When you're in a life-threatening situation, everything is meant to happen in slow motion. But each time I fall off my scooter, the reverse is true. One moment, I'm whizzing merrily down a London street; the next, bosh! I'm in the gutter, with the bike on its side and passers-by asking if I'm all right.
Six months have passed since I bought my first two-wheeler, a shiny green Vespa. For the most part, it's been the perfect lifestyle choice: fun, cheap as chips, bags of character and outrageously quick through the capital. But friends and family are now seriously worried about my safety.
They have good reason. At the latest count, I've parted company with my chariot on three occasions and can recall about a dozen near-misses. Last week, things reached a head when I "ate Tarmac" twice in 72 hours.
Each crash has been similar: the road's a bit damp, something (a red light, or a thicko car driver) causes me to brake suddenly, and down the bike goes. I've been fortunate to avoid serious injury, but the ease with which I hit the deck hardly inspires confidence.
The former Soft Cell singer Marc Almond was critically injured recently when the Suzuki on which he was riding pillion collided with a car. Last month, a rider was killed near my home in Fulham.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents reports that the number of fatal casualties on two wheels increased by 14 per cent in 2003. The report said that 24 people were killed on scooters, and 794 seriously injured. On motorbikes, there were 641 deaths and 6,443 serious injuries. This compares with a death toll of 1,169 in cars, with 11,040 serious injuries.
Of course, there are many more cars than bikes on UK roads. Drivers of two-wheeled vehicles can expect 500 casualties per 100 million vehicle kilometres. In cars, that figure is about 50. Put bluntly, bikes are 10 times as dangerous as cars.
The society says there are many reasons for this, not least because when a bike crashes, there is little or no protection for the rider. Sometimes motorists don't see you, and the licensing system allows inexperienced riders to take charge of hugely powerful machines.
Piloting a Vespa round London, other dangers present themselves. The wheels aren't much bigger than dinner plates, so very little tyre is in contact with the road. A small pothole becomes a major hazard; leaning into corners at speed is suicidal.
Autumn is a particularly dangerous time. In a dry summer, oil and petrol builds up on Tarmac. This is released in the first two or three weeks of persistent rain, and the road turns into an ice-rink.
But I've decided to keep going with the Vespa. Although accidents have ruined two of my best suits, they have also opened doors on Fleet Street.
Last week, I pitched-up at the launch of Max Hastings' new book with four neat holes in the knee of my suit, and a trickle of blood dribbling down my leg. Sir Max rather approved, and many of his guests took pity, showering me with material for this newspaper's Pandora column.
The society beauty Basia Briggs went one step further: she dipped into her handbag, and handed over a bottle of herbal medication, which saw me through the next couple of days. There was some left over, and I've bunged it in my medicine cabinet, in case of future prangs. Touch wood, it'll be there for quite a while.Reuse content