Saturday, 28 April 2012

Falling out of Formation

Photo -

When I woke up this morning I had a positive frame of mind. The Queen classic Don't Stop Me Now was playing on the radio and I could think of nothing better and self-fulfilling to do than do some college essays, and if I was still feeling good after that I would write some more of my book or watch Back to the Future. I did not, at any point in my morning routine, envision a day stood in a cold country lane in the rain, in my pyjamas, no socks, and an umbrella.

I finished breakfast and sat down in the office, turned on my laptop and sipped a cup of coffee, making idle chat with Dad about a documentary I watched over breakfast. I was making notes for my sociology essay when my Dad's phone rang, and the frantic motherly tone of my brother's girlfriend Lea entered my earshot. She sounded worried - this wasn't just something about the salon we ran together, this wasn't a question about her computer, this wasn't a request for information or product. Dad hung up, and I heard three words leave his mouth as he flew out of his chair: 'Pete' 'Crash' 'Kids'.

Pete, for those of you who don't know, is the name of my brother. Kids, was in reference to Finley, Lola, Max and Emma, Pete and Lea's collective of kids. Crash. Crash. Crash, a horrible word that tied the other two together in a series of horrible mental images.

I rushed upstairs into my bedroom. I was wearing my pyjamas still, thin cotton bottoms and a Threadless t-shirt. My jeans, socks and shoes were on the floor, but as I reached for my socks I imagined my brother unconscious in a car in the middle of nowhere, and just slipped on my shoes - another adventure for the nearly dead Vans mentioned in my last post. I barely managed to throw on a suede flight jacket as I ran out the door to the car, looking particular under-dressed for the weather - black clouds overhead signalling imminent rain.

'When a goose gets sick, wounded, or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then, they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock.'

The goose analogy slipped into my head, a relic from a documentary I watched years ago: the importance of family at times like this made any notion of University or moving away from home seem like a suicide mission, a ridiculous and unsafe fantasy. We picked Lea up from the salon, and she sat in silence in the back,  having a daytime nightmare of all the things that might have happened to her kids and it hit me - Emma, seven years old, suffers from panic attacks. As we drove, the jolly Caterpillar-Cake cuckoo calls of the radio counterpointed the anxious, serious silence inside the car. 

As we drove, I saw a black sign that stated 'Welcome to Crondall - Please Drive Safely Through Our Village'. Cars and people in the rain began stopping us, telling us the road was blocked, that there had been an accident. The way my Dad told them his family were involved gave me tingles.

We pulled up and Pete was standing, pacing backwards and forwards in a way that made me see cigarette filled thought bubbles floating above his head. A beige Volvo estate and a black Vauxhall Zafira people-carrier sat squished up against the country banks, metal intertwined like two children that had watched kissing in movies and tried to recreate it. Police, Finley and Lola's mother and now our car, were all pulled up by the crash. The kids were alright: Emma's spate of panic wore off when she discovered a packet of sweets in each pocket.

Finley and Lola got in with their mother and they drove away - 'Socks!' I shouted at my Dad as he drove away with Emma, Max and Lea: I was to stay with Pete, until the car died or was able to fly again.

Everyone on scene stalked back and forth with phones clamped to their ears, trying to work out insurance policies, a task made harder by the police not wanting to take statements, my brother having different insurance to most people (Truck driver) and it being Lea's car that he crashed. Despite police presence, the other driver recoiled fearfully everytime my brother talked to him - Note: He didn't use his polite tone. The bureaucracy seemed bizarre here, in a country lane in the middle of nowhere, and I realised that whilst rain made a good atmospheric effect in movies, it was a terrible compliment to this situation.

I tasked myself with turning away cars trying to get past - a wedding, of all things, was happening nearby, attracting a hoard of people who had no idea where they were going. I realised that this must have look amazingly suspicious, as from a distance, the scene was this: a country lane with three cars, a policeman, another man, and two Eastern-European blokes wearing trackies, a hoodie and a flight jacket. Turn away? Sure thing, that guy in the flight jacket looks like he's packing heat.

One woman however, was not on her way to the wedding, and pulled over and came out to talk to us. Lydia, who turned out to be a nurse on her way to a patient, wanted to see if she could help, which she did, by providing some good banter for me whilst I waited. 'My husband wanted me to go to a football match today. I told him No, I don't want to be standing in the drizzle for ages. Now look what I'm doing.'

A tow truck arrived, and pulled the cars out of their embrace: crumples in the metal made sad faces, and they whined as bare wheels ground against the road. Catherine Wheels were made of the mud-filled tires spinning, and we hitched a ride with the first tow truck down into town, where another one arrived, driver bitching in a Manchurian accent about the terrible job the other guy had done, even giving us the number of two men who could 'sort it out' if the insurance companies couldn't, sounding like a very British deleted scene from the Godfather.

After hours of standing in the cold, my Mum pulled up and we got in: she handed me some cookies, a flask of coffee and some socks, because she's amazing. We flew back into formation and drove home.

The moral of the story? There's two of them: if you have a good family, take them for granted - they can perform miracles for you, whether it's falling out of formation or bringing you coffee and cookies in the cold. The second thing? Take socks, and take them for granted as well, because warm feet are a blessing.

- Lewis

(Goose Info taken from Please don't sue.)


  1. just beautiful. I hope everyone was ok!
    fantastic use of a metaphor with the geese as well :)

    1. thank you so much! Inspiration took me by the head, got home and couldn't wait to write this.

    2. your brilliant mind!! truly is amazing :)
      defo need more people like you in the world lewis! :)

  2. Hey Lewis, I love your writing style, thank you for sharing this! And thank you for reading my poetry.