next to stop behind us is a breakdown recovery driver bristling with tattoos. Having some experience in these matters he shows me the black skid marks on the road that start behind where my car is parked. Then they are joined by white marks.
Apparently these are where the tyres blew out under the stress of the skid and the wheel rims ground into the tarmac. He points at the broken branches all the way up the bank beside us. And there in the trees, above our heads, is a front bumper. It starts to dawn on me exactly how spectacular this crash must have been. How many times had the car rolled before stopping upright again? It seems to take ages for the firemen to get the couple out of the car. The recovery guy tells me that they will be cutting the roof off the car, so that they can lift the injured up and out, in case they have any spinal injuries. He has some stories of when he has seen this happen before.
Eventually, about one and three quarter hours after we first stopped, the ambulances pull away and we are allowed though to continue our journey. So much for making an early start to beat the traffic! We don't resent it though. We are just appreciative that it wasn't us that started our holiday in hospital. We never find out how that couple's story ended.
One thing has bothered me since that morning. Despite my training, and the all the best advice, it would have still been so instinctive for me to help those unfortunates out of their car. It just seems so instinctive. As an author I myself have written about not going with
the natural instinct, but instead finding the counter-intuitive solution. In one of my parables, The Mackerel
, having been hurt, a fish feels justified in holding a grudge, but yet it is the counter-intuitive act of forgiveness that restores him to full health.
Sometimes our instincts can let us down.
I grew up in the 60's - not the swinging 60's you understand, the swing hadn't swung as far as my town. The 60's for me were a time of wonder and possibility. There was talk of a passenger jet that would travel twice the speed of sound and the possibility that men would actually travel to the moon. It seemed like anything could happen. Who would have guessed then that the supersonic jet would be retired without replacement and that manned space flight would find a sterile rock and go no further? For me one the most exciting possibilities of the 60's was in the exploits of Jacques Cousteau. Even in black and white his TV programme seemed vivid, colourful and full of possibilities. Wouldn't it be wonderful to explore the Undersea World that he had found? I never believed I would get the chance, but get it I did. Just before our first child came along my wife and I splashed out
Read More »
Unless you manage to avoid the TV, radio and the press you canít escape it: Our society is obsessed with the cult of celebrity. Has it always been this way? I think that it probably has. But with rolling news and the internet, we experience news, as it happens, like never before, including celebrity news.. Significantly, the modern celebrity doesn't need to have done anything noteworthy to require celebrating. In particular, reality TV throws up 'stars' who have, as yet, shown no noteworthy skill or achievement. It's now well know that in surveys children no longer want to grow up to be teachers and doctors, like they used to, but to be sports stars and pop stars. On talent shows you can regularly hear the same words tumble from the lips of gifted and dreadful singers alike: "Itís my dream", "Singingís my life", "I really, really want this". Is there really such a fine line between genius and delusion, or is there something more going on here?
Read More »
Don't you find that a story means so much more when you find out that it's true? And very occasionally something that starts out as a story becomes a reality. Well, this is one such case...
I found it mildly surprising that many of our friends had our family down as the last people they would expect to get a dog. I grew up with a dog. Admittedly I don't like being licked by them, I feel a little uncomfortable when people elevate them to human status and I definitely don't like the smell of 'wet dog' but otherwise ... I like them.
The rest of my family had wanted a dog for ages but I was holding out - I knew who would have to walk it in the cold, the wet and the dark. But then my wife found a photo of 'Scrumpy' on a dog rescue centre's website, and I caved in. There was little chance to go back on the decision as, only 5 days later the dog was with us. All we know of Scrumpy's story is that he was found as a stray in Ireland, he had wire wrapped around his mussel and had lost some teeth and skin as a result. When he first arrived we hadn't known if he even had a bark.
Read More »
I have always thought in metaphor and simile. From a young age it seemed natural to me to translate a concept from one form to another, just to prove I'd grasped it. When the same thing happens to a story the result is a parable. It might be simple and charming, it might even tug at an emotion, but at first glance it appears no more than a story. The power of a parable is in that 'ah-ha' moment, when I realise what the story means in its own parallel universe. So because of the way that my thinking is wired it seemed inevitable that I would be drawn to writing in parables just as I was first attracted to reading them.
Of course there was one man above any other associated with parables. Jesus was the master of the medium. In fact the Bible says that "he did not say anything to them without using a parable"(a)
. Now here's a curious thing: It seemed that most of the original hearers of these parables did not understand them. Even those closest to Jesus had to come and ask what they meant!(b)
What Jesus spoke to that first audience was radical and completely different from anything they had heard. So why would he choose a form of communication that the people didn't understand? The answer is surprising, but obvious - he didn't want them to understand;
Read More »
The beach is one of my favourite places to be - it's the sounds of a breaking wave followed by pebbles tumbling back under the next one, or the distant roar of bigger surf carrying over a long flat sandy beach; it's the sun on my face and the soft, warm sand between my toes; it's the distant intensity of the horizon that stretches each way into my peripheral vision; it's the way the sounds of children playing and people talking seem close, yet distant at the same time, but somehow they don't intrude as the sun shines red through my closed eyelids.
Whilst reflecting on what makes the beach such a special place for me, the thought occurred that the best of the beach is not what it is, but what it isn't ... Picture this :
The sand is criss-crossed by ropes that form an orderly grid. Some of the plots have 'Reserved' signs in them - these are for the season ticket holders. Visitors are queuing back into the dunes waiting for the next 'day-plot' to become available, each one clutching a credit card ready to pay (family discounts are available). An official patrols
Read More »
I remember when I first heard the song in the 70's. Like many others I was mesmerised by the swirling, velvety instrumentation and backing vocals. Back then was impossibly new. But for me there was something else even. I once heard the song playing on the radio and as it started to fade the DJ came in with the words, "That's 10cc with 'I'm not in Love' - A love song if ever I heard one". The words seemed to crash the moment and break the secret. Yes, it was true, but it felt like it should not have been spoken. I had recognised that the genius of that song was that the listener saw, more clearly, the heart and desire of the singer than he did himself. So, as odd as it seems, it felt to me that this DJ was being insensitive. I don't think I consciously recognised all this at the time but, as a writer of children's stories, it's an approach that I have instinctively taken up myself, where the reader understands what is going on before the central character does himself.
Sometimes I see things before they arrive but other times it can take a while before the important point dawns on me. To make the point another, more recent, memory comes to
Read More »