Sunday, February 8, 2009
How Not to Drive Down a Hill
I have no sympathy for those thousands of motorists caught in snowstorms over the last week. I mean, why on earth does anyone go for a drive in a blizzard, playing chicken with the emergency services? – they deserve a good dose of hypothermia. It’s no use blaming the councils for running out of grit, people should be at home watching Newsnight rather than selfishly obliging nice innocent villagers to unlock their community halls and heat up bowls of soup in the middle of the night.
There’s something about bad weather that brings out the worst in men. Yes, men, for I doubt many women would be stupid enough to venture out in conditions like these. But no, a man has to get out his 4x4 and show it off.
On Monday night, just as a white blanket was descending over our valley, I decided to visit my Mother. “Don’t come,” she warned, “you’ll never get down the hill”. “Don’t be absurd, Mum”, I laughed, “the Volvo has four wheel drive.” “You’ll still never get down the hill,” she droned. “I’ll be fine; I’ve got a special button called Hill Descent Control. You just press it and take your foot off the brake.” “Off the brake? You’re mad; you’ll end up in the river.” “Mum, the engine torque holds back the weight of the car”, I added, without the slightest clue of what I was saying.
The white road snaked into the darkness below. My Hill Descent Control button has a picture of a car confidently gliding down the side of an alpine peak. I pressed it and led the shiny new Volvo into the abyss. 10 jerky seconds later, I realised that this had all been a huge mistake. It must be a sensation felt across the nation this week, especially by those morons in Devon who thought they could make it safely up the A38 before the snow was up to their windscreens. It’s been a great week for bodyshop repair companies. Halfway down the hill, I knew there was no way my two ton monster would make the turn into Mum’s drive; the powdery white surface was the frosting on a cake of pure ice.
Mum was wrong about one thing, though: I didn’t end up in the river. This was thanks only to a huge gatepost connected to an even larger gate, along with about twenty feet of perfectly good fencing. All of which belonged to the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Lord Stevens, and which currently lie in pieces somewhere near his front porch. He was terribly nice about it. Lady Stevens took photographs as Britain’s most distinguished policeman and I tried to tug a ten-foot fence plank out of my chassis; it had somehow managed to drive itself into the fog light and out of the other side of the car, so the Volvo resembled a gazelle impaled by an Assegai spear.
He’s a decent bloke that John Stevens. Apart from blaming his road for being too icy, and his gate for being shut, neither of which were any justification for an event caused by my customary stubbornness and refusal to listen to my mother’s good advice, it was obvious there was no way my all-weather XC70 was going to get out of his front drive until the thaws came, so he gave me a lift home, and on the way demonstrated how a real expert drives on ice. I felt about 12 years old.
The last time I destroyed a fence was 30 years ago, on the M4. That time I was rescued by Selina Scott. To be precise, I escaped arrest by promising the boys of the Thames Valley police a signed photograph of their favourite newsreader. It’s a shameful story, which I couldn’t possibly repeat here. But if you really want the full confessional, see my next post.