The first was a road accident that didn't quite happen. It was in south-east Devon, at a crossroads north-east of Seaton, where the east-west A3052 (the main route hereabouts) intersects with the A358 coming southwards from Axminster, and the B3172 coming northwards from Seaton and Axmouth. It's always busy, this crossroads, with drivers wanting to turn into the A3052, or cross it going north or south.
Well, it was mid-afternoon on this Sunday, and I was travelling east in Fiona from a visit to Bicton Gardens (not far from Budleigh Salterton) back to where my caravan was pitched near Lyme Regis. It was mostly a slow journey: there was lots of traffic, and clearly some of the cars had elderly people behind the wheel, who were either disinclined to go very fast, or incapable of coping with brisk speeds. Although this got a bit frustrating for the rest of us, I don't entirely blame them. Your reactions slow down in old age, your eyesight isn't what it was, and your confidence and judgement of speed and distance becomes impaired. No wonder it seems safe and sensible to drive at a more leisurely pace, because this increases the time available to 'read the road' and react accordingly. No doubt I will do the same twenty years ahead. But for now I drive at a pace that does not get in the way of other road users.
I was near the front of convoy of cars moving eastwards on the main road towards the crossroads. I was stuck behind two cars that were dawdling. But overtaking would be unsafe, and for the moment there was nothing to be done. I had high hopes however that they would both turn off north or south at the crossroads.
And they did. One turned left, one turned right. Thank goodness. I got ready to pick up speed again.
The drivers waiting at the crossroads must have seen that a convoy of vehicles was following these two cars, and that it wasn't safe yet to move out into the main road. I dare say they had been waiting overlong, but they were still bound to give way to traffic on the main road, and not cross it or join it until the right opportunity came.
I have no idea what made him do it, but just as I reached the crossroads, just after the two slow cars in front of me had peeled off and I was putting pressure on my accelerator pedal, the driver in the 'left' queue decided to chance a crossing. Even though I was now in full view. To my fright and dismay, I suddenly had a car moving towards me from my left, on a collision course.
Thank goodness for ABS and great brakes! Thank goodness both of us were able to stop! He ended up in the middle of the road. I ended up on the wrong side of the road, turned away from his front end. We hadn't actually touched. And the car following me hadn't run into Fiona's rear. Nor had the convoy as a whole shunted into one mass of crushed metal.
In reaction, I momentarily sagged in my driver's seat, my mind blank. I needed a second or two to pull myself together, even though we were of course blocking the road.
I glanced at the other driver, the one who had thought he could chance it. He was an elderly gent in a dapper white cotton jacket, shirt and tie. He was white-haired, and wore an immaculately trimmed and pointed beard. He looked like King George V. He contemplated me with a polite but surprised look on his face, as if I'd just committed a social faux pas. For goodness sake, it was his fault! How about some apology, some contrition? A facial expression to convey the message 'I'm dreadfully sorry. I made a silly mistake there. I hope you are not too shaken' would have been sufficient. Then I could have made a face in reply that said 'Well, you did give me a turn. But I'm all right. Let's say no more, and just move on' and all would have been forgotten.
But he just stared at me, that raised-eyebrow look stuck on his face. I nearly got out to say something to him. But I decided instead to steer around the front of his car and drive away. It was imperative not to block the road and impede the traffic flow, not unless there was clearly a good reason. Venting my feelings was not a good reason.
It occurred to me later that his frozen face was actually not superciliousness, but a sign of shock. It was possible that the poor chap had been even more shaken than I was. A dire misjudgement like this might be a body blow to his self-assurance, and his previous assumptions of personal infallibility. He might feel aghast that he had driven so badly - the first slip perhaps in sixty years behind the wheel; the first mark on a hitherto unblemished accident record. It just shows that being a Rotarian and the local Croquet Club chairman - I'm sure he was both of these things - can lull you into complacency. Being a pillar of the community doesn't make you immune from the mental consequences of a serious and embarrassing gaffe. I hope he was all right. I left the scene without a backward glance, so I don't know.
Don't misunderstand me: I don't forgive him. But I do see that I might not have been the only one upset by this near miss.
The second near-disaster occurred exactly one week later. Almost to the exact time of the afternoon. It happened at Duckpool, a small sand-and-rocks-between-high-cliffs bay north of Bude. It was a wonderfully sunny day. I'd been to Duckpool before. It was very photogenic. I intended to take some new shots. I did. These are some of them:
I was most interested in the rocks. Close to the sea, they were low but sloping, with sand and salt-water pools in between.
