Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Risking it

Do you know that feeling when you overtake on a single carriageway and there isn’t quite as much room as you thought? You see the whites of the oncoming lorry driver’s eyes, your foot’s to the floor and your heart is behaving like it’s a totally separate entity. You squeeze back on to your side of the road with feet to spare and think: “God, that was close. I could’ve died there.”

But as your heart returns to a normal rhythm and the fear fades, you remember your psychological security blanket. The one where you think about other incidents in your life where things could have gone oh so badly wrong, but didn’t. The blanket you wrap around yourself and think: “I didn’t die then; it’s not my time yet.”

My stand-out episode happened almost 20 summers ago in 1989. I was picking strawberries along with other students and travellers, who came to that little triangle at the foot of the Malvern Hills twixt Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire for the fruit season. It was a grand life: piece work, paid daily and down the pub most nights.

The farm where we worked was about three miles away from town and we stayed in rough and ready accommodation: a converted barn with mattresses upstairs and a kitchen of sorts occupying the ground floor. Few of us had transport; if no-one was driving into town, we’d start walking or hitchhike.

One afternoon, a friend and I set off down the long farm driveway to the road. We thumbed a lift almost immediately with a middle-aged bloke with dark hair. He dropped us off in town, we went to a café, then when the pub opened, we spent the evening there. By kicking-out time, we’d spent all our money and were resigned to walking home. However, as we crossed the road, we saw headlights and a car pulled up. It was the man from earlier; it was almost as if he’d been waiting for us.

With the foolishness and drunkenness of youth, we accepted a lift. Were we students? Where did we come from? Would we come out for a drink with him sometime? The questions came in quick succession and became slightly unnerving. “Oh no,” we said, “we couldn’t possibly go for a drink with you: our boyfriends wouldn’t like it.”

Feeling uncomfortable, we insisted he dropped us at the bottom of the drive, and we ran. “What a creepy bloke,” we said, then thought no more about it. But the next day, while we were shopping, he returned looking for “the blonde girls who’d promised to go for a drink with him”. The travellers had difficulty persuading him to leave.

He appeared again as we were cooking spaghetti bolognaise in the makeshift kitchen that evening. We hid around the corner. The man was insistent; he would know where we were; we had promised to go for a drink with him. In the end, one of the travellers had to threaten him with the frying pan before he went.

I didn’t see him again until about four or five years later, when I was reading a newspaper article about a man whose first wife and daughter had been dug up from a field in Much Marcle, not far from our strawberry farm. I recognised the photograph immediately. The man’s name was Fred West.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness !! Please tell me you are not making this one up to scare the living daylights out of us.

Crikey ! you wouldn't have ended that evening eating spaghetti bolognaise - you could have BEEN...

Thank f**k for your woman's intuition or who knows what might have happened..

mutterings and meanderings said...

No, anon, I'm not making it up. It makes me a bit wobbly when I think about it now.

Anonymous said...

eminem - a sign of the times, but I don't think many people, especially young women, would hitch-hike these days.

When I first started going to Ireland, probably over 10 years ago, I was surprised to see students and so on hitch-hiking, but society over there [Eire] was very different. Many local women would hitch, but really to get to the next village, probably from locals they knew.

Sadly, those days ain't coming back..

Anonymous said...

As someone who lives in Bristol, I would really like to be closer to the Wye valley / Hereford / Worcester area. I did a sponsored walk from Chepstow to Ross-on-Wye. It is a fab part of the work, especially for a Welshie like me, as it doesn't involve straying TOO far from Offa's Dyke. That said, I never got as far as Hereford or Worcester, so have no real idea what those towns are like.

Orhan Kahn said...

Talk about a close call. That is scary and morbidly insane!

Drunk Mummy said...

Oooooh! That's made my skin go all goosebump-y....

Stay at home dad said...

Blood-curdling... and a labels line never to be repeated!

