“The roads are empty around here. I’ve lost my fear of meeting a car on these narrow lanes because it so rarely happens.” Oh, famous last words…
Tom and Amy had arrived for their first visit to us in the new house. They’d learned from the experiences of Tom’s siblings: they left home very early indeed and had no traffic problems at all, arriving in time for the obligatory tour and a welcome brunch of buck’s fizz with salmon and scrambled eggs. And then we went out.
We decided to take them to Lerryn. It’s pretty; it’s nearby; there’s a pleasant walk to stretch the legs after so many hours sitting in a car.
The roads to Lerryn are narrow and undulating. This is where I was carelessly tossing those reckless words over my shoulder. Oh, foolish woman; oh, misplaced confidence. Yup, I was trying to impress. Pride always comes before a fall…
In this instance it was not my pride that fell but that of a representative stranger. She had a steering wheel in her hands – in a vice-like grip I would imagine – and the steering wheel was attached to a medium-sized orange saloon.
She was driving uphill; we were coasting down. Readers, I must tell you that in her hands she held not only the steering wheel but also my reputation… Indeed, that of all female-kind.
It is common etiquette on a hill that the driver who will be reversing downhill does so. Which she did. There was a bend behind her with a gap between the edge of the road and the very solid, high bank. There were high banks on both sides of this road. Our lady began by attempting to reverse into it. B remained stationary, giving her lots of space. I felt sure the lady appreciated it. I find it intimidating when I reverse and the oncoming car creeps aggressively forward; sometime they seem so close I’m waiting for them to give me a ‘helpful’ nudge.
She went backwards. She came forwards. She wiggled about. She was now at an angle in the road. She went backwards and forwards some more. The car was rising each time she stopped and started: the handbrake was clearly getting some use. She got her back end into the gap…. And up the bank… The car was at such an angle I felt sure it was going to roll. There was a collective intake of breath from all of us. From Amy and I at least.
Oh, it was painful. Inside our car we made sympathetic murmuring noises, interspersed with gasps of shock. I was cringing for her. She must have been so stressed, so hot and bothered by now: totally panicked and without a chance of getting anywhere close to letting us pass.
B climbed out of the car and went to speak with her. She was not English but spoke it well enough. He suggested she dropped back a little more and he would tuck into the gap. The gap was a quagmire. I calculated how many of us it would take to push Bernie’s car out of the mud once the route was clear. “It’ll be fine,” he assured me, “So long as I keep one wheel on the road.” He was very nice to the lady. She was very grateful.
But queues were building up. This road that I had recklessly proclaimed as seeing almost no traffic now had two trucks waiting behind the hapless woman’s car, and two 4 x 4s waiting behind us. Even with us tucked in, no one was going anywhere. The view from here was getting very tense.
There was nothing for it but to reverse. We and the two 4 x 4s would need to reverse up the steep hill until we found a large enough space to hold 3 vehicles. It needed to be a sideroad or a driveway. There were no sideroads on the road behind us but somewhere up there we had seen a driveway.
Where the lady was reversing – on a bend – had a little bit of wiggle-room. Up the hill though, the road was sufficiently narrow to leave no room for error.
But up the hill we went – seemingly for a very long way. It felt like several minutes of steady reversing, though I’m sure it was less than that really – and finally we found a farm entrance which could accommodate all of us. Thank goodness no further vehicles had been bowling down the hill as our cavalcade made its way up; nasty images sprang to mind on some of the bends.
The lady passed with a thankful wave and all her windows down; I’m sure she needed to cool down a touch. The trucks behind her passed too and we all reversed out of the turning and continued on our way. She did not look like this but I’m building a picture here.
Bernie earned enormous kudos from his three passengers for the calm and impressive way in which he handled the situation.
I breathed silent a prayer of thanks… For of course, that lady could so easily have been me. I would have done as she did; a first-attempt failure followed by a prolonged sweaty panic followed by an ever-worsening shuffle back and forth.
I hope I never find myself in such a dire situation as she did. I hope that if I ever I do find myself in such a dire situation, I will by then have discovered my reversing gene. I’ve been hunting for it since we arrived here but it’s proving elusive.
I have reversed for oncoming vehicles of course, but not well. Mostly I succeed by luck more than judgement and I can imagine the thoughts of the passing drivers. I smile ruefully at them as they pass me and accept the derision in their eyes.
I hope that if ever I do find myself in such a dire situation as this poor lady, the driver of the oncoming vehicle will be someone as patient, gracious and sympathetic as B…