In my piece about Good Friday 1972 I wrote “We went to Woolworth’s to buy Easter Eggs, like we always did.” We would also pick up hot cross buns at one of the bakers on the High Road. In the 1970s it was usually Landgrebe, and by 1980 there were new bakers, called The Baker’s Oven, or the Oven Door.
In 1980 my Mum and I went from Woolworth’s to the Baker’s Oven, or the Oven Door, picked up our hot cross buns and headed towards the zebra crossing near the Wimpy. She checked her change and realized that she had been given too much. We went back to the baker’s to sort it out. When we got to the zebra crossing again I had time to cross and did what I often did, started running across to the island in the middle. Mum hadn’t followed, so I was going to wait on the island for her. There was a car approaching, it hadn’t reached the zebra crossing yet, it was outside the zig-zag lines. Someone at school who was learning to drive had told me what the zig-zags were for. First, you couldn’t park on them, and secondly (he said) if you were approaching the zebra crossing (still outside the zig-zag lines), and someone was waiting to cross, you had to slow down to let them cross. Drivers are not allowed to accelerate within the zig-zag lines. That’s what I’d been told and I remembered this as I jogged across the zebra crossing.
But the driver didn’t slow down, he accelerated, and drove straight into me. I was thrown up into the air, six feet or more according to witnesses. I did an involuntary somersault, saw the High Road turn upside and then correct itself, heard people on the pavement shout at the driver to stop. I landed on the bonnet of the car, slid quickly towards the windscreen and smashed into it with the side of my head. The windscreen shattered and hundreds of small pieces of glass fell into the car. The driver kept driving, gripping the steering-wheel and staring straight ahead. He was wearing a hat and glasses. There was blood coming from his fingers, from the windscreen glass. He kept driving, a hundred yards or so, and I could hear more people shouting at the driver to stop, calling him a “f—— stupid c***”. Eventually he stopped the car and pulled over opposite the church. I slid off the bonnet and onto the road and landed on my hands, awkwardly. The little finger of my right hand was broken, and I scraped some skin off both of my palms on the gravel. My right thigh, where the car had hit me first of all, hurt badly. I wondered if it was broken but I was able to walk, and then jog, hobbling back to where my Mum had collapsed at the zebra crossing. She was in shock. She thought I’d come back from the dead. I helped her up and walked her back towards where the car had stopped. “Where’s the shopping?” she asked. I had been carrying most of the bags – Easter Eggs, hot cross buns – and their contents must have been spread all over the road. We never found them. We got back to the newsagents opposite the church. The old man who’d driven his car into me was stood there, wiping the blood from his fingers with a handkerchief. Nobody was talking to him. Someone brought out a chair for my mother.
While all this was happening a couple we knew were driving past the scene on the other side of the road. They stopped to help. The husband, John, had been a St John’s Ambulance-man and started checking us over, first my mother, then the old man and finally me. He opened the passenger door of the old man’s car, cleared the worst of the broken glass from the passenger seat with a cushion, and I sat there while he examined my hands and my right leg, which was bruised but not broken. I was relieved.
I was due to take my A-Levels two months later and in the brief time that I was in the air, before landing on the bonnet of the car, two things had gone through my mind clearly: that I wouldn’t find out what happened to Tom and Maggie Tulliver (I was reading George Eliot’s “Mill on the Floss” at the time) and I would be stuck in hospital and wouldn’t be able to take my exams.
We waited for the ambulance to take us to West Middlesex Hospital. We were there for an hour or two and when we got back home found that my Dad hadn’t waited for us to get back, he’d gone down to the pub. I didn’t join him. We sat around the kitchen table drinking tea, eating hot cross buns and telling jokes. John told the best one, with the punch-line, “I told you you wouldn’t get much for 50p”.
The following year we did our usual High Road trip for Easter Eggs from Woolworth’s and hot cross buns from The Oven Door, or The Baker’s Oven, and we stopped by the zebra crossing, remembering the previous year’s events. For a few weeks after being run over I made sure that there was always time to walk across the road, at any zebra crossing or traffic lights. But after a while I was back to my old habits, running across roads, in between cars if there was time to cross. Very few drivers accelerate when they approach a zebra crossing.
That night a few of us went to see “The Long Good Friday” at a cinema in Richmond. I had already seen it twice but my friends hadn’t and I was happy to see it on a Good Friday. I spent much of the journey there quoting lines from the movie – “Lot of dignity in that, going out on a raspberry ripple”, “Oo’s ’avin’ a go at me?”, “You can’t go crucifying people on a Good Friday”, “Colin never ’urt a fly, well, only when it was necessary”. And on the journey back all three of us were able to quote together.
Mum was away, in Ireland, and Dad and I did the usual symbolic Good Friday things: Easter Eggs from Woolworth’s, hot cross buns from one of the new bakers on the High Road. We then spent an hour or two at the pub, nothing too heavy. In those days pubs closed at 3pm and reopened at 5.30pm but we were home long before 3pm. We boiled up some fish and potatoes and cooked enough frozen peas for ten people.
Dad and I spent lunch-time at the pub and for the first time in my life I got drunk on a Good Friday. We started at 11am, when the Emperor opened. We picked up fish & chips on the way home. I planned to eat and then sleep it off for a couple of hours. I had forgotten that I’d been invited to see something at the National Film Theatre, “Diary of a lost girl”, a silent movie starring Louise Brooks and directed by GW Pabst (they had also worked together on the better-known silent movie “Pandora’s Box”). The college friend who’d booked the tickets had phoned and spoken to my Mum while I was out getting drunk. I called her back, told her I didn’t think I could make it, but she persuaded me to come along. She wouldn’t go to a movie on her own. Mum dropped me to Turnham Green station, I got to Embankment quickly enough, ran over Hungerford Bridge and got to the theatre on the South Bank just in time. I struggled to stay awake during the movie, but was relieved that I wouldn’t have to talk for a while. Afterwards we went to a pub in Waterloo. I asked for a coke but she ordered me a pint of beer. It was the only time she ever saw me drunk, she said she was seeing a whole new side of me.