30 July 2013


A Morris 1000 Traveller
There's been a lot of death around recently. Train crash in northern Spain. Coach plunging off a viaduct in Italy. And of course those obligatory fatal explosions in Iraq and Afghanistan - the maiming of ordinary people. The death list goes on and on. I won't even mention the countless babies in The Third World who keep dying from diarrhoea as nobody else seems to care a fig about them.

Dicing with death. I guess all of us have stared death in the face at some time or other and lived to tell the tale. Those near misses. Health issues and ugly what-might-have-beens. Here's one of my near-death stories.

It's early 1978. I have begun my first "proper" teaching job at a godforsaken comprehensive school in South Yorkshire. Dinnington - where the sun don't shine but  the shadow of a slag heap slides across my classroom wall in thin wintry daylight. Classroom? It's more like a builders' hut - as temporary as life itself. They call it a "terrapin"- which I had previously thought was an amphibian creature. Unlike a terrapin, I feel like I'm almost drowning but I survive, making it to the February half term. Hurrah!

I travel back to Scotland in the Morris 1000 Traveller I have inherited from by brother Paul. Back to the dreamy days of university, back to "procrastination is the spice of life", back to my Scottish girlfriend - Pat. But Pat rebuffs me. I didn't know why though I do now - she believed a tale that wasn't true. A tale that surely altered the course of my life.

One night I get drunk with my old mate John from New York State. We're at the disco in the Pathfoot building but we're not dancing. I am feeling bad about Pat - confused. At 2am, John invites me back to his place in the Perthshire village of Doune. I don't know the way so I have to follow him in his red Cortina.

We take the back road and I am having to proceed faster than I would have liked in a car with wooden struts that was manufactured in the mid-sixties. It's pitch dark and there are no other vehicles about. I see the lights of the Cortina disappearing round the bend ahead. There are stone walls on either side.

And then it happens. In the blink of an eye. A screeching, a tumbling, a death moment. The car has flipped over a couple of times and it is now sideways on in the country road. I am half lying on the ceiling. Remember that  this was in the days before seatbelts. Incredibly there appears to be no blood or broken bones, no grey throbbing brains exposed. I wind down the driver's window and crawl out into the Scottish night, remembering to sensibly switch off the ignition.

My first thought is - oh my God - somebody could come round the bend and smash into this thing! I have got to move it! So I heave with all my might and push the car onto its side and then with another mighty heave I have pushed it back onto its wheels. There is a little pneumatic bounce as the vehicle rights itself. Then I reach in through the side window to the steering wheel and direct my old car to the verge.

It is at this moment that John returns, wondering where I had got to. We leave the Morris 1000 Traveller and zoom back to Doune in his Cortina. When I wake in the morning, my arms and shoulders hurt like hell and it is only then that I realise the illogical nature of my superhuman shoving in the middle of the night as the image of those stone walls on the bend come back to haunt me. How I cheated death that night I shall never know.

How about you - when did you get close to death?


  1. Vietnam or car accidents...either one could have taken me out so not sure.

  2. too many to mention! There was a time here that the local BBC and Reuter's correspondentes ran a sweepstake betting I would make it to the end of that particular year alive!

  3. Being of a clumsy and incompetent disposition I've ended up in hospital more times than I care to recall.
    Only once did i wake up in one. I hit a sheep near the Fox House Inn and came round twelve hours later in the old Royal Hospital. I could have been dead and I can't remember it being an unpleasant twelve hours.

  4. My first car was a 1958 Morris 1000. It cost me $200 with 12 months registration. Fond memories, but never flipped it.

  5. I should point out, they were betting AGAINST me making it to the end of the year alive!

    What a lot some of us have in common; MY first car was a 1957 Moggie 1000. Cost me 7 quid to drag off the guy's lawn.


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