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Impaled on the tines of tractor mounted harvester

by BobCurby 

Posted: 24 February 2010
Word Count: 3060
Summary: Wild Grass Ch 2 - the day I crashed into a tractor and ended up in the grass cutting equipment on the front.... If squeamish - don't read this!

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Chapter 2

By Bob Curby

It was one of those warm spring afternoons that make Africa a delight to live in. The sun was well past its zenith as I set off from Deidre’s house, across the Makeni flats from our small-holding. Deidre was a lovely girl, I fancied her something rotten, but her eyes were firmly set upon Janus Fospool another of the school rugby team. She had asked us both to help her with the big Great Dane dog that needed a bath. We didn’t know what we’d taken on board when we agreed to that. All I can say is, the dog was less wet than we were, and he was wet. About a dozen attempts later and after as many refills of the big tin bath, we got Charlie, that was his name, into it and held him while she soaped him down. I imagined myself as that dog, with her silky hands moving to and fro all over his grey body. If Janus had known how excited I had become I think he’d have tackled me to the ground as if I was the opposition winger with the ball under my arm.

Alas, I wasn’t the dog, I was Rob, the full back, in who’s direction Deidre seldom looked unless Janus was pursuing someone in my quarter of the field.
Dog washed, I had donned my leathers and managed to get a peck on the cheek from Deidre before I pulled on my helmet and kicked the ‘Beezer’ into life. I rode away with a wave, knowing Janus was probably going to get a lot more than a peck on the cheek. The sun was behind me and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was that ‘tinder-box’ time of the year when the wild grass, the giant savannah grass that grew up to two and a half metres high, was more like straw. It never took much to set it alight and the local government officials were always looking out for discarded lemonade bottles, the bottoms of which acted like magnifying glasses and set fire to anything combustible in a matter of minutes.

As I was cruising through rows of banana trees at 80mph, someone, something, had set fire to the wild grass between me and the Mumbwa main road that I had to cross. I couldn’t see the smoke, nor smell it as the wind was blowing at 90 degrees to my track, but it was there, hurtling towards my track from the east at over 50mph. As long as I was in the bananas I would have nothing to worry about. Had I known about that fire whilst still in the grove, I would have drawn to a standstill and waited half an hour or so.

No such warning was offered to me. The fire would have been bad enough, but I’d ridden through them before, if it hadn’t been for the confused farmer with the powered scythe on the tractor. He had caught a swirl of smoke, it had filled his lungs and eyes, and, coughing and spluttering, he had turned out of his field onto the track I was on. I burst out of the banana grove at 80mph and saw less than 100 metres ahead, thick black smoke with flames leaping several metres into the air. At that precise moment, the fire was jumping the track to continue its rage in the next field. I had throttled back and taken stock of what confronted me. I guessed the fire would be 100 metres or so wide and I would cook if I tried to run it. I decided to hit the brake and make a right turn, into the field where the fire had already finished and then back out onto the track heading towards to bananas again.

It was then I saw the tractor, the farmer’s hands were up over his eyes. He never saw me. I am only alive today because the scythe was not operating.
The scythe guides, like long steel fingers, penetrated the forks, the tyres and the crank case of the BSA Gold Flash, missing my right ankle by a hairs breadth. The bike was shoved out from under me and I fell onto the six inch wide scythe blades. They were blunt but still one of them managed to cut me from the elbow to the shoulder as I rolled across the platen. The farmer carried on, his smarting eyes watering like the proverbial fountain at Lourdes, oblivious to the fact that he had a bike and a man impaled on the front of the tractor harvester.

The villagers were very much aware of my predicament and rushed from all directions at the big tractor.
“STOP BAAS MITCHELL!” they yelled as they beat their fists on the side of the tractor.
He heard them and instantly applied the brakes. I rolled forward and hit the bike so hard I pushed it off the tines. As it fell to the ground with a clatter, I fell off the platen, blood gushing from the wound in my arm. I lost consciousness.

When I came to I was in my second home, Lusaka General Hospital, A&E. My mum wasn’t on duty when the ambulance arrived, and not having a home phone, she didn’t know for two hours, after one of the villagers had run all the way from the banana plantation to our house to tell my parents. He’d asked dozens of people on the way, not even knowing his final destination. My folks were grateful to him and not only dropped him back on the track near the burnt out field, but also gave him the equivalent of a week’s wages. He tried to decline, but they insisted. He said he was only doing what he hoped others would do for him. When my parents arrived I was still in intensive care having suffered further lacerations on the exit from the scythe as well as having one of the tines penetrate my left shoulder about 3 inches below my neck and an inch away from the spinal cord.

