Car accidents: if everyone gets to drive away unhurt, write it off to experience.
THE ground is frosty, as I pour warm water on my car windows and switch on the engine to drop my younger two to school.
As I've done for the last twenty years, I begin my reverse out of my narrow driveway, onto the small quiet road. As always, I inch out, stopping when I reach the pathway, checking mirrors and the car's rear-view camera, before I go any further.
But at the last moment, I'm distracted and I misjudge the angle of my turn. The front right corner of my car gets wedged in the wrought iron gate.
"Oh my God."
The middle child turns to me.
"Mum, take it easy."
I haven't so much as a smudged finger mark on the damned car.
It comes out louder than I intended. "No, no, no, please no." My car is only two years old. After years of driving my old one, replacing engines and gear boxes, remembering that the electric windows didn't work in cold weather, we managed to replace it.
Two years. And I haven't so much as a smudged finger mark on the damned car.
"Oh God, I have to do something." It is a prayer.
"Well yeah, or we'll be late for school." This from the boy in the back seat.
"I'm doing something!" Panicking, mainly. I glance over my shoulder and try to continue my reverse. The car doesn't budge.
"Mum, are you having a mid-life crisis?" asks the boy.
Sweating now, I shift into first gear, rev the engine and drive forward. With a sickening clunk, the car dislodges itself from the gate and we are back in the middle of the driveway.
Shakily, I get out to inspect the damage. It's scraped, but worse, right underneath the right front light, the metal has been pulled apart. Thankfully, it's safe to drive. I get back in and start to reverse again.
"I can't reverse anymore."
The middle one sighs.
"Yes you can."
"Yes, I can."
I take it slowly and reverse perfectly. A couple of minutes later, the tears come, surprising me, as we shuffle along in traffic. The middle child hands me some tissues from the glove box, and I mop my face when we stop at lights.
"Mum, are you having a mid-life crisis?" asks the boy. I start to laugh, and it turns into hiccups.
"No, it's just shock."
"I'll drive back," I offered, "what's the worse that can happen?"
In all the years I've been driving, I've only ever had one accident. Nobody was hurt. But it was as shocking as it was dramatic.
We were taking a family holiday in Northern Spain when the children were young, and we'd hired a car and bought the highest available car insurance. For the sake of our annual two weeks' holiday, we wanted peace of mind.
On day three of our holiday, we drove up into the hills of the town, and parked behind a truck, to buy some pastries in a little bakery.
"I'll drive back," I offered. "It's only down through the town. What's the worst that can happen?"
Until now, I had left all the driving on the wrong side of the road, to the husband. I got into the car, and realised the steering wheel had disappeared. I got out again, and slid in the other side. The road looked very different. Gears looked very different, as I reached down with my right hand.
The front panel hung to the ground like an open sardine can.
"I'll guide you out and then I'll get in," said the husband. No problem. I could do this. I turned the key and then I turned the car.
I watched as the whole front right side of it disappeared under the back of the truck. What happened then is, to this day, a bit of a blur. Disbelief turned to shock, and I sat frozen, until huge sobs escaped me.
The truck driver appeared, and the husband, blessedly fluent in the language, stepped in. The police arrived. We showed them driving licences, and our 'Super Cover'.
They checked everything, got all the reports signed, and told the truck driver and ourselves not to worry. The insurance covered everyone, and nobody would be out of pocket.
The people from the bakery took one look at me, and at the ashen faces of the children, and offered lollipops and reassuring words.
When we finally managed to pull the car and the truck apart, the front panel of our rental had peeled back, and now hung to the ground like an open sardine can. The local bike-hire owner brought out a hammer, and banged the car back into some sort of driveable shape.
The truck driver shook hands with the husband, the husband shook hands with everyone else, and I managed to climb into the passenger seat.
It was my first major car accident.
It was also my first and last attempt to drive on the other side of the road.
Less than an hour after I catch my car in the gate, I pass my local mechanic in the village. I mention what happened.
"Nobody was hurt," says he. "And nobody else was involved. Your car, your gate. Metal can be fixed." And he gives me a hug.
The tension leaves my body like a physical thing.
Free lollipops...kind police...a non-shouty truck driver.
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