Every now and again in life you get one of those moments that make you stop and think about how lucky you are and how things might have been had the Almighty card dealer shuffled the deck slightly differently. That train you just managed to catch, the wallet returned to you by the people who had the taxi immediately after you, the air ambulance landing on the motorway just up ahead of where you were lamenting having taken the M1 again.
If you are sensible, you take these thing on board and learn from them. Maybe do something differently to reduce the chances of it happening again with a less fortuitous outcome. Stop taking the motorway every time and find a different route, more reliable if a little slower. Don’t take your purse with you if you’re planning on a few sherbets, just take one card and maybe some cash in a pocket (assuming of course you have pockets). Sometimes it’s impractical to fundamentally change your behaviour, but even just a heightened awareness of your vulnerabilities and environment can make the difference between minor misfortune and complete disaster.
I seem to be a little slow on the uptake with such things. I was burgled shortly after moving into my current home a few years ago, although the intruders were stumped by an internal door that we’d bolted and made so much noise getting through it that we woke up and disturbed them before they could swipe anything. Thus warned, we took steps to remove valuable items from downstairs and bolt all the internal doors of a night. What we should also have done was fit a burglar alarm and install a blind in the kitchen, the previous owner’s never having been replaced. Having not done so, we left a temptingly easy way in, which our neighbourhood rogues took full advantage of, although having gained entry they were again thwarted by one of those door bolts. Not wishing to risk being third time unlucky, we finally shelled out for an alarm and a new blind.
I did not, however, learn the more fundamental lesson about general awareness of things that can go wrong. Safe in the warm, leathery embrace of my driving seat last September, I pointed my car north towards the venue for some interviews I was conducting the following day. Those of you in the UK might remember the A1 being shut for some 40 miles due to flooding, and I had planned an alternative route. Having lost arguments with my satnav twice in the preceding few weeks, I then trusted it when it suddenly recalculated my route and took me away from the road I was expecting to use. I realised this was a monumental mistake when I found myself in a puddle up to my headlights on a back road several miles from the nearest town, my car having effectively drowned. My good fortune was that I did not join it, having managed to keep the wheels on the tarmac and suffering nothing more than shock a bruised ego.
As with the burglary, I took on board some lessons from this and have become more cautious in my decision-making when driving. But, as with the burglary, I did not see the wider picture and become more aware of my vulnerability. Having replaced that car with an identical twin, the incident had passed into amusing anecdote territory. One completely innocuous morning a couple of weeks ago, I nipped round to a local friend to pick up my eldest, who had overnighted there. Five minutes after having parked up outside and popped in, a knock on their door preceded the news that my car wasn’t where I had left it, instead having embedded itself into a pedestrian refuge twenty metres or so down the low hill that my friend’s house sits at the top of. It appeared that I had not deployed the electric handbrake, and passing traffic must have gusted the car into movement.
Now while there is a fundamental design flaw with a car that only sometimes deploys the handbrake automatically and then does not warn you that it is off, I cannot absolve myself of responsibility. A ton and a half of metal moving without control is an extremely dangerous thing, and I clearly had not recognised the fact that the flawed operation of the handbrake was a significant risk that I needed to prevent becoming an issue by making certain I manually deployed it every time, regardless of whether it had come on automatically. I have learned that lesson now, but the hard way again, given the likely size of my next insurance quote.
My good fortune is that my freewheeling car did not miss the bollard and hit a car coming the other way, a pedestrian, or one or more vehicles crossing the busy junction further down the hill. I still feel nauseous thinking about what might have been. It is not an exaggeration to say that I could very easily have been sharing a cell with Chris Huhne tonight.
My other arguable good fortune is that I have friends who have helped me get over such calamities by heckling me mercilessly. I was subjected to a torrent of such abuse at the weekend when we had one of our theme nights – this time Italian. The stars of the menu for me were the simple but incredibly tasty bruschetta toppings which will work equally on crackers or crusty bread as a light lunch. Two of these are described below – enjoy.
Garlicky cannellini purée
- Two cloves of garlic, crushed
- One 400g tin of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- Splash of red wine vinegar
- Leaves from a couple of sprigs of rosemary
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and black pepper
Pound the rosemary with a pinch of the salt in a mortar, then add a glug of olive oil and set to one side. Fry off the garlic briefly in some olive oil until heading towards golden. Add the beans and stir for about 7-8 minutes, adding seasoning as soon as the beans start breaking down, which will be very quickly. Put into a bowl, crush into a coarse purée with a fork, and stir in the vinegar. Serve on your crispy bread product topped with the rosemary oil.
Roasted vegetable purée
- One courgette
- One red pepper, seeded
- One small bulb of fennel
- Tsp of dried mint or handful of fresh
- Tsp of dried oregano
- Glug of white wine vinegar
- Juice of 1/2 a lemon
- Salt and black pepper
Chop the vegetables into a roasting tin, then coat with olive oil, salt, pepper, mint and oregano. Roast for 30 mins at 180C then pop into a blender and pulse until you have a coarse purée. Stir through some lemon juice and the vinegar then serve.