Thursday, November 15, 2012

A sorry tale and a whole bunch of self-pity.

Well, here goes, and I hope it's cathartic, it can't really make me feel any worse.

A long stretch of my usual regular route in the direction of St Brieuc and everything on the way, including one of my coaching jobs, has been closed for roadworks for a very long time.  I've taken the recommended diversion route when I can, though it's a great deal further and the other evening a normal forty minute trip took me nearly an hour and a half.  But when it comes to the teaching job, out in the country, just for an hour early afternoon, this is just so out of the way that it's barely worthwhile going.  At lunchtimes, and after five o'clock, I frequently followed the example of numerous other drivers, not all of whom were residents, including the school bus, and drove around the route barrée signs, going carefully round the ruts and bumps and potholes, to no ill effect.

Then one evening a couple of weeks ago, at about five-thirty, a small posse of gendarmes stopped me, told me off for driving on it when I didn't live there, let me off magnanimously but told me not to do it again, or else, a fine and points.  If they caught me.  But I'm not one to push my luck, as I thought, so I sussed out a back route of winding lanes which brought me satisfactorily to my destination.

I set out yesterday, nice weather, feeling fine, stopped at a tricky junction, pootled at sensible speed -  you really can't do anything else in my car - round a downward sloping bend, and was confronted by a large white van coming at speed in the middle of the muddy road down the opposite slope. I braked and tried to move over, as you do, but there was so much mud and so little time that the brake turned into a skid and I hit the side of the van, who was veering to avoid me.  Without the skid I'd just have made it through the gap, but only just.

I removed a length of his trim and gave him a bit of a scratch, he trashed most of the front of my car.  I was shaking, he was somewhat discomposed. He repeated several times what a hurry he was in for work - he was delivering medical and pharmaceutical supplies - he asked for my address and details and I had the presence of mind to get his off him before he hurried away - he'd not have given them of his own accord, though he did make sure my car was still drivable before he left, yanking at the stoved-in bumper and wing that was fouling the wheel. I called Tom, who offered to come out, but I said I'd turn round and come straight back.  I hadn't really registered how bad the damage was, but I didn't want to wait around there anyway.  I cancelled my lesson and limped homeward, every rightward turn of the wheel drawing protesting scraping noises from the car.

Dear old Monsieur Turbin, our long time garagiste, sometimes rather rough in his humour but very reliable, a trailer-truck always at the ready, conveniently situated on our way home and his number always on our mobiles, has just taken his retirement, without having found a buyer for the business.  He recommended a friend with a Citroen garage in Ploeuc, but that's in the opposite direction, and not somewhere we go very often.  On the last leg, it became quite apparent that this car really needed to be in a garage, and if I got it home I wouldn't want to take it out again, so I turned towards Tredaniel, where I knew there was a general garage who had occasionally been helpful in the past, and I drew in there, having phoned Tom and told him what I was going to do so he could come and get us (Mol being with me throughout).

The people there, at that moment a young female receptionist and young male mechanic, were incredibly nice, kind and sympathetic and competent. They said I should never have driven it home, they would have come and fetched it, and I felt they were rooting for me from the start; the young woman helped me talk through it and gave me really good advice about dealing with the situation.  Tom did what turned out to be a sensible thing, and insisted that once we'd just looked in at home to confirm that our insurers - who have also just retired, closed the local office and the agency has moved to Ploeuc also - were indeed closed on Wednesdays, we go out shopping as I had planned to do after my lesson and try to get on with our day.

Just as I was going out of the door, the phone went, and it was the other driver, who asked if he could come round that evening after work to fill out the constat amiable for the insurance. We stopped at the garage to finish emptying the car, and I told the young woman, who encouraged me to stick to my guns, he was at least partly to blame and it would go harder on me than him anyway, since I'd lost my car already and didn't need to be further penalised by the insurance any more than necessary, when for him it was just a question of relatively light damage and his employing company's insurance.

Shopping was OK, except Tom took me for a cup of tea in the supermarket bar and they were playing a fairly indifferent version of Leonard Cohen's Alleluya, which was nevertheless quite enough to undo me.

On the garage woman's advice, I filled in the constat fairly minimally, and roughed out a statement of events as I recalled them.  The guy arrived, in another van, and he had done likewise, but he refused to agree that he had been travelling fast down the middle of the road.  I'll spare you the ins and outs of the argument, we remained civil but neither of us was prepared to budge.  We both professed our good faith, but he said quite plainly that if he were to say anything that put him at all in the wrong, he would suffer for it at work.  So we concluded there was no point discussing it further, filled out all the relevant information, noted that we were not in agreement on the events, and didn't sign it, which one is at liberty to do.

