There we were, pootling along in Matt’s car, when I saw the taxi coming the other way. With no headlights, it was a pattern of grey blocks emering from under the railway bridge. I assumed that Matt had seen it, but as he committed to the right-hand turn I realised too late that he hadn’t. The next bit seems crystal clear in my memory, a momentary smashing sound and a feeling of snugness as my seatbelt held me strapped down taut. But that somehow doesn’t tally with the facts – surely it took longer than the instant I remember for our car to spin 180°. Surely I must have moved at least a little to get that graze on my head (can you get carpet burn from a car roof?), that ache in my neck and that strange compression of my little fingernail.
I sat stunned in the passenger seat before remembering that this was the real world, real life, and I had just escaped death, maybe not narrowly but at least in a comprehendible way. Then I remembered that there were other people around me. Matt sat in the driver’s seat, unharmed, staring like a lunatic. Tim was in the back-seat, clutching his bruised head and similarly dazed. Then I looked across to the taxi, previously rushing towards us but now, after our bounce, a little way behind. The driver looked far worse off than any of us – alive & conscious but slumped on the wheel with a baffled look on his face like a dog who had just been beaten but didn’t know why. Turned out he hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt (apparenly taxi drivers don’t need to, god knows why) and had hit the steering wheel, which had then collapsed into the dashboard catching his hands, crushing his knuckles and impacting into the wrist.
We climbed out and I hit 999 on my mobile straight away. In the slow-motion that followed, the police seemed to get there in around 20 seconds. We surveyed the scene, awestruck. Matt’s Calibra, his pride and joy, had a dent some 18 inches into the bonnet & engine. The front end was unrecognisable. Matt had just spend copious amounts of time and money fitting leather upholstery, sports gearstick, handbrake and exhaust, trip computer, flashy stereo, airflow upgrades… and at the exact moment of the crash I had been commenting on how good the car now looked. It still looked good from the 2nd panels backwards. But the front was one big mess.
We hung about in that street for an hour or two. Police and ambulance came, a second taxi pulled up and we nervously avoided the driver’s gaze. Questions were asked, addresses taken, flotsam cleared away, and finally a tow-truck lifted the car and hauled us back to Matt’s place where we watched Formula 1 and played Grand Turismo.
A day or two later, what had happened started to sink in.