So, we were heading home from
I should say now the stuff I didn’t immediately say when I first started letting people know about what’s to follow: we’re going to be absolutely fine, and so is everyone involved. (‘You buried the lead’ said Peter Anghelides. I might have said I’m glad I didn’t.) Consolation is welcome, but not required. These are the sorts of things the English have to say at this point. I offer this article mostly because I think it’s interesting. And because if I feel motivated to write something down I’m usually also motivated to show it to an audience. There’s comics and other news at the end of the blog, after the Captain Britain cover, if you want to hop past my waffle.
We were only a few minutes from home. Caroline was driving. We were listening to Trumpet Child by Over The Rhine. I remember a thought, from ten minutes earlier, about how terrible it would be for a car to suddenly appear in our path. But that’s not so odd. It’s the way I’m made to have that thought on almost every car journey. I await disaster. Caroline must do something similar, in a much more sunny way, because she’s the sort of driver for whom the speed limit is a law of physics. I remember a steady train of vehicles coming in the other direction, but I’m told that actually we’d just come to a point where a car was waiting to turn, and other cars were pulling up behind it.
A car arriving at the back of that queue at full speed decided not to join the queue at all, but to accelerate into the other lane to overtake it.
I’ve got a single mental picture of a car suddenly being in front of us. There’s a kind of label attached, the emotional memory, which is: this is going to be a much bigger impact than any I have known. It’s like I ran down, in that impossible mind reaction speed way, every collision I’ve ever experienced, all those roller coasters and childhood landings, and concluded that I was going to have nothing to compare this to. My brain almost said to me that it was sorry, it had no idea. There’s no internal reply, nothing that can be done. No time for the next thing, which I guess would be terror. Perhaps that’s just as well. We had no time to tense up before we hit.
There’s an ‘it must have happened, but I don’t quite have it’ moment, and then I’m lying at an odd angle in my seat. Not an angle I’d have chosen to sit. I know my air bag is there, I remember seeing it and the other one, but I have no mental images of them. Which is odd, because I’d have thought I’d register that as interesting. I can’t breathe.
I don’t tell Mum and Dad that bit, when I tell them about this, four days later. But then Mum says that Dad had a bad night in the chalet where they were on holiday on Tuesday night, couldn’t breathe, had to have some oxygen. (This is not an emergency for him.) He was already claiming his general illness that night as proof of the non-causal link he and his brothers have with their loved ones. But he didn’t know about the breathing bit. I offer that as detail, I don’t find myself with a need to believe it.
Caroline says she came out of a moment of nothing and then had tremendous déjà vu. She sat in the remains of the car thinking she was dreaming. (But she hadn’t been dreaming at the wheel, we’d been talking about the music all the way home.) Then she smelt smoke, and realised the car was filling with smoke, and the windscreen was cracked, and she tried to open her door and couldn’t, and she started to bellow at me to get out of the car on my side. Just thinking about that bellow makes me feel all fond and rather tearful. I think I said I couldn’t breathe. Like that’s not a contradiction in terms. She bellowed at me to get out of the car. I opened the door, and fell out, and she climbed after me.
I’m glad I couldn’t breathe. Because it made me focus completely on myself for that moment I was lying there before she shouted, and so I had no moment of fearing for her life. I was struggling to make my lungs expand. After a moment stumbling about, zooming towards what am I going to do without any air, I was able to suck in enough to tell me I was probably going to be able to do it again. ‘Are you all right?’ people were asking me. Loads of people. I think over a dozen had stopped. One man in a suit marched over and, sounding almost angry, gave me instructions on preventing shock, then marched away. Caroline stumbled out beside me, and bellowed that everyone should get away from the car, and everyone did. I weirdly thought that my bag and a loaf of bread and pint of milk we’d just bought at the garage were in there.
Perceptions are very weird. I’m sucking in tiny gulps of air. Cars are moving round things, roaring off past. Not everything about me works as it should. There’s the wreck of another car in the middle of the road, and I can’t see anyone in it, and I have a mental filing card that says ‘possibly the driver is dead, there will be emotions about this later’. But then I hear people saying that he’s there, and magically, dreamlike, there’s now someone stumbling around about the same distance from that wreck as we are from ours. I look back, and comprehend the wreck of our car.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Ford Focus. Now I love that make and model with all my heart. I am going to be its spokesman forever. Its front end has completely collapsed, in the way that only a nearly head-on collision with something moving very fast would do.
