No regrets, even in a Nissan

30th October 2009 at 00:00

I began my teaching career in August 1983, but my first October holiday somehow took six months to come around. Perhaps in the hope that, if I went away somewhere far, I'd come back a different person, I set off to Glencoe in my recently-recommisioned Triumph Spitfire.

It was the car I'd promised myself during a teacher training lecture whose relevance was not immediately obvious (teacher training lectures weren't all like that by any means, but this one was). After a somewhat cold, uncomfortable night sleeping in the car at the head of the glen, I headed south, hoping to grab some breakfast on the way.

The engine burbled pleasantly the way the engines of early Spitfires were wont to do, as I drove through the strange, frosted landscape that was the Rannoch Moor in mid-autumn. Season of mists. Had I paid more attention to the physical, rather than artistic, qualities of the day, I might have avoided what happened next.

The road along the shore of Loch Lubnaig was tree-lined. It still is. The same trees doubtless continue to shade the first patches of ice that form there, ready to catch the inexperienced driver. Cresting a small rise, I felt everything go from beneath me. The Spitfire slid across the road, clouting a safety fence with the nearside rear wing. Swinging back, it fish-tailed sickeningly, still on the wrong side of the carriageway. I have no idea whether or not I did anything that might have made things better or worse, or even how I ended up on my own side of the road, bonnet crumpled, chassis kinked, dirt from a grassy bank choking the radiator grill. Unscathed, save for a small cut to the back of my head where I'd jerked backwards into a hood stay, I climbed out of the car and wondered what to do next.

A month later, I was back at the wheel of another Spitfire. I managed not to crash this one, choosing instead to wreck the engine by (in an act of crass immaturity) doing the ton on the M8 one sunny evening in May.

This October, I drove again along the shore of Loch Lubnaig. It had been raining, so I kept the speed down, though Nissan people carriers tend not to be as tail-happy as Triumph Spitfires. I caught myself feeling the back of my head to see if there was a dent there. Though the safety fence has doubtless been replaced twice over by now, I still looked for a streak of what I think Triumph called Pimento Red paint.

All that remained, however, was a lingering feeling that my experiences with Triumph Spitfires were a metaphor for my early days of teaching. That, and a complete lack of regret.

Gregor Steele has a horrible feeling that a pair of underpants flew out of his rucksack as he drove through Callendar in his second Spitfire.

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