Thursday, August 05, 2004

Road to nowhere

CJ and I live quite a way from each other, around 30 miles, and it’s a journey that can take anything between 45 minutes and an hour.

For the most part it’s quite a nice, scenic, countryside journey. Especially in the day. The route takes me past the outer edges of Sherwood Forest, past Newstead Abbey, over the River Trent into the Vale of Belvoir. It truly is one of the nicest parts of this country.

It seems ironic that the best views in the country are most often viewed when travelling by car. The views from the Yorkshire stretch of the M1 are beautiful too, yet hardly anyone would have seen them if it wasn’t for a concrete monstrosity carrying 4 zillion cars a day straight through it.

I digress. By evening the view transforms into a far more sinister place, it's a much more spooky place to drive. The nice, gentle country back lanes of day change into the dangerously dark lonely trails of night.

Last night I was travelling from my house to CJ’s at around 10pm with my music on loud and my headlights on full. I know the road well so I know exactly where night-time leaves its sharp twists, turns and blind bends.

As i journeyed into the middle of the darkest, loneliest part of the journey, the part where I emerge from the forest and am faced with a good few miles of empty roads surrounded by nothing more than fields, I spotted something not quite right.

I had just taken a right hand 90 degree bend in a fast, unlit part of the route, when in the field just behind the thick bushes to my left I thought I could see a pair of red lights, not horizontal to each other but vertical. Thats's odd, i thought.

As my speed took me past, I looked in my mirror and saw a pair of vertical white lights at about the same place as I saw the red lights. It then hit me that it might be a car that had misjudged the corner and ended up on its side in a field. It certainly looked that way.

I stopped in the middle of the road and tried to comprehend what I'd just seen, to try and work out what was happening and to think about what I should do. Was it a house? It can’t be. It must be a car. Can it be anything else? No, surely not. Was I sure? Should I ignore it? Then I wondered how I’d feel if I, or anyone close to me was in a car that had crashed and someone stopped then drove off. I would feel so guilty for leaving someone injured, but I didn’t even know if it was a car or what it was. What is the done thing in these circumstances?

So I rang 999 to report it, to at least get an ambulance on its way if there were people injured.

Ringing 999 is a stressful experience in itself, as a youngster not calling 999 if it’s not an emergency is drilled into you as much as calling 999 is in an emergency. Fortunately it’s not a procedure that people have to execute with regularity, but the downside is that you become unfamiliar with the protocol. Whatever the situation is, its hard not to feel as though you’re putting someone out, especially as you are spoken to as though it’s 1 in the afternoon and you’ve just woken up some night shift worker with a wrong number.

The phone was ringing for what seemed like ages, then was answered. A voice said something that I can’t remember, but I know I ignored it. I just launched into a description of what I’d seen. I then became aware of him trying to interrupt me, he then succeeded.

“Which service do you require?” he said, about 30 seconds in.

I hadn’t taken a breath.

“Oh, sorry, err, all of them….err.. no, no, err ambulance and err Police and err…I think that’s it”.

It felt like I was ordering a Chinese. I nearly asked them to bring a bag of prawn crackers too.

I was then put through to another operator who must double up as a police dog in his spare time, he was barking questions at me like a dog on a sponsored bark – it suddenly didn’t seem an emergency after all. I could never hoax, I’m petrified speaking to these people when it’s a real emergency never mind a hoax one.

As I was explaining what I’d seen to the operator I realised how vague I was being and how little information I was giving.

“I might have seen a car off the road but I’m not sure, and I’m not entirely sure where I am”.

Then it occurred to me that my eyes could have been playing tricks on me, and that I could be in a bit of trouble if I’d summoned an ambulance and the police into the middle of nowhere on the whim of my sub-conscious.

It also occurred to me that the in the operators eyes it was just as likely that this was a crank call as it was an honest one. The more I wanted to sound sincere the more stuttering I did.

So I told the operator that I couldn’t be sure what had happened or what the object I'd seen was but that I’d go and have another look and ring back if it was nothing. That should save me from a harrowing court case and life in prison. Then it took ages to describe where I was, I was so far from nowhere. Any injured person would have recovered and returned to work in the time it took.

