Five-minute memoir: Isabelle Grey is driven to distraction after passing her test

On the open road, Isabelle Grey was ready for anything. Except this.

I had recently passed my driving test, it was the start of the school holidays, and I was allowed to borrow my mother's car for a solitary 40-mile excursion. It was a summer's day, the café was crowded, and I shared a table with a motherly woman. I liked then to drink cold milk, and she remarked on it, telling me she was a farmer's wife.

My father's idea of childcare had been to take us into the hospital where he worked, tiny apprentices trotting at his heels, so I had been taught early on how to listen to people. Maybe it was that, but, in exhaustive detail, she began to tell me how they kept a donkey, silly really for a hardworking farmer to keep an animal as a pet, but her son loved the creature.

I forget now how it came about in her story, but, against her own better judgement, the donkey, now getting on in age, was in foal. One night, there was a storm and, in a stable with only the light of a kerosene lamp, the donkey had difficulties giving birth. The vet was elsewhere, priority given to animals on which a fellow farmer depended for income. He arrived too late, and the donkey died. The farmer's wife did not spare me the gory details – blood and rainwater and straw in the yellow kerosene light – of how the foal could not be delivered, and how terrible it was to her, female to female, to witness the agony of her donkey's hopeless labour.

She was never sure whether, even if the vet could have come sooner, anything different could have been done. Perhaps I've remembered wrong, and the foal did survive, but they didn't keep it. Did they bury the donkey in the orchard, or have I made that up? Either way, her husband thought it sentimental to grieve over a donkey.

She wept, people in the busy café turned and stared, and I felt hot and awkward. I had observed my father often enough as he broke bad news, comforted relatives, or kept silent and nodded in sympathy. Maybe I had a good bedside manner.

But this was not the adventure I had wished for when I set out. My mother had been happy to lend me her car. After all, she had first taught me to drive when I was 15 on hidden back roads in the Lake District where she had once driven an old army jeep, visiting patients on remote fell-side farms. They'd been her happiest days, and, in teaching me to handle a car, she'd been able to share her now overshadowed exhilaration and confidence.

The A56 to Chester was not Route 66, and I was behind the wheel of a Ford Escort estate, not the Great White Shark. But still. I was 17, allowed to dream that, with Kerouac, I was on the road. Yet now I was embarrassed that my adventure amounted to so little. I'd wanted… at the time I didn't even know what my hopeful young self wanted or expected from a sixth former's day out in Chester, but now this woman and her story and the people staring had exposed my foolishness.

I escaped to the Ladies, but when I returned, she had ordered me a second glass of milk. Ashamed of being too well brought-up to rebel, I sat back down. She had composed herself, and wanted to know if she could ask me a question.

I was beginning to sympathise with her husband. I had been raised unsentimentally: this was a donkey that had died quite some time ago, and I wanted to be gone.

My impatience was transformed as she told me how her son had been killed in a motorbike accident nearly three years before. She outlined the facts in the police report: mid-afternoon in clear, dry weather, at a crossroads he swerved to avoid a car that failed to see him, lost control and hit a telegraph pole. He died instantly. Her voice was steady and she did not shed a tear. I began to fear what her question might be.

Her husband had dealt with everything. She'd been in shock, ill with grief for a long time. She barely remembered the funeral, what flowers there'd been, who had come. His friends, certainly. He had a lot of friends and they'd been very kind. But she had never been to the crossroads where it happened. There was nothing to see, and her family thought she'd be too upset, yet it felt wrong not to visit the place he died.

What did I think? I was around his age. Should she go? Would he want her to go? She waited calmly for my answer. I was unqualified to respond, just a second opinion. But I was sure she wanted to go.E

'The Bad Mother' by Isabelle Grey is out now in paperback (Quercus, £7.99)

Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game