by Hilary Jocelyn
I realize, as I write down some of my life’s adventures, that perhaps I am like a cat, with the proverbial nine lives. Indeed, my stories often involve things like- getting lost, or sinking up to my armpits in mud, or being swept away by a powerful wave, just to name a few.
So, dear readers- here is another drama story to add to the collection!……
….I woke up after a few hours sleep to discover that Paddy McLaughlin had got hold of our week’s supply of eggs, and was pelting them furiously against the wall of the cottage that we were staying in. During the night, he had also stolen the keys to our precious van, while we were slumbering, and at three in the morning had attempted to speed off in it.
Fortunately, he had no idea how to drive, and thus only managed to release the hand brake, enabling the van to slowly reverse, and then to manoeuvre itself gently into a nearby ditch. A few days before, he had pulled the fire alarm and the local fire engine had rolled up some fifteen minutes later, full of irritated local volunteer fire fighters ready to tackle the nonexistent flames. Yesterday, we had been banned from entering the local village shop, because some of our group had been caught with their pockets bulging with candy, that none of them had any intention of paying for. And we were only at day 3 of what was proving to be a long and challenging week, in the company of 8 very lively and intriguing personalities.
The children we were with, lived in one of the toughest housing projects in Edinburgh -Scotland’s Capital . The city welcomes a large number of visitors, but these kids came from a community that would certainly not feature anywhere in the glossy tourist brochures. Instead, it was resplendent with falling down and poorly repaired public housing, and many of the young ‘uns living there, knew nothing of the wild and beautiful countryside, and their experience of the outdoors was the street outside, and their idea of adventure meant shimmying up a drainpipe and straddling rooves, to break into other peoples’ houses.
So here we were, in a remote area of Scotland, staying in a small stone two roomed cottage , as part of an organization called “Children’s Holiday Venture”. Eight wild and unruly children, and three exhausted, young, and inexperienced adults, thrown together for a week, trying to get along and have a good time together. However, maintaining any sense of control or order was not proving easy with Paddy in our midst. He was a wee, four and a half feet high, eleven-year-old spitfire of a boy, full of furious energy and irregular spitefulness. He came from a family of seventeen children, and was highly confrontational, with temper tantrums so violent that we almost had to run for cover when we saw one beginning to erupt. Paddy pushed every limit, and it was obvious that the poor wee soul was an angry, and deeply troubled lad. Sadly, we had absolutely no idea how to properly help him negotiate his storms, and spending a week together was certainly not proving to be a walk in the park.
After we had cleaned up the egg mess and rescued our precious vehicle from the ditch, we decided to visit a ruined castle that was only a few miles away from where we were staying. This was easier said than done, as while we were preparing to leave, Paddy installed himself in the front seat of the van and point blankly refused to budge. As camp leaders, we always tried to be flexible about most things, but one rule we stuck to, hard and fast, was the one about not having kids sitting in the front seat – for safety reasons. Gentle persuasion transitioned to firm assertiveness, but both proved to be unsuccessful, until finally as a desperate measure just so we could get going, we resorted to bribing dear Mister Paddy with a chocolate bar. This proved to be a pretty good strategy, and as a result, our rule challenger finally moved resentfully, cursing and swearing at us, as he climbed over the seat, to sit in the back with the others.
When we arrived at the ruins, things became even more difficult. Paddy was at his most uncontrollable and had a loud and destructive outburst, right in the grounds of the castle, blocking out the tour guide’s words, and creating the kind of spectacle tourists really don’t bargain for when they go to visit one of Scotland’s historic places. We ended up playing a long and lively game of hide and seek in the beautiful well manicured gardens, which was a big hit with the kids,( if not the tourists) and we tried desperately to tire them out as much as possible, hoping for some calm waters ahead.
No such luck. The lads and lassies were bouncy, hungry and voracious in the back of the van, as we drove back to camp, singing obscene songs at the top of their voices, with Paddy leading the chorus with lyrics so graphic that they almost made me blush and squirm. We passed a little corner shop on the way back, where we stopped, and I jumped out and ran in to buy the kids ice lollies, as a treat, and perhaps also as an incentive for improved future behaviour.