I knew it was a rocky bay, but I was being a fashionista that afternoon. I had my red handbag crooked in one arm, and the camera in the opposite hand. On my feet, trendy Skecher shoes. It wasn't a recipe for good balance. Neither hand was free to hold onto something solid, if I tripped or wobbled or slipped.
Well, I clambered onto some low rocks near the shoreline to get some more shots. And the inevitable happened. I slipped, and fell backwards onto a sloping slab (bruising my bottom, I discovered later), and then slid backwards, head first. I flung out my camera hand in an attempt to stop. The camera crashed into a rock ledge. Then my head came into contact with the same ledge, and I lay there rather stunned. Not knocked out, but definitely shaken, and at the very least bruised.
I was most concerned about my head. There was no blood. But a large tender bump had formed at once. I was reminded of pictures in childhood comics, where someone gets hit on the head and a volcano-like bump sprouts up through their hair. My bump felt like that. I soon had a mild headache too.
But the tide seemed to be coming in fast, and what about my poor camera? I focussed on that. The rings at the front of the lens had both flown off, who knows where. And the battery had dropped out - it lay in a nearby pool. I fished it out at once, and dried it. I hoped it was all right, and not short-circuited or whatever. Then I began to search for the missing rings.
Actually, I think this concentration on my hurt camera (there was sand on it, and it was scraped, besides being ringless) was a good thing. It distracted me from my own hurts, and stopped me dwelling on what the worse consequences of my backwards slither might have been. I was already thinking about concussion and haemorrhages inside my skull. Looking for those rings took my mind off that.
I slowly peered about my immediate vicinity. It was a maze of ledges, with sand and pools in between. Little bits of metal and plastic can fly a long way, and into surprising places. I wasn't very hopeful. But I found the smaller ring almost at once, on the ledge. It joined camera and battery in the front compartment of my red bag, a safe place to put them pending further inspection and whatever cleaning I could do. The larger of the two rings took another ten minutes to locate. And the tide was coming in. With every surge, the water penetrated the rocks around me a little bit more. Then I found the ring, half-hidden in shadow, some eight to ten feet away from where I had slipped:
I took a location shot with my phone. Why? Who knows. It seemed like a good idea to waste time on grabbing a location shot, rather than simply reaching down and rescuing the ring. I suppose I thought: 'Look at the sea water creeping in! I need to know exactly where the ring can be found, if the next water surge covers it with sand'. And that's exactly what happened - the next surge did bury it. And moved it - it wasn't quite where I'd seen it. The water had pushed it towards me by a couple of inches. But I groped for it, touched it, and got that ring safely away.
Then the business of getting out of these rock ledges, and off the beach, which involved treading over a lot of pebbles. A real test of balance. Another thing to concentrate on. I made it. But back at Fiona, I looked and felt pretty woebegone:
It occurred to me that I wouldn't have been able to get off the beach if suffering from concussion. Yes, I had a sore head, and probably bruises elsewhere too, but I wasn't shaking or vomiting. First things first. I examined the camera and its detached bits. The damage seemed superficial, not as bad as I had feared. But all the same, it had taken a sharp thump on the rocky ledge, and didn't look very good:
My poor camera! It was still fairly new. I'd bought it only last August.
It looked a little better with the sand and traces of salt water carefully wiped off. Here it is again, along with the retrieved rings, just before I drove away from Duckpool:
I was starting to crave a nice cup of tea and something sweet to go with it. It probably wasn't a good idea to linger when twenty miles from the caravan, just in case I was due for some delayed reaction to my fall. So I fired up Fiona, and drove with great care up the A39 back to Bideford, and then on to Great Torrington. No double vision. No blackouts or crazy driving. No problems at all.
Back at the caravan, I cleaned all the separate camera parts thoroughly, including that submersed battery, and then put them together. First, a deep breath. Now switch it on.
Hurrah! It still worked. A couple of test shots confirmed that the zooming and focussing were unaffected. The scraped paintwork might be put right with matte black paint, the sort you can get from model-making shops, but that was for another day.
Next, that steaming cuppa, and lashings of bread, butter and raspberry conserve! I gulped the tea, and wolfed the rest.
Then I relaxed...and promptly burst into tears. I went on to have a really good cry. You have to obey the body's demands. I felt better for it. But I cried again and again that evening. I kept thinking of how it might have been. Never mind the camera. What if I'd really hurt myself, so that I'd been hospitalised, and (if my brain had been damaged) never the same again?
And it would have been self-inflicted. Through stupidity.
Clambering on wet rocks? Never again. Or at least not unless suitably dressed and shod, and with both hands free.
And Duckpool? Would I ever want to go back? Not soon, anyway. But bad experiences fade with time, and I didn't want the memory of a minor hurt to stop me enjoying a nice place. But I must take better care in the future!