Notebook

Patrick Reyntiens: My car exploded – and I survived

One Wednesday last month I made a trip to Wells Cathedral. There I attended a meeting of the diocesan advisory committee in the Dean’s yard. On the journey back to my home near Ilminster, I motored past Curry Rivel. (I’m 90, but I still drive.) Just outside that village, my car suddenly exploded with a frighteningly big bang.

Masses of thick white smoke poured out of my engine. I kept on driving as well as I could, with my sight afflicted by smoke, smoke, smoke. I just managed to get to the next village, Hambridge, where the engine went “phut!” just outside the school’s entrance.

As I stopped, a flame some 6ft high leapt up by the driver’s door, and nearly embraced me. I heard some men’s voices screaming at me to get out immediately. I undid my safety belt, and stretched out my left hand to get the car unlocked on the left-hand side. The door opened, and for some reason there was no flaming explosion on that side for the next few minutes. Two or three men managed to extract me over the gear arrangements in the middle of the car’s interior, and pulled me out in double quick time.

I was pulled along the pavement for about 30 or 40 feet. It was then that the car burst into flames. The whole car became a ball of fire about 25ft or 30ft in diameter. My marvellous men had saved my life with about two minutes to spare. They hastened me to a seat some way away from the self-destructive car.

A very nice couple moved me and suggested that I went into their house, which was quite close to where I was, so as to be able to rest and compose myself. Then the police came, and a fireman, and a representative of the NHS – all of them giving me an interview, which was very good for my self-confidence.

I stayed in the house for an hour, during which time I was given some tea and biscuits, and my old friend Dr Alan Wilson came and saw me. He was satisfied that I was in no way physically hurt or out of my self-confidence, thank God. Dr Wilson eventually drove me back to my home, and I thanked him very much indeed.

A curious thing was waiting for me when I got there. That is, the complicated series of keys concerning the house and all its doors. My rescuers had told me that all my possessions, which would have included my keys, had been destroyed in the fire. But there they were, quite visible, hanging on the outside of the kitchen door.

I remembered then that I had been in a very great hurry to get to Wells on time that morning. I had had to eat my breakfast, make my bed, shave my face, empty the library’s drying machine, feed my pussycat, and finally – for the first time this year – pour hot water all over the glass of my car to remove the thick frost.

I was in such a hurry by the end of all my duties that I had forgotten to extract the key from the kitchen door. And thank the Lord I did forget: I got back into my home without trouble; but I was exhausted.

Lucy, my daughter, kindly drove over and did all that was necessary in the way of food and other things. I had seen my car as Dr Wilson and I drove off from Hambridge. It had reduced itself to a heap of black and grey rubbish, with no sign of metal, glass or anything else. The heap was only some 3ft deep. I thanked my guardian angel for having allowed me to be saved by such marvellous men. There are many more things I could say, but enough is enough. Thank you for reading this little life-saving history.