I don't know whether it will do me any good; the fact that I undeniably lost control of the car, despite the fact that I was, as I saw and still see it, forced to brake to avoid a worse accident, will probably count against me.  Both the garage people and our insurance agent were wide-eyed at his statement about how he couldn't accept any responsibility because he'd be penalised at work, and they both said, of course he was in too much of a hurry, those van drivers for those businesses always are.  The agent says she'll talk to the insurance company, photocopied and sent my statement, and we must wait and see.  The refusal to agree means it may go 50/50, if I'm lucky.

So there it is.  Everyone around me so far has been wonderful, they always are, and I'm weathering it, just, but I'm tired.  Tired of having to deliver another car-related tale of woe, tired of my poor friends and family having to find more sympathetic words when the fact that I have written off two cars in less than four years clearly indicates that I am an incompetent, unfit to belong to the adult world. Despite reassuring myself that this time, it wasn't entirely my fault, I'm still going over all the ways it might not have happened, could have been avoided - braving the gendarmes and their fines would have turned out cheaper.  I'm tired of the insomnia and bad dreams and waves of tears and panic and despondency that keep washing over me, that I know aren't finished with me yet, and the dark fears and sense of imminence of future, worse loss and trauma that any loss and trauma calls up. I'm fairly bloody tired of trying to count my blessings and be grateful it wasn't worse and look on the bright side.  While I'm very well aware I have a blissfully easy life compared to most normal people, I'm tired of having to sort out problems and find ways through, though I perfectly well know that that's life, and it doesn't stop till life does.  And I ache with that kind of ache that flowers up from between the shoulder blades and grabs at the throat. I'm overall quite tired of myself. It's all so tedious.

And I'm heart-broken because I loved that car.  Much more than the old BX even though we'd had that a long time and it had lots of memories, because it never really quite fit me and I never quite trusted it, it was under-built and over-powered.  The Saxo was perfect, small and compact yet a bit rough round the edges, it ran on a cupful of petrol, the colour stood up to all the mud and dirt we can't avoid round here, and to me it was the small dark green thread that stitched together so many of the individually insignificant elements of my life and made them into a satisfying patchwork whole, and now that seems all ripped apart. I know it's not sensible to get so fond of a car, but it was special in ways that would come across as altogether sentimental, superstitious or fanciful if I were to outline them.  I shall never be that fond of a car again, and I had it for just three and a half years.

Anyway, we think we may have found its slightly bigger sister to take its place in Lamballe; another Saxo of the same vintage, and the same colour, but with four doors, which I guess is a bit more practical, especially for Mol to get in and out, and Tom's happy about it.  It's got lots of funny little naff details like a Cosworth fin and a snazzy steering wheel with Saxo in funky letters and flowery seat covers, which I'm hoping indicates a loving and caring owner, who says she's only selling it because she now needs to drive many more miles for work and needs something more substantial.  The price is pretty good without being suspiciously cheap. The main difference is that it's left hand drive, because it seems now really must be the time when I bite the bullet and learn how to drive one, I've wimped out  about it long enough.  I don't really feel very much like rising to any more challenges, but I hope by next week I might. I'll build up to it slowly, go out with Tom for practise drives at first and make sure we don't fall out.  It also means Tom can drive it, as we've always had a policy of he drives only his LHD car and I drive my RHD one, but that's rather limiting of options sometimes.  If it's good we'll buy it, and our friendly new garage people will help us with it.

But it won't be the same.


marja-leena said...

Oh dear, my deepest sympathies over all this stress! I'm glad you seem to be in good hands. So now you must take care of yourself - take those knots of worry and insomnia and grief and toss them away. Good luck and feel better, dear Lucy!

Fire Bird said...

oh poor you, how scary and horrible. Please don't beat yourself up - there sounds like nothing you could have done to avoid some kind of collision, just so very glad it wasn't the head-on one...

Dale said...

My dear, my dear, you do NOT need to add to your suffering by telling yourself you should not be experiencing it! I am going to send you a notarized permission-to-suffer certificate, good for ten days, which you can hang on your wall.

xoxo Hugs to you. I'm so glad you're okay! It sounds like one of those particularly rattling accidents that (quite unfairly) stirs up a lot of self-doubt in those who are not given to externalizing all their woes.

As to all your good fortune and privilege, yah, yah, yah, and how many people do I know that have made an utter hash of their lives with far more good fortune and privilege to start with? It's not all happy accident.

NT said...

