Tuesday, 20 May 2008

The Fantastic Mr Fox

I was driving home last night after midnight. I was on the A3, and doing about 50mph, not daydreaming, but planning the next day, and thinking about the evening I'd just had. As I came towards the crest of a hill, there was suddenly something in my headlights: a fox.

It was towards the left side of the car, and looking straight at me. I only saw it for a fraction of a second and instinctively braced myself for it's impact. I have no idea how I failed to hit it - I didn't have time to swerve or brake, and the car must have rushed by less than an inch away from it. My chest hurt as I tensed, and I was breathing heavily as I moved away up the road - the sight of something appearing in my headlights like that, and the acceptance that I was going to hit it had pumped me full of adrenaline even in the split second my body had to react.

My first thought was how dangerous it was. Foxes are more and more common around here, and apparently have added wandering onto dual-carriageways to their usual habits of breaking into rubbish bags and having sex/fighting noisily at 3am outside my window. If I'd had more time to react, I might have instinctively tried to swerve, which, with another car just behind and to the right of me, would have been an awful idea. Clearly motorways are more dangerous places for animals to be wandering, but they tend to be less accessible. With A roads running through suburban areas (and usually pretty close to residential areas) foxes in the headlights could be a more and more common sight.

My second thought, once I was breathing more evenly, was that I never want to have to swerve to avoid hitting someone or something. In films and on TV, even something swift and jarring like someone being hit by a car is dragged out and slowed down, split across multiple shots, and played for dramatic effect. In reality, there is no time to think. By the time my conscious mind registered what had happened, I was 20m down the road. If it had been a person wandering across the road at that point, there would have been no dramatic swerve and no screech of brakes so beloved of hollywood. Just a massive burst of adrenaline, all too late.

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