Days Like These: 'I led the shaken driver in for tea and told Matthew to tread carefully...'

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The Independent Online

Last weekend, in the Dorset cottage, finishing breakfast, Matthew sat back contentedly and told us that after nearly seven months he is finally getting used to the absolute quiet and total lack of excitement in the countryside. And then, shaking the ancient, leaded window-panes, a noisy, alarming, bright yellow helicopter proceeded to land in the field 10 yards from our front door.

"Oh bloody hell," shrieked Matthew, "not Prince Charles again? Will that man never leave us in peace?" He was referring to another time, 10 years ago, when the prince landed in his helicopter in front of another cottage, as we ate another breakfast in another west-country location. Charles was wearing his Duke of Cornwall hat that day and, as we rushed like Thomas Hardy folk to greet the heir to the throne he stopped to tousle the top-knot on the head of our West Highland Terrier.

Matthew wasn't there at the time but he has appropriated the memory as his own and, despite this being an isolated encounter with royalty he is in the habit of making out that the prince has been stalking us ever since. "If this goes on much longer," he screamed as the helicopter completed its descent into the Dorset field last weekend, "I'll have no choice but to take out an exclusion order. This is nothing less than persecution."

It was my brother, who had motored over from his own village with his daughter, Ellie, to eat breakfast with us, who pointed out, bellowing over the noise of the helicopter, that it was unlikely that the Prince would be taking to the skies in an air ambulance. For that is what it was. Two men, not apparently members of the Windsor family, emerged from the cockpit and ran towards the field gate carrying paramedic paraphernalia. I, in my role as Linda Snell wannabe, intercepted them to ask what on earth was going on. "Car accident in the road," said the leading paramedic, "nothing serious we don't think, but best be on the safe side."

Not wanting to be ghoulish I didn't follow the men out into the road. Instead I charged up the stairs of the cottage and stuck my head out of the landing window from where I had an uninterrupted view of the lane. There, just a few yards along was a little red Ford Fiesta lying on its roof.

"Do you think I should go and offer help or cups of tea?" I asked Matthew. "For God's sake no!" he replied vehemently, "They'll only pull a gun on you and...oh, no, sorry, in all the excitement I forgot we're not in Shepherd's Bush today. Go on then, be neighbourly."

And so a few minutes later I was leading a very shaken young woman, the driver of the upturned car, into the cottage for some tea and sympathy. I sat her down at the kitchen table, put the kettle on and asked her if she was local. She said she was and Matthew told her what a delight it was to get to know the neighbours, especially at Christmas. I took him to one side and asked him to tread carefully because she was in shock and suggested he shouldn't get too competitive about any of his own terrifying experiences. "Oh," he said, "I hadn't thought of that," and within seconds he was telling the poor lass about the time he was stabbed in the lung in Johannesburg.

Having finished the anecdote he apologised profusely for leaving his chest X-rays in London and said he could bring them down the following weekend if she cared to pop back. He then soothed her further by telling her that he didn't know how it would be with her but his own shock symptoms caused him to punch phone boxes in rage.

Clearly it was now debateable whether having her car somersault in the lane had proved more or less of a trauma than meeting Matthew, so I dispatched him to the sitting room and made her another cup of hot, sweet tea to calm her. Then Matthew returned to the kitchen to tell us that he and my brother had been trying out a new Super Mario Kart game on the Nintendo Wii and that our guest and I should come and have a go. "It really is terrific fun," he said, "If you take a corner too quickly the little red car, very similar to yours actually, does a somersault and lands on its roof."

She said she would rather wait next to her upturned vehicle for the tow-away truck to arrive and headed for the door.

"Goodbye," said Matthew, "and please be sure to pop back next weekend for a mince pie and a look at those X-rays."

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