This is a true story.
As the policeman says, I was driving my motor vehicle in a northerly direction on the ninth day of January, which we like to call … um … yesterday.
It was midday on a leafy road in Surrey. One of those quiet roads between the golf courses. You know the sort – the occasional country pub, gated drives leading to some enormous pile called “dunstockbroking” and a better class of rural roadkill.
I was driving my little hatchback and minding my own business. There were pleasant choons on the radio. The DJ was doing a phone-in show and the Great British public were whinging about something. Situation normal.
The sun wasn’t exactly shining, but it wasn’t yet another semi-biblical flood either. It was an okay sort of day. There was nothing to suggest the drama that was about to unfold.
I saw it out of the corner of my eye. As Led Zeppelin said, there was a rustle in the hedge-row. A young squirrel darted out from the opposite side of the road. He was heading for the exact patch of tarmac that would soon be occupied by me and my jalopy.
My mind did a quick mental calculation. Speed and trajectory of squirrel = X. Speed and direction of half a tonne of modest little hatchback = Y.
X=Y = one squelched squirrel. Which is not easy to say.
Have you ever seen how much mess a squelched squirrel makes? No, me neither. But I imagine it’s a lot.
So I did the decent Greenpeace, WWF thing. I slammed on the anchors. Not that I was travelling above the speed limit, hofficer, I swear.
This brought my vehicle to rest just before the predicted point of impact. The shock absorbers made that “ohh, my bones” sort of creaking that old folks make.
The squirrel – alarmed by the sounds of squealing automotive decrepitude and the stench of tortured rubber – stopped in his tracks. He stood stock still, directly ahead on the exact patch of road that I had narrowly avoided.
He stared at me and I stared at him. He was not one of those stocky middle aged sorts of squirrels, padded about the hips and broad of chest from too many acorns. No, this was a lithe and athletic sort of chappy. The kind of snake-hipped latin lothario who sings about la vida loca and breaks a million British hearts whilst on holiday to Tenerife.
Not that squirrels go on holiday to Tenerife. But if they could, this one would.
I could tell in his eyes that he was trying to work out what to do. The arrival of a geriatric motor vehicle from stage left had clearly grabbed his attention. Should he continue his journey to cross the road as per plan A? Or should he modify his strategy and retreat back from whence he had started?
To be perfectly honest, it didn’t matter which plan he chose. I (and my little hatchback) were stationary. At this point in his adventure he could have gone in any direction he wanted. Heck, he could have hitched a lift with me and I wouldn’t have minded.
But then … something awful happened. Another motor vehicle approached at speed from the opposite direction. A third actor in this little two person play.
My sciurine friend (for I felt we were becoming kindred spirits) turned to look. Then – horror of horror – he took fright. Continuing his journey (plan A) would have been perfectly safe. But he was a squirrel and hadn’t been trained in the finer points of roadcraft. He opted for plan B, turned on his heel and ran back across the road … and straight into the path of vehicle number two.
Vehicle number two braked. The squirrel froze, as was his habit, directly in front of the other car.
So now we had two humans in two cars, both stationary. And in between them one very confused squirrel, also stationary. I looked at the squirrel. I looked at the other driver. The other driver looked at the squirrel, then looked at me.
It was an impasse. A Mexican standoff, with or without Donald Trump’s wall.
That perfect moment couldn’t last. A few seconds later, our woodland friend chose option B. He ran back across the road from whence he had come. The two motorists could continue their journeys unmolested by sylvan jaywalkers.
I couldn’t help thinking about what he would say to his friends about his adventure.
Would he tell them a scary story of being caught between two huge mechanical monsters?
Or maybe, just maybe, he would be high-fiving the homeboys in his posse. “Did you see what I just did? I was magnificent. I had two of them – two! – and I fooled ’em both.”
Who knows? Perhaps there is a woodland version of the internet where even now he is blogging to the wide world about his exploits as a matador of the B roads.
Live fast, live free, my friend. Enjoy those lithe and snaky hips while you’ve still got them. That time doesn’t last forever.
And next time keep on running instead of freezing, okay?