The best moments in your life tend to replay in your memory at full speed: that sporting triumph; the wondrous moment of attraction and reaction with your soulmate; that time you said just the right thing at the right moment.
The bad moments, the disasters, they all play out in slow motion, like a car crash.
For me, after delightful decades without colliding with another vehicle, my first serious stuff-up felt like it went on for hours. And as if everyone I’d ever lectured, with a line like “there are no accidents, only stupid mistakes by idiots”, was watching at the time.
Think about every near-miss you’ve ever had, how you congratulate yourself afterwards for being smarter than the average bear, and then imagine one of those going horribly avocado-shaped.
It’s not pretty, particularly if there’s a hulking semi-trailer involved. And no question at all over whether you’re at fault.
I’d had just such a near-miss the day before in my bulky but beloved Citroen Picasso. Someone had pulled illegally across me at an intersection and I’d lauded myself long and loud to my long-suffering wife that night; how my alert eyes and bravura had saved the day.
But the next day it all went wrong. A stupid switch into an inside lane; an uphill attempt to overtake; a horrific realisation that the lane in front had run out; an even more painful awareness that there was a giant truck in the next lane.
There was a moment of panic when my primitive brain had to decide between braking and losing my nose, or accelerating and copping it in the rear. Then the god-awful graunching of impact, the shame of taking fault with the truck driver, and the sheer shock of being approached by a third motorist whose car I had no recollection of clipping. That was particularly horrific; realising things were so out of control I hadn’t noticed them.
How the Citroen kept me from being crushed and crippled I still can’t understand, nor how it was actually driveable after being mounted from behind by a B-double. But I sure am thankful.
What surprised me most of all, though, is how long, and how badly, I was rattled afterwards.
I had not realised how defining being a good driver was for me. And therefore how humbling and hurtful it was to accept, and publicly recognise, that I’d stuffed up, like all those thousands of idiots I’d looked so steeply down my nose at before. I was ashamed, even more so than if I’d been caught alone watching something disgraceful and debasing, like Gogglebox.
Worse still, it affected my driving. For weeks, possibly months. I was cautious. I was slow.
Goddamn it, I was scared. And I hated it. I’ve had motorcycle accidents and they physically hurt, but this pain was all in my brain. This was worse.
Because the fact remains, there are no road accidents, only stuff-ups. It’s shocking to realise that, with all the driver training, practice and preaching in the world, we all make mistakes.
Insurance? Claim forms? Dear God, is it possible that they’re worse than the accident itself? I’d say yes. Worse still, the poor innocent people involved in the accident with you may be stitched up by the implausible slowness of the process, causing some of them to threaten to come around to your house and beat you up.
One car accident, per life; that will do me, thanks.