You are entitled to feel stressed and grieved. An accident is a horrible, jolting experience under the best of circumstances (if there can be such a thing).

Give yourself permission for downtime and recovery. Let yourself be pampered for awhile!

julia said...

Would you feel better if I own up to having driven my Escort straight into a bright yellow camper van and then, the same week, reversed a brand new convertible into a white car?

I think that's when the Rags started calling me Penelope Pittstop

Sabine said...

Aggh, I feel for you!! This is not something to just move away from and on with life. But one day in the distant future you will have a laugh. I promise, I have peeled myself out of two crashed cars. It adds to your life experiences strangely enough also in positive ways - eventually.

Anonymous said...

So sorry to hear this Lucy, I would feel very distressed too, it's understandable, sending *hugs* from here! x

Nimble said...

I hope the grieving goes quickly -- try not to 'what if' so much. A car accident takes time to recover from. I'm so glad you weren't physically hurt.

Some cars you bond with and some you can't wait to get shut of.

Lucy said...

Thanks so much, you are all incredibly and unfailingly nice. I'll let you know how I get on.

zephyr said...

i am so,so sorry!
i so absolutely totally understand your upset and grief. i have gotten very attached to 2 of my cars...they get us through so much, they truly feel like companions.

i hope writing it all out has helped shoo away the awful nightmares and that you can get some sleep.

i will confess one of my dirty little secrets: whenever everything goes this cockeyed and haywire and is just plain awful, and i feel totally powerless and abused, never want to be around humans again i will let loose with, "Life sucks and then we die!" i never say it around anyone but my sister--or in a context where it will make the listener laugh. And, it does make me feel better!

You are welcome to borrow it whenever you wish...or...if it seems just to morose, please forget i mentioned it.

Zhoen said...

Is there anywhere to take a good defensive driving course? Sounds like you could use a bit of skill and confidence, change your focus. Not "look on the bright side" but *do* something really constructive.

This sort of thing is a bit traumatizing and very exhausting, both body and mind need to rest and heal. Car crashes invade one's dreams and shatter one's necessary illusions of safety. Take your time.

herhimnbryn said...

Bugger! Lucy, am so sorry. Always a dreadful experience pranging a car. Worse still when the other party gets obstructive. But you are safe (and so is Mol) and you have dear Tom to be there with you.

Tears and a large glass of something exceptional will help.

Thinking of you.

Roderick Robinson said...

Oh dear, dear, dear. There's so much I feel I ought to say but all of it retro and therefore it might seem needlessly cruel. Won't say. Ah'll jest keep mah mouff shet.

I'm surprised you were able to get insurance for a RHD car in France all those years. But you must, repeat MUST, as you say bite on the bullet and go LHD. The fact is RHD has certain advantages (eg, you can drive much closer to the right-hand side of the road in tight circumstances) but also has some horrible disadvantages. For one thing overtaking is ten times more hazardous; yes I know you probably don't do an awful lot of overtaking but sometimes you're forced to with farm tractors, milk floats and - in particular - stationary vehicles.

Also (though I can't be sure of this in your case) the headlights on an RHD car are normally set up for driving on the LH side of the road. Which means they point into the gutter and the nearby verge. When you're driving on the RH side this means they point out into the centre of the road and into the eyes of oncoming LHD drivers (ie, the majority) to their extreme irritation. On the rare occasions when I'm forced to drive at night in France I only use low beam, not even dipped.

Anyway you must change; no ifs and buits.

Don't like the sound of a Cosworth fin. Cosworth is a tuner of high-speed race engines; please make sure the engine hasn't been breathed on.

White van man is of course fighting his corner; don't trust him an inch. I take it you have heard of the UK's white-van-man syndrome. All have intimations of immortality

I want to be uselessly sympathetic, I'm trying to think what Rilke would say in these circs but he's turning out to be a wet blanket. I can't even say go with God. Go with James Joyce (I've just re-started Portratit of an Artist) but he's no use either, bad eyesight kept him away from the steering wheel. Go with my profoundest best wishes (the equivalent of a tiger in your tank).

Lucy said...

Thanks again.

Zephyr - I shall keep it in my armoury!

Zhoen - I'm wondering if there isn't something. I might book a couple of proper lessons for the LHD anyway, and I think most of the driving schools have simulators, even some defesive situations on those would surely help..

HHB - yes, I am grateful we are all safe and together. I haven't drunk much as I've been aware I have to keep going and try to keep my wits about me, but I'll partake of something nice tonight!