I should, of course, have seen it coming but when I came out, laden with handfuls of frozen goodies, little Paddy was sitting in my empty front seat next to the driver, grinning at me, in his most challenging Mclaughlan like way. I had a choice to make. I knew I should stick to my guns and consistently reinforce the “no kids in the front seat” rule. But did I have the energy for yet another major battle?
I resolved, then I weakened, several times over. The ice lollies had shifted the mood. Things were looking calmer. We were only about two miles from camp. I really couldn’t face another peace shattering volcanic episode. My judgement was likely impaired by three nights of sleep deprivation. I caved in, and climbed in the back with the others, and joined in the singing, taking it in a more polite direction, as we sucked on our treats. Paddy’s mood thermometer was the best it had been all week, and he appeared to be almost tranquil as he sat looking out of the front window at the road ahead.
I am not sure what happened next, but suddenly my world literally turned upside down.
We were driving down a steep hill with a sharp turn to the right at the bottom of it. We were possibly going slightly too fast. We didn’t make the turn. And then it was like being on a ride at the fair without any of the fun part. We were chaotically out of control, turning and twisting around, between and alongside each other. I bounced against the back door in my travels and it flew wide open, and I was ejected and landed with a thud on the ground, sitting and watching the van, as it rolled over and over down the hillside, and landed upside down at the bottom of the hill. Gas was pouring out of the gas tank, and there was no sign of movement.
A stunned moment of silence and nothing.
I got up and ran or hobbled down the hill. Injuries, I would notice later, but now was not the time. l started to pull people from the upturned wreckage. Miraculously there was one live body, two, three, four, and so on- right up to the count of nine. Everyone who had been in the back of the van! All conscious and alive! Some bloodied and injured – but still able to walk back up to the road, with the tender assistance of some kindly passers by who had, by then, arrived at the scene.
My heart was in my mouth as I raced to the front of the van to see what had happened to the driver, and to our dear friend Paddy. The last two of our party unaccounted for. I was cringing at what I might find as I looked through the broken glass…There they were, both suspended upside down, hanging by their seat belts, both completely unharmed, and both looking at me wide-eyed, and stunned. The roof was twisted around them, and the back bench of the van had relocated itself and was now sticking through the smashed front windshield on the passenger side. Little Paddy was so small that he was uninjured by this, as it passed a foot or so above his head. If he had been twelve inches taller, it would have gone right through the back of his skull.
Then it hit me. If I had been sitting in the front seat, as I would have been, if he had not weaseled himself into the much-forbidden space, I would have a bench running through my brain at this exact point in time. Paddy had saved my life in his act of defiance. I have him to thank for my continued existence on this incredible earth. I looked at him in awe, and we had a moment of intense and wonderful eye contact. It was almost as if he understood what he had done, and in spite of his dazed state, he had room on his wee face for a huge grin of immense triumph.
The rest of the story was that we all got carted off to the tiny local cottage hospital, where on arrival, we were given mugs of strong strong tea, that was so sweet you could stand a spoon up in it. Then, we were carefully given the medical attention we needed. Stitches, casts, and bandages all around. Alas, our trusty van was totally wrecked, and so we had to rent a vehicle from the local garage, so we could drive back to our hometown later that night, delivering our damaged, but resilient, precious cargos to their anxious families.
I never saw Paddy again. He was gone when we next returned to his neighbourhood with our new van ( how we got it has been another blog story called “|Tea with the Queen” ) . I often wonder what became of the wee spitfire who saved my head from a collision with a lethal flying bench. I suspect he got taken into the care of Childrens’ Aid, or ended up in some grim and humourless institution. But, in my more hopeful moments, I like to think that his family moved into better housing in another neighbourhood, and maybe he found helpful assistance with some of his struggles, that helped to ease his emotional turbulence, and then went on to live a reasonably happy life, with lots of other adventures, awaiting him…….
…….And so, dear Wakefield and Beyonders, if any of you have your own Drama story, or Reflection or Observation, or any other writing piece that you would like to share, please get in touch with us at Wanderingwakefield@gmail.com