Nearly head-on. She’d started to swerve towards the verge.
I’m standing there, able to stand, after something that did that to my car. It looks like it’s been in a fatal accident. We have not. Those airbags and seatbelts and windscreen and collapsing front. My next car is going to be one of those.
I gradually find that I can take in bigger gulps of air. So I’m starting to think: we may both be going to survive. Which is suddenly the best moment of my life. And then it’s limited again by: I might need medical help for this lack of breathing urgently. Adrenalin might be keeping me up. And there’s all sorts of things about me that aren’t right. And I don’t know how important they are. People keep asking me if I want to sit down on the verge, but that seems impossible.
I embrace her because now the bellowing’s over she looks really afraid. Like now she can be. Like now, as the driver, it’s another sort of fear for her when she looks at the wreck of the other car, and her mental index card system isn’t as stern as mine can be.
‘We have to talk to him,’ she says, and leads me stumbling over. The other driver seems as stunned as we are. She asks if he’s okay. I can’t remember what he said. It never occurs to me, before or after, to be angry at him. It’s as if that would take an impossible effort, be so deliberate.
There’s another car in the wreck, but I couldn’t tell you anything about it. We’re told later that the driver of that one declined medical attention and left. I don’t know why, but, in the way that my brain puts together random happenings into character and plot, I’ll always associate that unknown person (unknown to me, I mean) with the man in the suit who marched off. Like that sang froid was something determined kicking in and he was on his way to save the world.
Then the nice lady comes over, and leads us away from the man in the middle of the road, and is on her phone, as many others have been, only she’s saying things like ‘RTA’. She puts us in the back seat of her car, and puts blankets over us. In her car, Radio 2 is playing a documentary on Dusty Springfield, and the thought in my head, being this sort of analytical guy is, will I now always associate ‘I Only Want to be with You’ with this? I think maybe, probably not, and not necessarily in a bad way. I’d really love, now, to find nice lady and thank her. I don’t know anything about her.
Caroline is shivering hugely now, under her blanket. She’s got an injury to her nose, and her lips are raw from where her teeth have bitten them. She tells me I’m the same. We look like we’ve been in a boxing match. I want to tell her it wasn’t her fault. ‘It was your fault,’ I say. ‘I mean, it wasn’t! That’s what I was trying to say, I meant it wasn’t!’ I hadn’t meant for a second that it was. She understands that’s what I mean. We hold hands.
I’m starting to realise that there’s something really wrong with my right hip. I can’t sit comfortably. And I still have that weight on my chest, but it’ll move with my breathing. I carefully inflate my lungs all the way, and it moves along with that, and that definitely is now the best moment of my life. I can’t quite bring myself to believe it. ‘Keep talking to me,’ I say after Caroline’s had her eyes closed for a while. ‘I’m not going to sleep,’ she tells me, ‘I’m not leaving you.’ We both sit there staring ahead, thanking the nice lady whenever she appears, holding hands, from time to time shuddering in bursts that set each other off.
So many ambulances arrive. Paramedics knock on the window, climb in, that paramedic look on their faces. What’s going on here, then? Let’s have a look at you. Caroline is given oxygen, and I start to worry, suddenly, desperately, like it’s now allowed for me to do so, that she’s worse off than I am. With a smile, we’re told not to nod in response to questions, because our heads might fall off. No, they say, the smiles fading, really, don’t nod.
Have I ever told you how much I love paramedics? From way back. From when I worked on Casualty, and got to know some. So many hero stories. Which aren’t the ones they like to tell. Most of the ones they like to tell I couldn’t repeat here. Regular customers they get to know, famous shouts, stupid reasons for being called out, what they got away with saying. A lot of the paramedic tales from the seasons I worked on Casualty were true. As I said in one of those episodes, when everyone else is running one way, paramedics are running the other. They always seem so whole because of it, so satisfied. Not that they don’t grumble, of course. They moan, they mutter, they fume. They do eight shouts in a shift and go home and get the best sleep of anyone on the planet.
