I was driving the Tardy Teenager to school as usual this morning. We were travelling along an A road which is nevertheless quite narrow, and I stopped behind a car which was waiting to turn right into a side road. The road was quite busy so he/we had to wait some time. Suddenly - a screech of brakes behind and some bloke has gone into the back of us.
Without training it's quite difficult to remain totally on the ball in these situations and it took me a moment or two to even think of switching the engine off. By the time we eventually we got out and moved to the side of the road, a woman who had been coming the other way was already on the phone, asking for police and services.
At this point the bloke behind was still in his car, holding his head. His car was well smashed in at the front, and I really thought he might be seriously injured. By the time he got out of his car, we were surrounded by people asking if we were OK. There was phone woman, who had been driving a van with an NHS logo on it; there was a man who had been driving towards us and had apparently been side-swiped by rear-end man as he tried to swerve round me; there was a woman from an office building thirty feet away who had been looking out of the window and saw the whole thing. There were half a dozen other random people from various vehicles hanging around who wandered off fairly quickly once it became clear we were all OK and that the road needed clearing.
We all got stuck in to exchanging names and phone numbers, and a couple of people from the office building came out and offered us shelter and cups of tea (it was damn cold); on several occasions rear-end man disappeared for quite long periods, and side-swipe man and I were actually quite concerned he was going to do a runner. He was quite devastated at the whole thing and despite the re-arrangement of my car and my day I actually felt quite sorry for him. He clearly wasn't paying attention, and he caused a lot of hassle to quite a few people, but I think most of us have been in situations where we've thought "Shit, that was lucky; come on, pay better attention now."
I asked The Tardy Teenager to take charge of getting people's details - as he was on his way to school he was in possession of rather more paper and pens than I was - while I phoned the school office. It was vaguely amusing to hear the weary cynicism in her voice when I said he would be late, change to compensatory fulsome concern and understanding when I explained why.
Eventually three police cars arrived, one of which went off again once they'd seen the situation. The two remaining ones parked themselves at either end of the incident and two officers started controlling the traffic while one spoke to us and one dealt with the fire engine when it finally arrived (presumably to check nothing was going to explode and no-one needed cutting out). The whole thing took ages; I phoned the AA but their controller couldn't seem to find our location on the map despite me telling him which roads we were at the junction of. Possibly I didn't help by telling him I thought we were technically in the area of Village A, when it transpired much later that the junction comes under Village B. You'd think he'd have a map that showed road names - I've just googled the name of the small side road together with the name of the nearest big town and up came the name of the village and various property websites giving the postcode. In the end I went over to one of the police officers and he spoke to the AA; when they said they couldn't get there for a hour he told them where to put it and got his colleague to arrange a recovery with their own contractor, because they are under obligation to clear the road within thirty minutes. I never discovered when that thirty minutes started though...
One thing that absolutely amazed me was the number of times cars ignored the police signals to stop. You'd think that a police officer standing in the middle of your lane in a high-vis jacket and showing you the palm of his hand was pretty unambiguous, but apparently not. On two or three occasions I heard officers shouting "Stop!". On one occasion I heard one of them shout "Stop! Now move back and do as you're told!" And the worst one - I was facing away from the traffic, talking to the officer who was taking everyone's details. He was just explaining to me and side-swipe man that rear-end man had been interviewed under caution, when we heard shouting. He finished his sentence and then we looked round and there was a car still moving directly towards the police officer standing there with his hand up, shouting at him to stop. Unbelievable.
Anyway, the upshot is that my car has been taken away to a recovery centre thirty miles North-East of here. Tomorrow a garage appointed by the insurer will send someone out from their premises forty miles South-East of here to collect my car and take it in for repair - probably a round trip of three hours minimum. That's if it's repairable - the insurance guy was using phrases like "they will collect it and they will fix it", but everyone who's seen the car or the photos thinks it's a write-off. There are degrees of write-off, of course, but I would like to have the choice because it's quite a nice, comfortable car, and the insurance never pays out enough to get something comparable.
In other, related news, I'm now driving a courtesy car which has an electronic handbrake, and the photocard part of my driving licence has apparently expired, which I didn't even realise was possible.
I've never heard of an electronic handbrake before - apparently to pull away you don't need to let it off, you simply ... pull away. I'm not entirely convinced on the safety aspects of that one.
And as to the driving licence: the very young man in the hire car office pointed out to me that the photocard had expired two months ago, "but it doesn't make any difference". To which the only possible response is "so what's the point then?"
Tomorrow the Tardy Teenager has been warned he will have to get the train to school, and I will do the Helpline-phoning that I should have done today in the arena of Student Finance applications. We only have two weeks to the deadline and there are still several questions to ask (they get very impatient to get you off the phone after two or three questions so I'm doing it in stages) and OH is still claiming he doesn't know how to find his Tax Return information, which we need for the income declaration.
But it could definitely have been a lot worse.