Five-Minute Memoir: William Nicholson recalls being driven over the edge by a white van

 

This is a tale of suffering, redemption and white vans. Late last year I needed to transport some furniture from our house in Sussex to my son's rooms in central London. I should have paid a man to do it for me, but foolishly confident in my driving ability, I decided to hire a van and drive it myself. It was a white Ford Transit 280 panel van, which if you've ever driven you'll know presents special challenges to the driver. It's long and wide and you can't see out of the back. You never really know how close you are to anything else on the road. Turning corners brings with it new surprises every time. Overtaking becomes an act of reckless abandon.

My journey from London to Sussex was a two-hour version of running the gauntlet. Reversing in my home yard, I collided with a small shed, causing permanent damage. It turned out that, unknown to me, the van had a welded iron step on the back which hit obstacles before you knew you were anywhere near them. At least I owned the shed.

I loaded up the furniture, gulped down a cup of tea, and braced for the journey back. By now it was rush hour. The next three hours reduced me to a twitching, sweating wreck. My nerves shattered, I steered the monster through ever-shifting lanes, across oncoming vehicles, between chasms of buses, at last to the kerbside on Charlotte Street.

Here I found an available parking space, and set about reversing into it. As I reversed I noticed a group of three people at a pavement café waving to me. I got out, trembling violently, like one who has just endured a stormy Atlantic crossing. "The car parked behind you," they told me, pointing accusingly, "you've shifted it three feet." And so I had. "And," they said, shaking their heads in honest outrage, "it belongs to a disabled person." I examined the car. There were white scratches along its front bumper. It was parked in a disabled space. It bore a disabled badge. So now I was a bad driver and a bad man. Under the stern gaze of the café trio I left an apologetic note on the damaged car's windscreen, giving my phone number. What more could I do?

I unloaded the furniture, dripping with sweat. Wanting only to escape the monster, I drove the van back across town to its base on the Edgware Road. On arrival, the hire man told me I must fill it up with petrol before returning it. "Just charge me," I said. But he wouldn't hear of it. "The company charges double if you leave them to fill it up themselves." Still shaking from my ordeal, I waved a credit card before him, crying, "Charge away! I'll pay anything!". He gazed at me with understanding. No doubt he'd witnessed others in this state before. "Tell you what," he said, "how about I drive you to a petrol station, you fill up, and I drive her back?"

He danced the great van through the traffic with a nonchalant skill that would have shamed me had I not been so grateful. Once refuelled, he went out of his way to drop me off at Edgware Road tube station. It was an act of pity, and sheer goodness of heart.

I took the train to Oxford Circus and emerged longing with all my heart and soul for a shower and a gin and tonic. I wanted both equally, and both at once. I went into a pub and asked for a takeaway gin and tonic. Did I have my own glass? I shook my head, unable to speak. The barman, responding to my naked need as mortal to mortal, presented me with a pint filled with gin and tonic. "Keep the glass."

By the time I arrived back in Charlotte Street I had drunk three-quarters of my pint of G&T and was feeling considerably brighter. To my dismay, the café trio were still at their table. They waved as to an old friend. I looked for the car I had damaged. It was gone. "Did the disabled driver get my note?" "He wasn't disabled at all!" they cried. "He was a fit young man! You shouldn't have been so honest! You should have hit his car harder!"

The combination of alcohol and redemption eased my pain. The trio were on my side. They smiled on me. I was the good guy once more.

I took my shower and emerged to find my phone ringing. It was the non-disabled owner of the car I'd damaged. "You the chap left the note?" I confessed I was. "You made the white scratches on the bumper?" I confessed I had. "No you didn't, mate. Those scratches were already there. Thanks for doing the decent thing. Everything's cool."

There's no moral to it all. But I ended the day with a warm glow that was part gin, part soap, and part good feeling towards my fellow man. Six total strangers crossed my path that afternoon, and all six acted with kindness towards me, in their different ways. That's worth passing on.

'Motherland' by William Nicholson (Quercus £16.99, e-book £7.99) is out 14 Feb

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
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.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor