Monday 22 July 2019

The hidden dangers of life in the slow lane

dave robbins

It was not even a bohereen. Track, might have been more accurate, but trail gave it just the proper touch of wilderness. It was a trail, then, leading from the main Clifden road up into the hills. For several miles, it twisted and turned, dipped and rose above the town.

I knew it passably well, having driven its length for the best part of two weeks last year, and again for a few days this week.

I knew where the tarmac gave out and the dirt road took over. I knew the crest of the rise where the 12 Bens came into view.

I knew the two turning places along the way, and I also knew that the chances of meeting another car were slim: there were only three houses this high up, and we were in the second- last of them.

When I think of that road, I think only of the journey upwards but, of course, I knew the way down too, when speed is your enemy and the potholes lie in wait.

I was practised, or thought I was, at veering slightly to the left or right to avoid steering into their depths.

I was doing no more than 30 kph. I had my brother-in-law in the passenger seat, and we were talking of what we had to get on our provisioning trip to Clifden. I came to the semi-familiar rise with two large potholes in the right-hand wheel track. I placed my driver's side wheels on the crest in the middle of the road, and my left wheels along the slightly raised shoulder.

Except the shoulder was not a hard shoulder; it was soft. The car slid and dipped sharply to the left. I braked. I tried to steer back to the middle of the road. I thought that whoever came up with the word 'slewed' knew what he was talking about.

We slowed and came to rest, half on and half off the road. The strangest thing about it was that it all happened so slowly. Time, I have noticed before, slows down when you're having an accident. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean you can do anything to stop it; it just means you have plenty of time to notice what's happening to you.

I remember being in another accident, one involving other cars this time, during which I had time to take in all sorts of details, like how many cars were getting in petrol in the forecourt across the road, and that the impact of the crash had made me bite through the stem of my pipe.

Or another accident in which a car actually turned over. It clipped the wing of my car, carried on a while, then braked violently, spun across the road before flipping onto its roof.

This process, which in real time, took a couple of second, seemed in accident-time to take an age. It appeared choreographed, deliberately slowed down and stretched out.

So there we were, perched at the side of this trail, or track, or bohereen, high in the Connemara uplands. Our position was so precarious that we thought if either of us moved, the car would turn over into the ditch. Gingerly, we extracted ourselves. I stayed by the car as my brother-in-law walked back up the hill for help. Standing there, I had plenty of time to ponder.

I was struck by how easily one's circumstances could change: one moment, you're motoring along, happy, solvent and possibly whistling The Days of the Kerry Dancing, the next you're in a ditch, €40,000 worse off and musing on the mutability of fate. As it turned out, the car was not damaged, and getting it towed out of the ditch cost a mere €80.

As I waited for the tow-truck to arrive, I noticed one of those esoteric details that seem to be a motif of my vehicular travails: there, a little way back from the road, in the branches of an ash sapling, was a black bra with pink polka dots. To the untrained eye, it looked like a 36DD. Where is Martin McDonagh when you need him?

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