It was touch and go for the ham hough. You never know the bloody minute… well more the elongated moment…when I was happily but sedately bowling along Loch Lomond-side, already bored with what was on the radio, planning to stop at Tyndrum to get out the Kindle for some decent driving tunes, past the engineering feat that is the stilt borne road-widening marvel at Pulpit Rock.
Breathing in at the narrow parts as too-wide trucks and vans stole precious territory on my side of the dotted line, slowing down through the water cascading downhill and forming eddies which regularly threatened to drown the nearside of the road, ever alert on a tricky road, well-travelled over the years, it was the second of January and my first trip out in the brand new year.
A82 one of the Loch Lomondside narrows
I was heading to see my friend Jan perform in the annual Easdale Island new year panto, curtain up two forty five, ferry at 2.15 – plenty of time, no rush.
Turned out it wasn’t the news quiz on Radio 4 at twelve but the awful Moneybox Live (why live? Is their news ever so breaking it can never be pre-recorded? Maybe the banking crash gave them a sense of immediacy they’ve never known before.). I was hoping for the News Quiz to pass the time enjoying the quick-witted giggly MC-ing of Sandy Toksvig until Tyndrum and a slug of my nutri-smoothy made with Jack’s belter of a blender before negotiating Loch Aweside’s mighty glen and the scenic drive onward to Oban. Carefully around a wide left-ward curving bend, no one in front, a few cars behind then my car suddenly veers to the right refusing my corrections, foot off hovering the brake, gently, go with it I remembered, it was having none of it, wibbly wobbly, my no longer steady, heavy horse of a Saab hurtled for the watering hole that was Loch Lomond on my right, rushing toward the trough it crashed willow, saplings, bramble and flew over the steep embankment, its momentum allowing it one last decision to face back the way we had come, flipped over and landed on its back.
Careering at speed towards the loch, up in the air and through the trees, time really did motion slowly as I contemplated the end of me in a parallel and equally real time. Simple, pure terror washed through my mind and body. Utter helplessness, hands still pointlessly gripping the steering wheel …nothing I can do….. Eyes wide to see it, inside voice to speak it, scream it, feel it: the river, the trees rushing toward me instantly felled by the car’s speed…I’m heading for the river….! THIS IS IT! THE END! NO…! The horizon flipped and it all stopped….
I’m heading for the river….!” THIS IS IT! THE END! NO…!
In a blink I did a quick body check. OK…I’m hanging upside down, held fast by my seat belt, the engine’s still running, the radio is still on but I’m not in the water. With what I was even then aware was a remarkable calm, I thought, turn the engine off, all that petrol I had just pumped into the tank not an hour before might be pouring out. Slowly I moved the automatic gear stick to P for park, switched the engine off, removed the key and silenced Graham Norton’s wittering. A voice was calling and then a man’s face appeared ahead of me, seeing me seeing him, “Hello!”, I gave him two celebratory thumbs up and shouted “I think I’m ok!”. “He called out, “Stay where you are, don’t worry we’ll get you out, anyone else with you? “, ”No just me.” He turned and called out “Just one woman and she thinks she’s OK”. Another man’s voice came from behind the car. “Do you think you can get out? I’ll try to open a door. There’s a chair here” [that’s another story]. I felt the rush of air as the door opened, I smelled that strong familiar sodden, woody, decaying smell of fresh riverbank. I braced my left arm, against the roof of the car, hooked my right knee under the steering wheel, wedged the other against the side of the central column, reached across myself with my right hand and pressed the button on the seat belt. The limb bracing worked. Gravity did its job and I slowly untangled myself from behind the steering wheel one leg at a time thanking thingummy that I’d recently restarted my yoga practice and crawled along the roof to the open door behind me.