RR - Thanks. Changing headlights is a condition of getting a car re-registered, it's not a problem. Even when simply travelling here you can remedy the problem of which you speak by the application of small black wedge shaped stickers to the headlamps; Brittany Ferries were always very keen to sell these to all their customers, but probably you knew that.

But there are pros and cons, some junctions are easier with RHD, joining a Mway from a slip road isn't, but I don't do a lot of that either, and the matter of positioning will I think be the most difficult.

Avus said...

So sorry, Lucy. These bangs do unsettle one as I can remember a couple of years ago when my beloved SAAB was raped by a Range Rover in full aggressive mode.

Still, as HHnB says, you are uninjured, Mo is likewise and you had the catharsis of "Alleluia", even if it wasn't actually the great Leonard performing it!

.....and you have a nice fresh Saxo with the steering wheel on the "correct" side.

Laura said...

Dear Lucy, there's not much I can add here, since your other friends have chimed in with eloquent sympathy already. All I know is that this, too, will pass and you WILL feel better in time. I so appreciate your candor and courage in expressing your feelings of vulnerability and sadness in the full-throated way you have. For this and for so many reasons, you have my deep admiration and affection. Carry on, dear woman.

Setu said...

What a pity… I hope you have recovered from that emotionally disturbing event and will soon be able to tame and earn the trust of your new vintage Saxo. Ah, those damn large white vans travelling too fast on the roads of Brittany ! As a daily rural commuter, there is hardly a day when I don’t curse one or two (or ten) careless and impudent drivers of those vehicles (many Mercedes vans among them, I have noticed), speeding over 110 km/h on narrow winding roads, over 150 km/m on dual carriage ways, over 70 km/m in villages, or sticking to the back of your car and overtaking dangerously without warning… And I am not proud to say that my curses sometimes work, because, alas, every year I see several of those vans lying on their roof or gone to the roadside ditch.
Sometimes they are delivering pharmaceutical supplies, then they and we are victims of the “just in time stock management” of our capitalistic society. But most of the time those quick vans are driven by builders (masons, joiners, carpenters, painters etc.) who left home too late –I suppose- and are heading towards building sites in a hurry, not minding at all other drivers and not watching their petrol consumption. What baffles me is that most of those fast travelling builders drive daily around 200 or 250 km between their home and the building site (to and fro). Why can’t a painter from the south coast work in the neighbourhood of the south coast and a carpenter from the north coast have his building site somewhere between Brest and Morlaix? It is another example of our unsustainable society.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry, Lucy. Sometimes one smallish trauma seems to bring all the others (already suffered and those potentially looming) roaring in at the same time. Thank goodness you weren't hurt. Sleep, and rest, and take Mol for a good walk. . . XO

- alison

christopher said...

Everybody has said everything. So much love. I add mine, dear Lucy. I hope your notarized certificate giving you permission for a short time to suffer openly and genuinely, I hope that one arrives in a timely way and is useful. Dale is wonderful to offer it.

I have no advice, but several caresses, a smooch or two, and some big hugs. The right hand drive situation in Pakistan kept me in public transportation the whole two years I was there.

julia said...

Ah Lucy, I drive a LHD French car in Oxfordshire. It's great because whenever my daughter leaps out of the right door in traffic the folk behind me think the driver has done a runner!

I don't overtake often so that's not a problem but joining the M-way can take me a long time

On the + side, once I drive off the ferry at St Malo I'm equal to the French drivers

It was quite a kerfuffle to register it here, new speedometer, new headlamps, change of reversing light and fog light and when I return to France I will have to reverse it all

Tant pis, as they say!

Rouchswalwe said...

Yikes! What an unpleasant adventure. I've had a week of run-ins of a different kind and am just now reading this. You've made me think of my beloved Mustang Hatchback. Loved that car (psst ~ don't tell the Buick).

Sheila said...

Oh, Lucy, I am so very sorry to read about your accident. Significant car accidents are such a shock to the system, in so many ways. All that adreanline that floods you as it's happening is part of it, I'm sure. It just takes a while for both mind and body to re-regulate themselves.

I hope that by now you are feeling some better. I hope the new car will bring joy eventually, though of course it won't be the same, and I'm sorry for that. i tend to get attached to my cars, even though I haven't liked many of them from the get-go because I never actually chose them, they were hand-me-downs.

"I don't really feel very much like rising to any more challenges." I certainly know this feeling, and sometimes it seems helpful to just say it. Of course I trust you will be renewed and restored, as I trust for myself. Take good care!

Marly Youmans said...

Oh. So sorry. Hope there are no new challenges in the offing (just pumpkings making funny faces.)