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stuck in a snowy ditch

January 22, 2007

I am late leaving for Limoges airport, which is about an hour and a half’s drive from my village but figure if I put my foot down on the D2 I should make it. It is bitterly cold but sunny as I throw my bags into the back of the car and leave. Unfortunately, thirty minutes into my journey, the landscape changes dramatically and I am surrounded by frosted white fields, the lone driver on a country road covered in slushy snow and compacted ice. The recent snowfall in my village melted within a day or so, but it appears to have hung around here, turning the D2 into the equivalent of a black run. Suddenly, I understand the point of 4WDs.

I am forced to slow down to about 30 miles an hour to avoid the piles of slush banked up in the middle of the road, which make an alarming rattling sound on the undercarriage of my old Golf. it is almost impossible to control the car, which is slipping around on the narrow, ungritted road. But I cannot turn back. My mother had 12 hours of emergency heart surgery two nights ago and is in critical care. I cannot miss this flight as there isn’t another one to Liverpool for three days. My two brothers have managed to get themselves back to Liverpool within 24 hours from the Cayman Islands and New York respectively. I live the closest to the UK and it has taken me the longest to get back.

So I grip the steering wheel in the sinister whiteness, squint in the blinding sunlight and perservere, trying to keep the car steady as I crawl along. Another car appears behind me but thankfully, it keeps a respectful distance, rather than nudging the bumper of my car, which is the norm here when driving on narrow, windy roads. Suddenly, my car slides across the road and out of my control and comes to a stop in a ditch at the side of the road. Fortunately, it is still upright but only just. Because it is leaning over on its side at an angle of 45 degrees. I can’t open the driver’s door. So I am trapped in a snow-filled ditch, in a deserted country road, a good hour away from the airport.

I am shocked but calm. The car behind pulls over and a fifty-something French couple get out and walk towards me. I lean over and wind down the passenger window.

'Are you ok? Not injured?' ask the woman, while her husband trys to clear some snow in front of the car.

'No, not injured,' I say. 'But I can't get out. Should I call the gendarmes?'

'No, no, it's not necessary,' she says.

I feel pathetically grateful that they are not just going to leave me here - I am used to London where many people would walk past a dying man, rather than stop and be inconvenienced. But I am guiltily aware that I am intruding on their lunch hour. They were probably en route to a cosy restaurant, now they are stuck with me and my problem, shivering on a snowy road.

A small van appears and they flag it down. The driver is a young guy in his twenties, probably also on his way to lunch. He lights a cigarette and joins them, shivering in just a t-shirt at the roadside, while they explain what happened.

'I think she was blinded by the bright sunlight,' the woman says.

I feel like a prize lemming and hugely embarrassed, sitting there, unable to do anything. While they deliberate about what to do, and the young guy starts to try and clear the snow around my tyres with bare hands, I find my mobile [my stuff is scattered all over the car] and call my parents house. Fortunately, my father and my brothers have not left for the hospital. My elder brother answers the phone.

‘I’m trapped in my car in a ditch in France,’ I tell him.
‘Oh no,’ he replies. 'What are you going to do?'
'I don't know yet. But I just wanted to warn you that I might not make my flight. Oh, I've got to go.'

The woman tells me that her husband is going to find a farmer with a tractor. But do I have a tow key? I have no idea what a tow key is, but rifle in the glove box unsuccessfully. The young guy then searches unsuccessfully in the boot of my car. I continue to sit there like a lemming.

Suddenly, a man in a 4WD drives up - I am not sure if he has been summoned or whether he was just passing by. He jumps out and they explain the lack of a tow key. But after a bit more deliberation, he attaches a rope to the front of my car, revs his engine and I am slowly hauled out of the ditch.

I am so embarrassed. I have no idea what to say, or what French etiquette demands in this situation. 'Thank you, so much,' I mumble, trying to sound as sincere as I feel. They nod and say 'no problem.'

Amazingly, I make it to Limoges airport and catch the flight. Four hours later I arrive at Broad Green hospital in Liverpool. My mother, who appears to have made a remarkable recovery, is sitting up playing sudoku, blissfully aware of my adventure. I don't mention it as I don't want to cause her any stress.

My brothers and father don't seem surprised that I'm here.

‘You made it then,’ says my father.

'Yes. Just about,' I say.

Today I wore: apple green bow skirt from Jigsaw, black cardigan and opaques and silver square toe shoes [nearly a decade old] from Miu Miu.

comments (1)

1. Posted by parisbreakfast on July 8, 2012 8:54 PM

Wonderful, terrifying story!
Early days...

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