A moment that changed me: a car crash altered my mother for ever – and I was sent back to boarding school

I was 10 when our car was forced off the road by an unqualified driver, and in the ambulance when my mother had a stroke. Yet no one explained to me why she was so different

It was the Easter holidays and I was 10. We were going to see Wardour Castle in Wiltshire. My mother was driving our Morris Traveller and my eldest brother was beside her. I was giggling in the back with a cousin. Possibly my mother was arguing with my brother. He was her favourite, but growing away from her so they argued a lot. There was no radio; the car was too old for that. Both the front windows were wound down as we were in deep countryside, on a woody lane, and my mother liked fresh air.

We would say afterwards that the other car “came out of nowhere” but it simply came around a corner. It just happened to be on our side of the narrow lane, and the driver, inexperienced and unqualified slammed his foot on the accelerator instead of the brake. Their car drove ours into a bank, which made it hard to clamber out but my mother said we must all get out in case the car burst into flames. My cousin was in tears but unhurt. My jaw hurt where I had been flung against my brother’s seat. My brother’s long legs had been braced against the impact, seemingly. While he was left to deal with the weeping cousin and sheepish young driver, I led my mother down the lane to a nearby cottage so she could call the police and the AA.

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