I put the phone down and looked in the mirror again, the lights were now gone. It was total darkness, no light whatsoever. My mind went into overdrive. I was going to be arrested for wasting police time, publicly flogged as a hoaxer. Should I flee the scene? Or should I hang around and take my punishment like a man?

So I reversed back to where I thought I'd seen the lights. You have to remember that we are in the pitch black here, darker than a dark thing on a dark night. On a dark country lane with no-one around and hardly any passing cars. I wound the window down and tried to hear anything - no sound. I pipped my horn, but again no response.

So I turned the car around, went back on myself to before the sharp bend and then turned the car round again so I was facing the way of my original direction before I saw the lights. The objective was to shine my full beam where I thought I'd seen the car. I couldn’t see anything.

Then I noticed that the undergrowth had been disturbed and there was a track of mud leading off the road just past the bend, so I pointed my beam in that direction. About 40 yards away in the distance I could just make out the top of something, but bright lights on an object with a background of total darkness distorted the object and I couldn’t makeout what it was – I just knew it was an object. It could have been the top of a car on its side, the top of a shed, a den or anything.

I know it seems wrong, but I was hoping it was a car so that I wouldn’t have to call 999 back and tell them that all I’d seen was a runaway cow shed pretending to be a car.

I got out of the car, then realised that it was pitch black, silent, very,very spooky and that I couldn’t see further than about 5 yards in any non-car lit direction. So I got back in and locked the doors.

What do you do in this situation? Do you go over and try and help? regardless of any danger, I didn’t know what help I could be anyway. And I didn’t even know if anything was there. Do you just carry on with your journey safe in the knowledge that the emergency services are on their way? What exactly do you do?

I then became aware of the top of a persons head poking up against what I now could make out as a window, I still didn’t know what it was a window of though, this person was looking as though he was trying to avoid being seen because he was slowly raising his head then quickly dropping it when he thought he'd gone too far. He had, about 40 yards too far.

I was really scared now. So I wound the window down and shouted something, I’m not sure what it was though. The windowy thing and its surrounding raised and someone pulled themself up out of it. I could now see that it was a car on its side and this person was getting out of the car door which was now the top of the car.

I could make out that the person was a young lad, he jumped down from the top of the car, swore at me, staggered around for a second or two, which could have been due to his consciousness or the uneven ground he was in, then disappeared. I don’t know where to as there were no paths and I was on the only main road and he definitely didn’t go along that.

I just didn’t know what to do, I just knew that it wasn’t especially safe for me to be about, so I kind of circled the area in the car until the ambulance arrived about 10 minutes later. The fact that the paramedics were reluctant to go anywhere near the car until the police got here made me feel much better about my choice to not do anything to aid the cars occupant(s), fortunately the police arrived 2 minutes later.

The 4 policemen then lit up the night sky with their powerful torches. Birds started singing because they thought dawn had broken. They then went up to the car and found nobody inside, which also made me feel better, but they could tell that whoever its occupant(s) were had been injured because of the blood in the car.

They then came back to speak to me, I hadn’t seen what had happened and I didn’t really have a good description of the only occupant I saw either so I wasn’t much use to them. So they told me to be on my way. I don’t know what happened after that, but the car has now gone.

Thinking about it as I carried on my journey I realised that if the need had come I couldn’t prove any innocence of my own. For all the police knew I could have been racing this car, been an accomplice in its route to the field or whatever. Fortunately they believed me as they let me carry on. Maybe I was building my part in the adrenaline fuelled aftermath.

It was too late though, Investigator Watski was in session and I'd already deduced that the young lad must have been either a joy rider, a drunk owner, or just someone who had panicked and ran off. It also became obvious that this person ran off after realising that the bright light shining on him was the car of an idiot and not the waiting arms of Mr Policeman.

After arriving at CJ’s house I realised a few things that I wish I’d realised at the time: the first one was that I had my digital camera in the car so I could have taken photos of the whole situation that the police could use.

The second was that I had been wearing odd shoes throughout the entire episode. Do odd things happen to you when you're wearing odd things?

The third was that they'd forgotten the prawn crackers.