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Gulp! Oh my God! How awful! Until you got to that end point I was going to say jokingly that it was me! But this is no laughing matter. Thank God that evil bastard is dead now and he can no longer damage or destroy other people's lives... but there are others out there - Fred Wests, Sutcliffes, Huntleys and nutters like the Korean murderer in Virginia. More evil stories waiting to be told.

Gill said...

I once read a book called 'The gift of fear' about trusting your intuition and first impressions. People often give themselves away with subtle body language that we don't consciously notice. You both obviously felt there was something 'not quite right' about him. So it was a good lesson in trusting yourself I think!

rilly super said...

if you were Gitta Sereny you'd get a whole book out of that story M&M. I'm certainly very glad you survived that experience even if it does sound as if those '4,362 accidents last weekend in the next 100 yards' signs on the A1 are mostly aimed at you my dear.

Anonymous said...

eminem - i think you should write a book about your life anyway - it does sound fascinating. the attitude to risk as we get older is interesting in itself. a girl i knew growing up went on her gap year at the time some mad australian was killing hitch-hikers - her attitude was that it shouldn't stop her exploring the world in a chance of a lifetime.

And about the same time my brother would sing 'there's a lorry coming the other way, other way..' when overtaking on the windy roads up to the welsh agri college in Aber...

Trouble is, we get older and often become far more risk averse. We are more understanding of the risks of life, and want to preserve what we have achieved, but at what cost ?

if you stopped riding because of the risk you might fall off and hurt yourself, what would be the point of getting up in the morning?

the media are good at warning us of the dangers out there, but i am not sure we should let it determine the course of our lives unduly, or we might get to the end of the journey and think 'Well, I didn't really get to see all the sights because I was safely shut-in the great train car of life'.

rilly super said...

anoymous is right m&M, you do have a tale to tell and the telling to do it. I will happily write a promotional quote for the inside sleeve, you know, something like 'M&M is a very good read, almost as good as Strife in the North ISBN number 4255565 £19.99 availabe from WH Smith and Amazon'. I think Wilfred Thesiger wrote an autobiog called something like 'the life that I chose' and I think that to be able to title your story, published or otherwise ( otherwise if you have my useless agent) thus is something we can all aspire to.

Mopsa said...

Good grief. I am stunned into utter, appalled silence.

mutterings and meanderings said...

Thankyou all for your sympathy - but as I said, it was a case of something that could've happened, but fortunately didn't happen.

I think, though, that you can get a false sense of security when something dreadful could've happened bu didn't - the 'it happens to other people' thing ...

I also think that as you get older, you do take less risks, almost as if the brain suddenly slaps a preservation order on you.

I know I'm not as brave a rider as I was when I was younger.

Anon and Rilly - do you want to be my agents? ;)

Anonymous said...

On a lighter note...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/6544797.stm

Brings back so many memories of helping out at harvest time in the summer school holidays, when you would need something non-alcoholic and cool to quench your thirst.

I think we should start a campaign to bring them back - or go on our holidays to Jamaica..

Karen said...

Blimey that's a very interesting "claim to fame". Glad you manaaged to escape his horrid clutches.

On a much lighter and more frivolous note - your description of you and your friend as "the blonde girls" has shattered my mental image of you with dark hair!

Anonymous said...

I think women and ethnic minority candidate should be 'fast-tracked' to the hustings stage to over come any institutional bias which might stop them making it onto the shortlist.

The Grocer said...

Chilling story, I am more concerned about your driving though, it obviously was you on the A1 on Monday morning, not paying attention after the Easter Hols (one Easter egg too many?. Now listen see those big stripey yellow lines in the middle of the A1, that's right the ones that look like a flattened Tigger, your not supposed to drive on them.

mutterings and meanderings said...

Anon, I saw that story earlier - I've never had the stuff though ...

Karen, sorry to disappoint - I am indeed frivolous and fair-haired...

Anon again, are you sure that comment's for me?

Flattened Tiggers, eh, Grocer? You sick man! Anyway, as I always think "It's not my driving, it's the other buggers you've got to watch out for!"

Karen said...

That's how I was taught to drive M&M - act as if you're the only one who actually knows what they're doing. Quite a scary thought though!

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