I was happy with my new flashy sports car, driving from Brussels to Italy on holiday with the top down, constantly flashed by truck drivers a la ‘Thelma and Louise’ and wishfully imagining the same outcome as in the film. I was also happy in my job in the British Cabinet of the EU, reaching the pinnacle of my career.
On a beautiful sunny day early spring in Brussels 1984 I was returning to work at lunchtime. I consider myself a good driver with 20/20 vision and having learnt in the dodgems of Rome. The traffic lights were on green but out of the corner of my eye I saw someone in a white van waving on the car next to it which proceeded through his red light at a snail’s pace, stopping in my path. Slamming on the breaks I had a split-second decision to make either to crash into a wall or the side of the car, choosing the car which has more ‘give’. I literally saw stars, not expecting to live and feeling my neck flung back and forth. Pulling myself together I was confronted with a tough-looking smiling thug oblivious as to whether I was injured. We completed the accident form by our wrecked cars and waited for them to be towed away by recovery.
As soon as possible I phoned the office to explain my delay then took a taxi to the private hospital near the Berlaymont building. Shaking, feeling shock overcoming me I was told to wait to see a doctor. Three hours later I was still waiting so I decided to take a taxi home to recover, still not feeling much pain due to the adrenaline rush. Apparently it can take two days to feel the full effects which is exactly what happened when agony set in, I had an x-ray and was fitted with a neck collar.
My boss’s lovely wife enquired and found the spinal surgeon with the best reputation in the UK who I consulted in London. The risks of operating were such that it was only attempted in emergencies. The chronic pain would last for 12 years until the collapse of my cervical vertebrae resulted in an emergency and subsequent surgery by which time the medics had more experience and equipment. My spinal cord was forced into a loop and my wonderful surgeon of world repute, his protege, said it was the worst case he had ever seen. I was very fortunate to survive and even more fortunate to avoid paralysis. It would take a full year to be able to walk normally again.
A friend in another Cabinet told me how garage owners in Brussels, which the other driver was would deliberately crash old, over insured, cars to collect the insurance money. He had been driving a 1950s right-hand drive old wreck of a car, a Triumph, which would have been impossible to sell and I had crashed into his passenger side. Coincidentally I had worked promoting Triumph cars in the UK following my return from Italy before working for the BBC. I noted that the date of the incident was a message to me. In Italy 1977 my ex told me of a threat made to him to make me a paraplegic to stop him meddling in politics. At the time he also said that he would not stay with someone disabled. The threat to me and his reaction was shocking and heartbreaking. Something out of my control that I have always been aware of and as a consequence of his actions, though now I am past caring. His new amour is welcome to him.