My shoulder hurts from the seatbelt, plumes of steam bellowing from underneath the bonnet; I am sure I can smell petrol. Shaking fingers fumbling with the buckle. The driver side door won’t budge. Scrambling out over the gear stick. I put some distance between myself and the car, expecting it to burst into flames any moment.
Too many Hollywood movies.
There in the boot are some of my most treasured worldly possessions, not least a near new pair of Scarpa Fitzroy boots; even at the heavily discounted £99, a purchase I could ill afford. As the initial adrenaline spike wears off in the chill of the crisp winter morning, I pluck up the courage to retrieve them, then watch a glorious dawn over the distant hills. It will be a cracker, as Heather predicted.
In the years that followed the Fitzroys and me had trodden all over the Scottish hills, hundreds of miles of fine ridges, and even finer bogs; in the heat of the summer, and through the winters. Later on I added the Cumbraes for the winter climbing days, and Mescalitos for the summer, but the latter turned out to be terrible for walking, and so the Fitzroys remained my main summer boot. 20+ years later I still have them, still use them from time to time. One of the better £99 I have ever spent; they don’t make them like they used to.
Some twenty minutes later a car comes down the icy ungritted road, and the driver kindly lends me his mobile phone to call the AA. When there is no sign of the recovery truck an hour later I walk over to a nearby farm where the lights are now on, and ask to use their phone. As I step out back into the fine morning a couple of minutes later, the yellow truck rolls over the hill — ‘Wow, that was quick!’ says the farmer. I just laugh.
It’s a slow journey home, and I prattle, worried what Linda will say about me writing off our car; money is tight and the car is (or rather ‘was’) the key to maintaining our sanity. The AA man brings me back to reality: ‘You are lucky, son, I have seen less damage where the people did not make it.’
For a long time that is to be my first waking up thought; every day in the hills a bonus, none of them taken for granted.