I can talk about this only now. In the weeks after 2 October 2014 the affair was out of my hands and I couldn't mention it. But now it's clear that I can go ahead. I will still be careful not to say too much.
On 2 October 2014 I reversed into another car. This happened as I was backing out of a tight space in a car park at Instow, not far from Bideford in North Devon. The other car was suddenly there behind me, and there was a mild low-speed collision. I say 'mild' because I hit the other car with my towball, which has a plastic cap on it to keep off the rain, and that cap was not even marked. Here it is, after the accident:
Fiona was entirely undamaged. As you can see, this towball is in effect a little battering-ram, and effectively protects my car from any rear low-speed impact damage. So any driver who carelessly runs into my rear end is likely to suffer a stoved-in radiator or front bumper as their penalty for carelessness. Equally, if I reverse into a car behind me, I will punch into them, even at a slow speed. And this is what happened. Even so, my towball made only a little depression in the rear bumper of the other car:
Well, I swapped details with the other driver in the usual way, admitted no liability, and reported the incident at once to my insurance company (Liverpool Victoria). And as soon as I was home, I emailed to LV several photos I'd taken of (a) the positions of the cars, (b) certain documents shown to me (it was a hire car), and (c) the damage caused by the impact. I made it clear that my car was completely undamaged, and that I was making no claim. But of course the car hire firm would be seeking a repair.
LV said they'd deal with it all. And clearly they have. I was not troubled again.
But I knew that there would be consequences for me. You don't report an accident without it affecting the risk of insuring you. I felt I could count on my insurance premium going up on renewal in May 2015.
And I was right. When I got home tonight after a day out with a friend, and saw that the renewal invitation had arrived in the post, I braced myself for an unwelcome but inevitable hike in what I'd have to pay for the year ahead. Last year's premium was £389. This year it was £493. A 27% increase. Ouch! But it was in line with what I'd heard about the insurance industry taking a harder approach when assessing the risk posed by drivers who had, for whatever reason, fallen from grace. There was no point in quibbling. I'd had an accident, and demonstrated that I could be inattentive when reversing. The premium might come again down with time, but for now I'd have to bite the bullet and pay up.
I'd budgeted for £400, so there was suddenly £93 more to find. Fortunately, I hadn't actually spent any money on purchases during my day out shopping. I'd allocated £60 for these, and it was still available. It could now use the unspent cash to cover some of the extra premium. And so the net financial hit was reduced to a bearable £33.
I haven't yet mentioned the other consequences. The accident was sudden and very unexpected, and both the other driver and myself were a bit shaken up. His wife (who was seriously ill and in a wobbly state) was very upset, and at first her husband, the driver, was angry with me for causing her distress. But then he saw how upset I was - I was close to tears - and he changed his demeanour entirely. The necessary swapping of insurance information and private addresses helped to steady us both. Thank goodness it did.
They'd had ample reason to feel aggrieved. Exactly the same thing had happened to them just a few days before, and their own car was presently in the garage being fixed. That's why they were driving a hired car. And now this. It was almost the last straw. I felt very sympathetic, very sorry indeed, for adding to their troubles.
And in a small way, the incident nudged me away from the notion of moving to North Devon. I certainly wouldn't want to end up living near to the couple. The accident would forever be a barrier to friendship and easy-going good neighbourliness. It was such a pity, from my point of view, that they happened to live in a place full of affordable bungalows. In fact, of all the possible localities, the one that had the best range of properties in my price range.
And what if his wife, who was suffering from a chronic condition, died sooner than expected? What if he believed that the accident had actually hastened her end? He would never forgive me. He would never forget me. He might develop an obsessive hatred of me. I envisaged a shock meeting in Barnstaple - or really anywhere - and a sour and snarling inquest that would leave us both devastated.
The odds of meeting him were very slim if I only holidayed in the area twice a year. But the likelihood increased frighteningly if I actually moved there. It was not to be risked.