This morning we took a taxi.
I am not going to lie. This morning did not get off to the most auspicious of starts. Mr IKINTST and I were treated to the most incredible meal last night at the restaurant our friend runs in London. (www.themodernpantry.co.uk if you want to experience some of the most incredible food I have ever eaten, all served in the most beautiful, laid back surroundings.)
Both the food and the wine (and the champagne, and the cocktails…) flowed generously. So generously that, as I finally staggered into bed at 1am, it occurred to me that the 8am wake-up call to get Beth to her early morning football match was going to be extremely difficult indeed.
(NB, to anyone who has ever wondered if standing in the freezing cold watching your small child play football is a good hangover cure, I can tell you that: no, this is most definitely not the case.)
When I woke up this morning my head was still spinning, and I was in that somewhat hideous stage between being still drunk and deeply hungover.
Mr IKINTST – who was similarly suffering – and I had thirty minutes before we needed to leave the house, drive to collect the children from his parents’ where they’d spent the night, and then drive to take Beth to her football match. Our car was sitting outside on the drive.
We called a taxi.
We called a taxi, because three years ago, on a bright Saturday morning, when I was driving the children to a party…a seven year old child ran out suddenly in front of my car. A little girl, in the same school year as Jamie.
I hit her.
It would have been impossible not to hit her. We were driving through a housing estate. The speed limit was 30, but I was doing closer to 20. I had both hands on the steering wheel and was fully focused on the road.
Suddenly, without any warning whatsoever, there she was, running out of the parked car she was in at the side of the road and straight in front of my vehicle.
I knew a split second before I hit her that it was going to happen. My foot shot to the brake and I emergency stopped harder and faster than I have ever done in my life, but it was still too late.
She hit the front wing of my bonnet and ricocheted off, falling backwards into the road.
For a moment there was silence. Total silence. In my head I was screaming, but in life all that came out of my mouth was a whispered “oh god”.
I jumped out of the car and ran to where the girl was lying. Her mother, in the parked car, had also run to her daughter. I cannot imagine how she must have been feeling, but our eyes met, as she cradled her daughter’s head, and she said to me: “Don’t worry. I saw her run out. I know it wasn’t your fault. I know you couldn’t have stopped.”
In our halted universe of horror and fear, I will forever be grateful that she took the time to speak those words. Her composure was humbling.
An ambulance was called. An off duty paramedic stopped to help. The girl was conscious and I covered her with my leather jacket and asked her questions about her school. I told her she was the same age as my son, who was watching, wide eyed and terrified from the back of the car.
The police arrived, as, finally, did the ambulance. A police officer came over to question me. I answered all of their questions quietly and honestly. In the background, I could see one of the paramedics helping the girl to her feet. She walked, shakily, to the ambulance.
Someone was crying. I think it was me.
I have many fears when it comes to my children, but the fear of them being hurt by a car, a lorry, a truck, is right up there at the top of the list. That day brought all of my worse fears to life. I cannot even imagine how that little girl’s parents must have felt. I hope I never have to find out.
That particular day, the fates conspired to ensure we were the lucky ones, all of us. What could so easily have been tragedy turned instead to grateful relief.
That day, my hands were carefully on the steering wheel in a ten to two position. I was fully focused on the road and wasn’t distracted by the radio, the weather, or the two kids kicking off in the back of the car.
I was driving well inside the speed limit – closer to 20 than to 30.
I hadn’t been drinking alcohol, and the breathalyser gave a completely clear test result.
And because of all of that, that little girl got up and walked away largely unharmed.
And so did I.
For the first weeks and months after the accidents, I suffered from the “What ifs”.
What if I had been going at 35 instead of 25.
What if I’d had more drinks than I’d realised the night before and had been still over the limit.
What if I hadn’t been fully focused on the road.
In any or all of those what ifs, the outcome could have been so very different.
I could have lost my license.
I could have been banned from driving.
I could have ended up in prison.
That little girl could have been dead.
And it shouldn’t have taken a moment like that to make me realise all of that, but if I’m completely honest, it did.
When we think about driving at a couple of miles over the speed limit, probably the worst we think might end up happening is we’ll get a ticket and a few points on our license.
We never think that driving those couple of miles over the speed limit might end up with someone dead as a result.
So these days, I take no chances. Yes, it was a bit of a pain in the arse to use taxis today rather than taking my car, which was just sitting there in my drive. Was I definitely still over the limit? Might I have been okay to drive? We’ll never know. But this way, I didn’t have to worry about it.
This way, I didn’t have to worry I might set out to drive my daughter to football…and end up destroying someone’s life.
Knowing that, next time, it could be my child who was running out in front of a car…and next time, it might be with a driver who perhaps wasn’t as cautious as I was… absolutely petrifies me. And so my plea, to everyone who reads this, is to please: learn from my experience. Don’t take risks when you’re on the road. Stick to the speed limit. If you’re not sure you’re okay to drive, take a taxi.
Because there are no second chances.