Friday, 10 February 2012

A reassurance

One night in 1969 (about the same time this photo was taken - sorry for it, but read on, please), I was hitch-hiking between Farnham and Guildford - about 12 or 15 miles - when a car pulled over in the dark to let me in.

The road between the two towns is a long, almost straight stretch of isolated, high ridge called 'The Hog's Back', and the final approach to Guildford is about two miles of downhill, until it abruptly terminates in a right-angled bend just under a bridge, where it (used to) join the A3 as a T-junction.

It was only a matter of seconds before I realised that the reason the car's boot was open and up, obscuring any view through the rear window, was not because - as I first thought - he had a large object in it, but because he was so drunk that he did not know it was open.

As we rose up the couple of miles to the ridge, the driver chatted away as drunks do, and by the time we leveled out, he had started on a topic which he obviously felt very strongly about, and he began to rant as we picked up speed and approached Guildford. I started to worry, and asked him to let me out, but he refused to stop the car.

I looked at the speedometer when we approached the downhill stretch and, if I remember correctly, we were doing about 90 MPH - very fast for an old car in the 1960s. I tried to warn him of the upcoming bridge, bend and road, but all he did in response was to increase his speed out of sheer, drunken contrariness.

We hurtled down the hill and straight toward one of the massive, concrete pillars which held the bridge up, which I was sure we were going to hit. In any event, if we were not abruptly slowed down by hitting the pillar, we would not make it around the bend without overturning the car and rolling it onto the busy A3, and if we did happen to make it around the bend without rolling, we would plough into all the traffic which was speeding downhill, and cause a massive and fatal pile-up.

In that moment, I knew that I was probably going to die, and an extraordinary thing happened which has never happened to me since. I became as calm, peaceful and content as I had ever been - I was almost elated at the prospect of dying.

Then another series of extraordinary things occurred as I impassively looked on. He somehow saw the pillar at the last moment and flicked the car 90 degrees to the right, kept it on the tarmac without rolling it and came to a halt in 3 seconds with only about two inches of bumper overhanging the white lines which separated the two roads. He must have been too drunk to understand that this was impossible.

Suddenly my sense of fear returned, and I let him take me into the outskirts of Guildford before getting out and escaping when he pulled over for a piss on a grass verge.

The point of this story relates to the comments in the last post, and the point is that it is very difficult for an outsider to assess the mental state of someone without using empathy, or simply identifying with whatever predicament the other person seems to be in.

I should have been absolutely terrified that night, but I was not - probably due to a massive, involuntary release of endorphins into my system like a shot in the arm. If you had seen my face, you probably would have thought I was frozen with terror, but you would have been wrong.

If you are unfortunate enough to have watched someone die what seems to be a long and painful death, don't always assume that the experience is as bad for the dying person as it appears to be from the outside. All you are watching is that 'chimp' of a body doing it's best to survive against the odds - that is what it's programmed to do.

There is always another detached and sentient being watching the event from the inside, just the same as you are from the outside, and this being is a lot calmer than you are, but unable to tell you that in most cases. I know this.

In a comment to Cro in the last post, I mentioned the fact that there has been many cases of Tibetan nuns and monks setting themselves alight with petrol in protest against China in the last several weeks (but not very well reported in the British media). How can they do this so calmly when anyone else who caught fire by accident would be flailing around and screaming in an attempt to put themselves out? Because they have already decided to die, and are well practiced at it.

Strange fact: During post-mortems on immolated monks, it has been discovered that there is absolutely no smoke or fire damage to the inside of their lungs as there is in people who die in fires by accident.

They actually chose to die before the fire killed them, and the fire was just an outward sign of commitment.

I am sorry for the picture above, but it really isn't as shocking as it appears to be. It is certainly not as shocking as the entire Vietnam war which started the fire.


  1. I think on balance Tom I would rather have another post about sausages.

    1. Oh really Weaver? And there's me thinking that you were full of admiration for young people who were not scared of talking about 'poo'. I must have misunderstood you.

  2. The first Buddhist Monk to burn himself publicly, did so during the period of an ICA symposium called DIAS (Destruction in Art Symposium); probably around 1965/6. It seemed a strangely inopportune choice of moment, and I remember remarking about it at that Moor Park do. The Crowe remained steely silent on the subject; as, in fact, I should have too.

    1. And look what happened to Dr Crowe. 'is a Bird, Is a Crow, Is a Bird, Is a Crow....'

    2. P.S. - Moor Park - what a place, worthy of blog on it's own. Well. I've written half a novels about it (lazy bastard that I am), so a post wouldn't be too much effort. Jonathan Swift - another hero, allbe he Irish...

  3. death or sausages.... lets have neither