“I’ll put the chair out here and you can stand on it,”, the man said, “that’s handy.” I climbed up, grabbed the door sill then his hand and with one swing of the leg then the other I was out! I barely knew what way up I or the world was. I scrambled and climbed up and through the sinking, stinking mud, grabbing and avoiding the scratching brambles to the road, a line of parked cars and what seemed like rows of concerned helpers on the roadside looking over then taking me, asking how I was, talking on mobile phones, directing traffic and telling me what happened. Men halted the traffic as I was led across the road by a nice woman in a red jacket, “You need to sit down, come on.” She motioned me to sit in her driving seat.
“You were driving quite slowly, I was right behind you,” said kind Nicky from Crianlarach with the wee red car and the bouncing Jack Russell, “Then next thing you were turning right, I wondered where you were going as there’s no turn off there!” Charlie in the car behind her confirmed all that, “You were driving quite slowly then you seemed to birl off.”
I turned round in her driving seat and saw three lovely, holiday-bright and smiling young faces saying ‘Hello! Are you OK?” “Yes I think I am thanks.”
The woman in the red jacket said, “My daughter and her pals are in the back. “ “Where you heading then?” I asked. “We’re going to a hotel in Glencoe for a few days break to get them out.” “They’ll likely be on their phones all the time!” I said, “Aye probably” she laughed. “Might not be any signal up there though.” “Probably not!” we both laughed – the chat normalising, restoring me to the place and time. I turned round in her driving seat and saw three lovely, holiday-bright and smiling young faces saying ‘Hello! Are you OK?” “Yes I think I am thanks.” Another woman approached me with a mobile phone. “The emergency services want to speak to you.” I took the phone, answered the questions asked by a very kind operator lady about how I was, any injuries, bleeding, can I stand, don’t eat or drink anything until the ambulance gets there, they’re on their way. With thanks I returned the phone to the woman, she asked if I was alright and I said I was. It was true. I seemed to be.
“You were driving quite slowly then you seemed to birl off.”
Charlie meanwhile offered to stay till the emergency services arrived and to direct them to the Ardlui Hotel where, they all decided, Nicki would take me to wait for the paramedics. My other first responder offered to get anything I needed from the car. “A handbag, a holdall, two jackets and can you please look for a poly bag with a ham hough in it!”. He laughed and a few moments later he appeared with everything I had asked for. The hough wasn’t going to make it to Easdale and Jan’s kitchen after all.
Can you please look for a poly bag with a ham hough in it!”
Assured that all was being done that could, the people gradually drove off and on their way. Previously anonymous drivers and passengers had, in an instant, become a highly organised flashmob rescue team – all instinctively knowing exactly the right thing to do in this sudden drama – heroes all.
We’re fine now, the ham hough and I. While that, my last Saab, nearly did for us both, its now obsolete Swedish aerodynamics also saved my life. The hough is presently doing what it does best here at home: comforting spirits with the ummistakable smell of what will soon become lentil broth. Just what’s needed after that loch-side driving drama.
We’re fine, the ham hough and I.
With my deep and sincere thanks to Nicki and Charlie, all the kind anonymous drivers heading northwards on the A82 less than a mile beyond the Ardlui Hotel just after midday on Saturday 2 January 2016 and the paramedics from Arrochar who all reassured me, got me out, checked out and home safe. Immense gratitude goes to my wonderful daughter Emily who drove miles to rescue me, to dearest son (1) Jack for the ham eggs, tattie scones and Stornoway fry he made us on our return, to dearest son (2) Louis for the delicious dauphinois, peas and haggis dinner he rustled up later it seemed out of nowhere, to dearest (1 and only) grand-daughter Maella round like a shot, Cleggie for the hugs, to Lynne for the flowers, for rushing round in a wink and for the kindest of friendship, to Carol for her phone calls, messages and timely Samye Ling remembrances, to cousin Jim for his love and concern, to Jan for being so concerned but the show going on regardless, avoiding breaking a leg and playing a pure blinder, to Gus for trying but failing to keep our secret till it was over, to Alex for his sweet post-party good wishes despite having had a bucket! You are all marvellous. My life is sweeter because of you.
It is a Happy New Year. OH YES IT IS!
Easdale Island Panto 2 January 2016 – Jack and the Beanstalk
Photo: Colin MacPherson