Christmas Day spent helping stranded motorist

splash by a car as it goes through flood water

There was flash flooding in East Devon on Christmas Day - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

By the time most readers read this column we will either be on the brink of, or just past, New Year, so may I please take this opportunity to wish you a very happy 2022.

My somewhat unscientific straw poll of what kind of Christmas we’ve just had was taken at the excellent Colyton butchers when picking up our turkey the morning before. Many fellow customers were also departing with a bird the size of an ostrich, only to share with each other that our planned lunches for 10 had shrunk suddenly to a 4 or a 3.

Impressively – to my mind at least – many families, in the context of opaque advice from the government, decided to protect the NHS and not to travel to other homes. My own eldest son and his wife decided not to fly down from Glasgow, sadly depleting our gathering.

Their decision would have been different if internal UK flights were run on the same principles as international flights i.e. no clear Covid test, no boarding pass. The chances of them being cooped up on a one hour flight with a hundred and fifty passengers of unproven status, all breathing the same air, and then not getting the Omicron variety, seemed pretty small.

This is now the second Christmas where we’ve missed him, and it’s unhappy for us all, but he was doing the right thing. Unfortunately, I have to report a couple of incidents I was involved in over Christmas where I was concerned that the right thing had not been done.

The first happened on Christmas Day, when there was flash flooding near us, and the A3052 over the River Axe was suddenly a couple of feet deep in water. We were driving towards Lyme Regis and as we approached the fifty metres of floodwater I saw a young woman marooned in a small car that had not made it through.

She was in a state of complete panic, and to my amazement, people in thumping great 4x4s were just driving past. That bit of road can flood very quickly and I could see that her car was actually beginning to drift in a current, so I called 999. I explained this to what I thought was meant to be a Fire and Rescue Service and was told by the operator that there was nothing they could do if the driver had the ability to leave her vehicle.

I pointed out that the car was about to start floating at all angles across a main coastal route, but that was it. Every man for himself. So my son and I waded into the water and, with another kind driver, pushed her car a hundred metres to a slightly raised part of the road where she’d be safe to call for further help. To be frank, it could not have been easier to push as it was bobbing about like a canoe.

Nevertheless, I felt this was a potentially dangerous situation yet our emergency services control room wasn’t interested. This astonished me because
our own two fantastic fire stations at Colyton and Seaton, both within a mile and a half, are manned by the most outstanding officers and I am certain that if I had been able to summon them directly they would not have hesitated to get involved. However, the computer said no.

The other incident involved me driving from Colyton to Seaton on Boxing Day evening at about 11.45pm to collect a daughter from an outdoor pint with an old school friend. As I drove into Seaton I was pulled over by a police car with flashing lamps. “Where are you going?” an officer said. “Why are you asking?” I replied. He came out with something about a “black car” being reported and seeing how unimpressed I was he beat a quick retreat back into his car. Not cool, guys.