Caroline is fitted with a cage around her neck, led out of the car, put on a spinal board, and rolled off into an ambulance. I keep looking at her and nodding at her. A police officer, the only one of these kind people whose name I know, takes a statement from me while I’m still sitting in the car.
The paramedic that finally got me did so deliberately, in that several ambulances had arrived, from both
My paramedic asked me what I did for a living. She has a niece who loves Doctor Who. She has a book in her herself, her own set of paramedic stories. Maybe when she retires. She’s been doing the job thirteen years. Five shouts today. Everyone nice, no abusive ones. I felt comfortable enough, towards the end of the journey, to add that I’d worked on Casualty. I don’t usually do that. Medical staff hate medical shows. Of course they do. And this one just goes ‘hmm’ about it. When we get to A&E at the Great Western Hospital (where my Dad’s been treated so well so often) she delivers me to the nurses, and I don’t get to hear the rundown of the handover, because I guess patients don’t, but she does go in to see Caroline and pops back to tell me ‘she’s absolutely fine’ before going on her way having given me my third best moment of my life that day. Good night’s sleep for that one.
I don’t know if it’s the shock or the morphine that they squirt into my mouth, but although I’m just lying on a trolley, time whizzes past. I scare the other people lying outside the x-ray department with my scream as I have to sit up to get a board under my back. And when you’re being told finally to stand up, to see if you can, is that really not just the most comedic time to get cramp? I’m hopping from one leg to the other, shouting swearwords when I land on either. The doctor and nurses are all excellent. Caroline actually limps over and sits beside me before I can move properly. I get to tell her the answer to what floored her, because the policeman came to see my while she was in x-ray. ‘Tell her from me,’ he said, ‘that she did nothing wrong at all.’ And I can see something settle in her when I do.
So now we’re home. We both have seatbelt injuries, which means we have a band of bruising across our chests, and a dirty great mass of bruise on our right and left hips respectively. Caroline’s got knee and ankle injuries from the steering column, and is going back for physiotherapy. I seem to have wrenched the muscles in my right side, so I have a slow docking procedure to sit down, and can’t get up from a lying position without help and the first, second and third worse pain I’ve ever felt, but at least that’s declining each morning. Those who’ve broken bones will be laughing their rugged arses off at my wussiness about extreme pain. You can kind of make deals with the everyday level of pain, knowing how much it’s going to hurt when you reach down for something. But the spasms as you walk along feel unfair. It’s like I have Tourette’s, making little yelps as I go about my business. Laughing hurts. There was a joke on Futurama the other day I still can’t let myself think about. Gareth’s episode of Doctor Who last night is pending action at Injury Lawyers For You. (‘Towering Inferno!’ Ow ow ow!)
Everything we see on telly has a car crash in it. Our Sky Plus list is like the car crash channel, where you’re never more than fifteen minutes away from a car crash. Even going along in space on Galactica the other night they ran into something! What’s that about? And could people and things stop getting near me on the lower right, please? I have an exaggerated need to leap away from that, and that just leads to more yelping.
We were incredibly lucky, in that there were no broken bones or internal injuries. It’s not a matter of luck that Caroline managed to swerve, got us out of the car, made me realise I could breathe. I say to her that she saved our lives, but I don’t think either of us really knows what that means. The other night I bumped into her when I was reaching for something and she burst into tears. She’d like you to know she doesn’t do that a lot, because as I found out, she’s tough.
We owe a lot to the construction of the vehicle, and to so many lovely passers by and police and paramedics and
My two closest friends got in touch within a day. One of them got back to me again by text early the next morning, saying he’d had a dream that my house was also flooding, and that was surely unfair, and we had a phone call in those early hours because I was awake. The other sent me an initial e-mail full of care, and when he was sure I was okay sent me another saying well, I was bound to use this to further my Hugo Award campaign. (Because my two closest friends’ male sympathies are filtered, respectively, through a life of careful duty and the works of Ian Fleming.) So it gives me great pleasure to mention the latter friend in this context. I may wire up the blog to play ‘Hearts and Flowers’. Next time you see him, he’ll be feeding the starving, or possibly head to foot in plaster, injuries sustained while attempting to feed the starving.
