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Wednesday 3rd December 2003

After a night on the town I was walking home from the tube thinking about what I might write for Warming Up for today. I had just seen a man exitting through the ticket barriers at Tottenham Court Road at about 10.30pm carrying a surf board; it wasn't even in a cover. I thought I'd probably be able to be funny about that: Presumably he always keeps it with him everywhere he goes just in case he encounters a good bit of surf. And you never know, there is every chance that a tidal wave could hit central London at any time and it's best to be prepared.
With such half developed comedic ideas coursing through my slightly tipsy brain, and always with half an eye on the number plates whizzing past me, I walked along the green.
Just as I was approaching the spot where my sexiness had been assessed yesterday (some people might claim that that is merely a coincidence. I think it proves that all supernatural theories are correct), I saw a small white lorry/van taking the corner in a rather haphazard fashion, straying into the lane of traffic that comes down from Uxbridge Road. This might have been OK, but a double decker bus was pretty much occupying the piece of space that the van was now careering towards. The bus driver tooted his horn, but the van didn't get out of the way in time and in order to avoid a collision the bus driver had no real option but to brake and turn to the left. This meant he inevitably mounted the pavement, smashing into a bin and a couple of Christmas trees and a lamp post. The lamp post stopped the bus, but the impact, whilst far from being heavy, was enough to bring the lamp post crashing down to earth in my direction.
I had been reasonably close to all of this. As I'd seen the bus mount the pavement I had said "Oh shit" but frozen and as I saw the lamp post teetering over I backed away, swearing (in quite a similar fashion to my encounter with the goat in the Lake District in August, but with less shame in this instance, as backing away from a falling lamp post is probably a sensible approach).
As it happened I was already far enough away not to be in any real danger, and had a good twenty metres between me and almost certain death. But a bus had mounted a pavement I was on and I think my evasive tactics were the right ones.
Amazingly there were no pedestrians in the way of all this. It was around 11pm and usually the pavement is teeming with drunks on their way home from the pub, buying burgers and kebabs. Indeed there were plenty of people there, just not really along that stretch of the road at that exact time. Which was pretty lucky.
In the mean time, the white van whose poor driving seemed to be the cause of the accident had sped off; I don't know what the traffic light situation had been, but the straddling of lanes had been unnecessary and stupid.
The bus doors opened and the twenty or so passengers all poured out and dispersed, whilst a crowd of people gathered round to look at the mayhem. The front of the bus was pretty beaten up and the windscreen was shattered and there was a crushed bin and smshed Christmas trees and a lamp post lying wrenched out of the ground.
Having witnessed the whole thing I wasn't sure if I had to hang around, but decided that I probably should. Someone had already arrived and taken control (I think he worked for the bus company and had just been passing) and the driver was clearly in shock. I eventually got on to the bus and asked if they wanted me to hang around. I was told to wait til the police got there. A couple of other people had had the prescence of mind to get the van's registration number and even the name of the firm it belonged to, so I wasn't sure my testimony was going to add too much to that. I had been so in awe of the (admittedly quite low budget) movie-like spectacle of a bus smashing into a lamp post that it took me a while to realise that the van hadn't even stopped. It wasn't like he wouldn't have noticed what was going on behind him. He was extremely lucky that the bus driver had had the prescence of mind to not smash into him.
As I waited I felt a bit self conscious, because a little crowd had gathered to look at the damage and I thought I might be mistaken for one of these ghouls (even though the Christmas trees were the only living things to be harmed, I still think you can call these people ghouls), rather than an extremely important and key witness, who might now have to change his identity in order to protect him and his family and the information that he held in his brain.
But I also thought that it would be good to stay to see what happened as I was more likely to write about this incident than the man with the surf board now.
Some drunk Australian men had gathered in front of the accident and were laughing at the damage. One had the hilarious idea of lying beneath the wheel of the vehicle and pulling a funny face whilst his friend took a picture. As the driver was still sitting stunned in his seat this seemed a little bit insensitive and stupid.
The police arrived after about five minutes. Unbelievably, just as the police car pulled up, another clearly drunk, red-faced man in a suit came towards the bus, holding up a piece of blank card in his hand and told everyone to step back. He then knocked on the now closed door and held up his card and asked to be admitted. He had decided, for a joke, to pretend to be a detective. The man in charge opened the doors and the "detective" began talking to him. It didn't take the sober man more than a few seconds to realise there was something odd going on here and he asked to see the man's ID. The "detective" tried to bluster his way through for a few more seconds and then he got off the bus (not intended as an hilarious punchline on this occasion) and gave a cheeky drunken laugh and wave to his mates in the crowd. "Yes, that's right," he seemed to be crowing, "I have impersonated a police officer for no real good reason, and just at the point where some real policemen have arrived, who could arrest me."
He disappeared into the crowd. This is a crazy city.
The police took control of the situation and I was still hovering around wondering if they wanted my not-particularly-useful information.
Eventually a female police officer took my name and number and said they might ring me the next day for my statement. I kind of hung around for a second wondering if they were going to sort out my new identity and safe-house now, but they didn't say anything about it, so I assume that will be part of tomorrow's conversation.
As I walked home it struck me that it was slightly ironic that out of all the witnesses to the incident I hadn't noticed the van's registration number. Not even the number part.
I bet it was a 296. As if to confirm my suspicions a 297 then drove passed.

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