Life, death and other stories 

I recently lost my sense of humour, hence the reason I’ve been away from this blog for a while too long. My humour is a well worn blanket, a comfy pair of slippers, a friend when I’m in need and an asset when a conversation is flagging or steering into the “woe is me” domain. Without my friend, humour, I’ve felt stranded. Here follows a rather dramatic story behind it’s loss and finally, it’s thankful return…

It was a regular Monday morning back in April – school run, quick dog walk with my two dogs (one, Ginger, adopted the day before, quite by surprise, from a photo shoot) and then a car ride to a shoot.  I was off to photograph a gospel singer in a church on the south side so I was driving at a snail’s pace as it’s an unknown area for me.  For about ten minutes, the roads were eerily quiet and empty of cars. I was ambling across an intersection just two minutes from my destination when WHAM! CRASH! WHACK! SPLAT- I was HIT with horrendous force by a speeding car and flipped over and over.

My life did not flash before my eyes and I didn’t feel fearful. Instead I felt absolutely, indignantly furious. “What?!” I thought “this is NOT happening to me! I’m on my way to a church for goodness sake! I’ve been putting money in the karmic bank of goodness for years and THIS is how I’m repaid?” Well all these thoughts and more were squashed together into one enormous “NO!” and then suddenly, out of nowhere, I was surrounded by a large bubble (not sure how else to describe it) and felt like I was floating in very slow motion. I heard loud and clear in my head “I am protected. I am ok” and then,  as I hung upside down, I found myself wondering how big the car was. Yes dear readers, that utterly prosaic observation was what I thought about at my junction with life and death and life again.

Yes, that really was my car

Then the car stopped, stank of smoke and the panic began. I’ve seen all the films where, at this point, the car blows up, so I got out as fast as I could  (I don’t know how) and scrambled through a broken window to an arm reaching out for me. Once out and surrounded by at least 40 gaping onlookers, I proceeded to spin about and wail very loudly in my very English accent, wearing my neat mac and tidy shoes. I could see people staring in wonder. “How could this happen to me?” I cried. ” I am doing a project for this city and THIS is my repayment. I am so upset! I am furious! I can’t believe this!” I continued for a while until my inner voice interrupted “How much longer are you going to wail you drama Queen? I think it’s time to quieten down- you’ve made your point- be quiet!”. I must say it’s quite odd to have such a loud inner voice and even stranger for it to be so entirely and utterly sensible. I may have heard it whisper in the past but now it had taken charge and it had the tone of a bossy headmistress! I decided to ignore it until two nice ladies with the look of social workers managed to sit me down on the pavement and calm me.

Then, when everyone decided I was sane, out came the endless  questions “Do you have insurance? Were you wearing a seatbelt? Where were you going? Can you call your insurance? Shall we tow your car?” I quite fancied a cup of tea and a hug but needs must so I found myself taking charge from my pavement seat. Then came the police- two very cool looking ladies with mirrored shades.  “You are lucky to be alive” they said in unison “hardly anyone gets out of these accidents alive- ever.”

It’s a new day, it’s a new dawn, and I’m feeling pretty good!

With that, I was strapped onto an ambulance bed and rushed off to a trauma unit. Once there, I was surrounded by doctors who told me they needed to cut off my clothes to check my spine. “Cut my clothes?” I asked them incredulously and in a tone as bossy as I could muster whilst lying down.  “You will do no such thing. I have just bought this outfit in London and you are not going to cut it.” “Oh” they replied, looking surprised and chastised. They let me take control and take off my own garments. Once checked from top to toe, I was declared ready to go home and took an uber. Yes really. Friends rallied round and my husband was flown back shocked and shaken from his trip in Hong Kong. For a while my sentences came out a bit topsy turvy and I had a few flash backs but my main thought was one of relief, wonder and gratitude.

Three months have passed and my sense of humour has finally returned. It took lots of small steps, love, friends and a very conscious effort to live in the present and really appreciate every moment, to finally get it back.

My neck still hurts but I do have a great place to go where I get my bones cracked into place by a cheerful lady and then a handsome young Physiotherapist gets me to make double chins endlessly and then laughs AT me whilst I do them,  which I find quite endearing.

I look back now and feel like my excess emotional baggage from the past that I was quietly dragging about, exploded on that road and I walked into my present life clean , shiny, free and ready for new adventures.

Me photographed by Janet Rausa Fuller for Chicago Magazine


Always wear a seatbelt!!


For the Love of Cars

Some people love cars. They romanticise them, taking great pride in shining, dusting, polishing and admiring them. The thought of driving the open roads, engines purring like cats, fills them with glee. They even take photos of them, which they store on their phones as if they were family members.  Well those people are not me! I have no idea what my car is apart from that it’s a Mazda. Am I supposed to know something else about it? Gas cylinders? Tanks? What? Anyone? You see, I have no idea at all! Do I feel shame? No!

This indifference meant I avoided driving for as long as possible but eventually, in my early twenties, I took lessons. I was pretty useless. I could never get my head around the idea of looking in the mirrors – I mean, why look in the mirrors – just look straight ahead, that was my motto! Well, that certainly got me nowhere! Finally, four tests and sixty lessons later I passed!

At 24 I got to put my skills to the test when I went to work for an art director. She bought a car for her penniless artist boyfriend, which she then allowed me to drive during the week. Now this car was a second hand Skoda and really, it should have been CRUSHED. It was ugly, really old, really slow and for some really weird reason you could only feel the pedals if you took your shoes off. As a first time driver I thought that was just me, but no, her enormous 6ft 4in boyfriend also had to take off his huge shoes and use his big, scary, hairy bare feet to feel the pedals. When I drove it taxi drivers routinely chased me, attempting to push me off the roads, their fists clenched, waving violently out of the window “Stop driving!” they would shout. “Get that car off the road!” Yes, insults followed me daily!

My next job was at a photographer’s studio. About a month into the job, my boss asked me to drive to the post office in the Studio’s car. Well, there I was looking for it, going round and round in circles when I got stuck down an alleyway. I left the car and found a truck driver, “Hello kind Sir, do you think you could help me please? I am stuck and I can’t reverse out of this winding alley”. I mean honestly, how had I ever passed my test? It was criminal! Luckily the man helped me without laughter or disdain! I arrived back to work two hours later. “That should have taken you 30 minutes” said my boss, shaking her head in disbelief. No, I wasn’t a natural.

I decided to give driving a rest, which lasted quite happily for another ten years. Then I had my daughter and there was no getting around it, I had to drive. My husband suggested gently that I take some more lessons.  Forty lessons later my instructor told me I was ready to be let loose on the roads of London. “Great!” I cried excitedly “We’re buying a car this weekend, I’ll be driving by Monday!” He leaned over towards me, expression a mixture of doom and desperation “Please, please buy an automatic!”

Twenty years later I can finally say I am happy to drive. I push my way across the five lane motorway here in Chicago every morning on the school run, occasionally shaking my own little clenched fist at other drivers (much to the horror of my kids) and you know what, I feel pretty darn good about it! I can drive! I’m the Queen of the road and I like it!


Pic: Bucktown, Chicago