My Dad was worried enough to call me during the F.A. Cup final. I slept at my desk for some of last night, because it turned out to be the most comfortable place (what does that say?), and thus took a call from Neil Gaiman at six in the morning. Or did I dream that?
Many, many friends got in touch. ‘Tell me now,’ asked John Molyneux, ‘is the IPhone okay?’ Ow ow ow!
And that’s it, really. Lessons learned… not many, really. Possibly that there’s no point in me worrying about this stuff being about to happen all the time, like that’s an immunization against it doing so. Being glad to be alive is a good feeling.
So, here’s the news bits. Phew, we got there! Hope that wasn’t too much of a sob story.
ITEM! I’m sorry I couldn’t make the signing of the first issue of Captain
I look forward to hearing the podcast itself, which should be out tonight and available on ITunes.
My friends at Forbidden Planet tell me that they’ve had a very high number of subscription requests, and the issue seems to have sold out in
Here’s an interview I’ve just done with Comic Book Resources, including a couple of pages of art from issue two. That’s Tink from Wisdom, in her battle armour:
ITEM! I’ve contributed a short piece to Flood, a downloadable charity comic, all proceeds from which are donated to the British Red Cross:
It costs £3.75, and is well worth it, sorry my bit sounds so miserable, it didn’t at the time!
ITEM! The DFC is a new British weekly comic for children, available only through subscription, and out soon. This is something everyone in the industry over here should get behind:
Because it may be the way of the future.
ITEM! I’d like to say something in support of Benjamin Ong Pang Kean, the staffer at Newsarama who interviewed me about Cap the other day. He framed a question about our Muslim character, Faiza Hussain, in a flippantly stereotypical way, using the word ‘Jihad’ like it was a synonym for ‘like, totally pwned’. I reacted negatively and brusquely and moved on, saying I’d nearly said something much ruder in reply, but then finished the interview. I didn’t expect that question and reply to appear in the interview itself, but it did, and it’s caused vast tumult. Benjamin’s boss has apologised on Newsarama’s behalf. I haven’t commented in public up until now, because I’m not the injured party. Various Muslim folk, who are the injured parties, have appeared in comments sections, and often they’ve reacted the same way I did: oh for goodness sake, but let’s move on. Although, understandably, several have been much angrier than that. It’s true that Benjamin said something awful, something really quite terrible, but the context indicates it was rattled off in a punchy tone of voice and then posted in ignorance. Now, ignorance is a huge and hideous part of racism. Ignorance isn’t a defence. But it’s not synonymous with real bigotry. I know I’ve said really quite terrible things, posted really quite terrible things online, and then regretted them minutes later. I’m sure you have too. And I’m sure a lot of the people calling for Benjamin’s job have. I’d like to see him able to put his head back up over the parapet and talk with the Muslim folk in the comments lists, and for the rest of us to shove off and leave them to it. As you might imagine, I’m going to be screening comments on this bit pretty damn carefully: you’d better be either very erudite or very peaceful.
ITEM! I really enjoyed the Bristol Comics Expo, getting the chance to see a lot of old friends, and to be on a panel with Alan Davis, Mark Farmer and Laurence ‘The Punisher’ Campbell. While I was there I did a few interviews, first up being this one with Comic News Insider:
ITEM! Geoff Ryman informs me of some SFnal pleasures at Jodrell Bank in June, including a Brian Aldiss interview:
ITEM! Claire Weaver, an acquaintance of mine, but possibly better known to you as a Clarke Award judge, doyen of the British SF scene and SF short story writer, has recently gained a place on the screenwriting course at the American Film Institute. Tutorial fees are high, and her visa restrictions prevent her from working over there, so she’s raising money to support her cause. I’m intending to do more to help (possibly some sponsored something… word rate over a week, signing, sitting up… any ideas, anything you lot could join in with?) but for now there’s a button on her website that lets you chuck a fiver at her. I for one welcome it:
And that’s that. Until the next time, ow. And Cheerio.