Home by the skin of my teeth, having taken a notion to take the Wednesday boat north rather than the Friday one I was booked on. And just as well, given that all NorthLink sailings between Aberdeen and Shetland were cancelled on Thursday and Friday, due to the appalling weather. I was aboard the Hrossey, along with a Volvo estate packed to the gunnels with bargain beer, biscuits, carpets, wine and paint, arriving at 7.25 on Thursday morning. And that was the last freight or passenger boat to get into Shetland until....well, I'm guessing some time on Sunday. Which means there will be damn all on the supermarket shelves. Still, we have the beer, wine and biscuits.
I was just settling into my premier-cru cabin (free chocolates, water, coffee and telly) on Wednesday night when my Voicemail went off. It was Susan, a crackly message from the roadside between Brae and Hillswick. "Now, I don't want you to panic, I'm all right, but..." Good grief.
In February, Susan was seriously injured in a head-on accident on the main road between Lerwick and Brae. The driver who hit her was killed. Susan was driving a long wheelbase Land Rover Defender which was destroyed. Every single alloy wheel was shattered and the vehicle itself bent, its front end totalled. The strength of the Defender's beam chassis probably saved Susan's life, but the primitive interior (no airbags) caused a skull fracture and numerous other lesser injuries.
I've never written about this before, incidentally, out of respect for the other driver who died, and his family. But what has just happened has made it kind of difficult to keep quiet...
Anyway, that November night, my 14-year-old son James and I happened to be driving south to catch the boat for Aberdeen. I was booked to take part in a big Tsunami appeal concert in Dundee, and James was coming along for the ride. There was a line of stationary traffic just south of Voe, clearly some kind of accident....I'll never forget walking along the road, past car after car, to see if I could help, and seeing in the twilight that huge, smashed Land Rover, twisted, bent, and step by step seeing it glint maroon...hell's teeth, that's the same colour as our Land Rover. It can't be...
But it was.
I'm not going to dwell on that night. Suffice to say that Susan has staged a remarkable recovery, returned to driving quickly and with no ill effects, insisting on a replacement car that was as substantial as the Defender, but fitted with airbags. An imbecilic or deliberately obstructive insurance company meant we didn't (still don't) have the money for anything equivalent, so I picked up an old Jeep Grand Cherokee (with typical American full-on safety equipment) from eBay. Thirsty, but comfortable, rugged and airbagged to the hilt.
And that, on Wednesday evening, was what Susan was driving when she was hit, yet again, head on, by a driver overtaking another car. Again, it was a high-speed collision. This time, thank God, no-one was seriously hurt (Susan, alone in the car, suffered whiplash and bruising). The Jeep, which had just been the subject of a loving restoration, was comprehensively smashed.
But the Grand Cherokee, despite being nine years old, is a much more modern design than the essentially 1950s Land Rover. It crumpled everywhere but the passenger compartment, all the airbags went off, and Susan was able to step out, unutterably furious at the loss of a car she had grown to love.
This was what I was not supposed to panic over.
Anyway, I'm back, she's OK - a bit shocked and sore - and this morning I went to Jim's Garage, who recovered the wreck, to look at the Jeep and retrieve some belongings. And, just as I almost cried when I saw that crushed and broken Land Rover, I felt tears prickle at my eyes when I saw the Jeep, broken open to the elements, those lovely leather seats all wet.
And I have to say, as someone who loves cars and motorbikes, who has been infatuated with the internal combustion engine since I was old enough to enunciate my first words ("T'iumph 'Enown" apparently), I am suddenly so sickened with speed, with the celebration of it. And especially with the moronic, thick-ear posturing you get on the likes of Top Gear. I am nauseated by the kind of person who jokes about Land Rovers not needing airbags - "we have other cars", is the punchline, comedy fans. I have the kids with me today in the old Volvo (no airbags) and I am driving....well, I'm driving with the implications of speed, of collision, in my head. Always.
Must stop now. There are children to collect, there is shopping to do, if I can find anything in the Co-op to buy. And I'm going to take it easy on the way home.