On Sunday morning, our little girl Liza, my wife Vera and I set off for Pest, a
70-click drive on the motorway, in our 18-year-old VW Caravelle microbus, Oomingmaq, to pick up some furniture. A Hungarian motorway, mind: except for a few steeper parts,
mostly two lanes plus an emergency lane. Shortly after we set off at about 11, Fine
Drizzle showed up with its friend Mild Fog.
As we came out of a curve and over a hump, I saw an emergency triangle, and some 15
meters beyond it a white Merc with its headlights pointed towards me in the slower
lane. A few meters behind it, a trailer with a cyan Audi on it lay on its side, across
both lanes and some of the emergency lane. Beyond it, a little lorry and a grey car
were stopped. 4 or 5 people seemed busy and frantic around the trailer. All of this was
I hit the breaks, started pumping in my poor imitation of ABS and screamed “brace
yourselves” at the top of my voice. On the second pump Oomingmaq lost traction and
started sliding off the road to the right at a small angle while rotating slowly to the
left. I considered recovering traction and hitting the trailer, but with the people
around it I decided against this. Kept the break pedal depressed.
In about 5 or 6 seconds we lost most of our momentum and slid off the road. Oomingmaq’s
rear right side hit the barrier first. It bounced off, she reversed her horizontal
rotation and now rotated somewhat faster to the right. She also toppled over onto her
right side slowly. We slid another 5 meters or so with the bus lying on its side, then
came to a standstill. Little girl was screaming loud, I could hear she was scared but
not hurt. Wife and I were shouting “we’re okay, we survived this” a good several times.
I was hanging in the driver’s seat in the seatbelt.
There was a rapidly increasing smell of petrol. The inlet was facing the ground. I
undid my seatbelt and performed a controlled fall onto the right front window. I stood
and opened the left front window (amazingly, no windows broke). There was a man,
shouting, outside, in broken English. He was Austrian, he must have been driving in front of the trailer and reversed up when he saw what happened, Â in a grey car. I told him we were okay and ordered him to get someone to move that triangle much further back immediately. As the roof was facing back, I couldn’t see that way. At that point, I was deeply worried about being hit by another car.
I picked up the screaming child and handed her out to him, then helped my wife out. Then
I climbed out myself. We were in the emergency lane, and by this time, the little lorry
had dragged the trailer off the inside lane. Very mild traffic was passing us on the
left. Inside the bus was a mess. It reminded me of Owl’s place from the House at Pooh
The old Romanian guy who had fallen asleep at the wheel and thereby caused this almost
fainted when he saw our little girl. He knew a few words of Hungarian and kept saying
he hadn’t meant this to happen. I patted him on the back and told him we were alright
and he should relax. I was thinking about how lucky we were and also how lucky he was
that we were not hurt. Fleeting murderous thoughts occasioned by adrenalin passed
through my head. A young woman who seemed to be his daughter was dry-heaving by the
side of the road, also largely from the sight of us, it seemed.
I joined Vera and Liza and sat down on the grass verge well away from the carriageway. The adrenalin was running out, the shock was coming on. We had shivers and started crying. Liza, our girl, was not crying by this time, but kept informing us in her cute little voice that we should go home now. We had to tell her this would have to wait. Although the lorry-driver claimed to have called the police, I decided to call them as well. They told me they knew about it and were on the way.
I was wondering about the illegal gas tank in the bus. I knew that petrol doesn’t
actually ignite as easily as it does in the movies, but didn’t know about gas. There
was no smell of LPG though, so I supposed the tank was not breached. The police arrived
and put up some traffic cones, the scene was stabilised. I went and told them about the
I was doing heavy breathing and wishing hard for water and anything with carbs in it to
deal with the shock while feeling the child and then my wife all over for damage, my
rusty first-aid all flooding back. Baby seemed unhurt, not even a bump. Wife was
complaining about a bruise on her back. I found it high up on her ribcage on the right,
sighed with relief, there was no sign of impact lower down. No cracked ribs, either. They
had not been strapped in, she hates her chair and was demanding tit shortly before this
happened. When I started breaking and screaming ‘brace’ she wrapped herself around
Liza, who was entirely unhurt. We called Vera’s ex and asked him to pick us up. He said
he was on his way.
The police asked for my papers and told me it would be a good idea to shut that
gas-tank off. By that time, some guys also arrived with a 3.5 ton transporter. They
told me it would also be a good idea to pull the handbreak while I was in there. I
climbed into the bus, shut off the gas and pulled the handbreak. Climbed out.
The cop told me my car’s papers said nothing about LPG. I said I knew. He said he’d
overlook that, seeing as I had enough on my plate already. Bless him. The rescue guys
were asking where I wanted the bus taken. I told them and asked how much it would be.
He said that dependended on kilometers, but I asked again, for a rough estimate. He
started doing calculations on the edge of a newspaper and told me about 32 thousand (80
quid or so). I told them where to take it and asked my mechanic friend to receive them
at his garage. I also had to organise some cash for my friend, who had none. This
involved help from yet another friend.
The bus was righted using a cable winch and a pulley attached to the barrier. The cops
gave my papers back. Vera’s ex arrived with water and bananas (sound thinking). We left
for Pest, as there was stuff we had to do there.
About an hour later, my mechanic friend called and told me the rescue guys were
demanding 58 thousand (almost twice their initial estimate). He had a row with them,
they wouldn’t budge, lied their faces off about where they came from and the various
extra things they forgot to include. They also attempted to question my judgment on account of my just having been in an accident and kept returning to their baseline: why are
you making a fuss, the insurance will pay for this, anyway. Hyenas. I tele-arranged more cash. It also transpired that when they righted the bus, they actually fucked up and dropped the top rear corner onto the barrier, breaking all the lights there as well. They will hear from me yet, I am planning my revenge.
The rest of the day went well. The next morning I noticed that the safety belt had
actually given my neck a whiplash injury and my entire shoulder girdle was in a somewhat bad shape. This seems to be passing. We found another bruise on Vera’s shoulder: I still
think this was one of those rare instances when not being strapped in they came of better than if they had been. But we need to think about stricter child-seat enforcement policies, anyway.
Here’s the bus as it lies on its side: