The car did its job. Every single panel was damaged, but I walked away completely unscathed.
I was driving home to Thame from my clinic in Wallingford. The last week had been extremely wet, even by November standards. The roads were pretty treacherous, particularly the A329, just barely an A road and quiet. I know I was driving well because I’d had a police car behind me for the last few miles, so I was steady and below the speed limit.
On my way to work I’d noticed that the farmer in a field along the way, at the bottom of a dip, had decided to haul his potatoes out of a waterlogged field and there was mud on the road, so I was ready for it. It covered the other side of the road. As I crested the hill before the field, what I wasn’t prepared for was the car coming up the hill, on my side of the road to avoid the mud. There’s a little wiggle in the road at the crest, and all I could do was swerve onto the muddy side of the road to avoid it. Head on collision averted. Well done me.
But now I was swerving on a road smeared with slick wet mud and travelling at about 55 miles an hour. Downhill. With no grip. Towards a tree.
The car I was in, my favourite car of all time, had a reputation. The rear window is a flat, quite small sheet of glass with a habit of popping out and flying horizontally forwards when you hit something head on. Head off, might be a better description, as it has been known to decapitate all the occupants. Not pretty.
I couldn’t get traction to steer the car away from the tree, so I decided the best bet was to swing the car through 180 degrees to hit the tree going backwards, thereby craftily avoiding the separation of my head from my body. It’d also mean I was cushioned from the impact by the seat. It’s a great plan, and as I travelled down the hill, gaining speed as I go, I started to spin the car around. What i hadn’t factored in was the ditch to the right. I got about 90 degrees into my oh-so-clever manoeuvre, when my rear wheels dropped into the ditch. Suddenly the side of the ditch acted like a rail as my front wheels lifted from the road surface. Travelling sideways at over 50 miles an hour on your chassis isn’;t good for a car, or your nerves as the world rushes towards your window, the plants slapping hard against the driver’s door. The advantage was that the rail/ditch guided me past the tree and onward along the verge.
The car was heavy, and the ditch relentless, so it was inevitable that the chassis would snap. As it did, with an incredibly frightening noise, all four of my wheels – still powering away – made contact again; the front ones with the road, the rear ones with the bottom of the ditch, and I was abruptly propelled across the road, into the opposite ditch, through the hedge and 50 years into the waterlogged fields.
I sat in the now stationery, and somewhat more compact, car. I checked myself over; neck – okay, low back – okay, legs – still there… That’s what you want from a car, for it to unquestioningly lay down its life for you. If I hadn’t been a fan of Jaguars before, I would’ve been now. It’s why I say they’re the best cars in the world, because if I hadn’t been in one, I might not have lived to say it.
A policeman, from the following car, opened my door. I say opened, it would be a better description to say he relieved the car of the burden of a driver’s door. I stepped out, entirely unharmed to see a car eight inches lower than it had been, broken in the middle, every single panel dented and scratched. The policeman (sincerely, I think) congratulated me on how I’d handled the car, and wrote to my insurance company to tell them I wasn’t at fault (although they hadn’t got the number of the driver coming up the hill).
It’s fair to say this was a life changing moment. I felt incredibly lucky. Instead of being dead I was completely unharmed. Without doubt both the worst and the best thing to happen to me in a November!
It’s pretty easy to drive when nothing goes wrong, making people think they’re good drivers. But the moment things don’t go to plan, most drivers are at the mercy of physics. The truth is if I hadn’t learned earlier in that year how to handle an out of control car, I’d have been headless in that tree.
The lesson? Learn how to handle a car when the unexpected happens. One day your life may depend on it.