I shudder even now as I realise that my life could so easily have been over that day. It all rested firmly on the shoulders of the thoughtless person who caused the fire, whether that be by deliberate arson, or by discarding a bottle in the undergrowth.
My mum volunteered for theatre duty but Dr De Goode declined, saying that he couldn’t expect her to remain calm with the emotional attachment she had to his patient. No-one is worse in a waiting room than someone with medical knowledge. Both my parents had medical backgrounds and they were like caged tigers pacing up and down.
Thus, although not on duty, the first person I saw, yet again, was my mother. “Hi Mum.”

“Robby – now, what have you done this time? I keep telling you that bike will kill you one day—“she broke off, her voice quivering.
“Mum, I am an innocent party, in fact I was turning around, away from a bush fire when I think a runaway harvester tractor hit me. I just remember a fleeting image of the man rubbing his eyes; poor guy must have come straight through the smoke and couldn’t see. I still don’t know why he hadn’t stopped – unless he was afraid of getting caught by the fire.”
“The police were called by the villagers and they came in with the ambulance. They want to talk to you when you’re ready.”

“Well, I’m not going to shop the poor guy; I bet he was scared shit. He couldn’t have seen me with that smoke in his eyes, not to mention the choking effect of it. I’ll tell them neither of us saw each other because of the smoke and although I turned, I wasn’t quick enough.”
“Well that’s up to you, the doctor will come and agree whether the police can talk to you yet.”
“How bad am I, I’m so tied up I can’t even scratch my nose?”
“Well, you have a huge gash from elbow to shoulder, not deep but still needing a few stitches in the deeper places, you have a handful of cuts across your legs and a small one on your face, but the bad one is in your back – that’s what the contraption around your upper back is for. You mustn’t move. One of the steel tines that guide the wild grass into the cutters went into the soft part at the top of your shoulder just below your neck. They had to be very careful working around it or you might have ended up paralysed.”

“You might say that. Now, it’s getting late – I think you should sleep and let the doctor tell the police to come back in the morning.”
“Late? How long was I out?”
“Well, from the loss of consciousness until you recovered a few moments ago from anaesthetic, I’d say five hours.”
“Five hours out of my life!”
“At least you still have your life – that you should be thankful for – now get some sleep.”
I was hungry, I didn’t want to sleep.
“What about something to eat?”
“The dinner is served at 6:00, it’s well after 9:00 now – look, I’ll get a nurse to bring you a drink and I’ll see what I can get from the staff canteen – but don’t hold your breath.”
“Thanks Mum.”

Now, my naughtiness with the duty nurses preceded my arrival – no-one wanted to come to my bedside while I was awake. My mum returned with a Cornish Pasty she had managed to persuade the cook to heat up for me, with a few crisps alongside as no-one was going to cook chips.
“No tea?”
“No, not yet.”
“Hang on – you get started on this and I’ll go and see what’s happening.”
A few minutes later she returned with a cup of tea.
“No-one wanted to bring this in case you pinch their bum! Now see what a reputation you have built for yourself?”
“Well, they should have such nice ones….”
“That’s far enough young man!”
I sighed, it was all in fun, I mean, if a nurse had called my bluff, pulled the screens round and started to remove her clothes – I’d have been out of the bed and running down the corridor, gown flapping like a sheet in a gale. There were one or two who enjoyed the banter but then, they got told off. Ah well, I ate the ‘morsel’ as I called it, drank the tea and fell asleep. The next thing I remember was a nurse flapping up the window blind so that the bright sun could blind me for the rest of my life.

“AAGH! What! Hey! Whoa – that sun’s bright!”
Nurse Alison Chalmers, one of the ‘old school’ and only a year or so younger than my mum, stood beside my bed.
“Now then young man, I’ll have no nonsense from you, I need to check your bandages on that left shoulder. If I see your right hand so much as twitch – you’ll be sorry!”
“Don’t flatter yourself, you’re not my type!”
“I know your type – and none of them work here!”
She fussed about my shoulder, adjusted the immobiliser and used the hydraulics on it to lift me an inch above the bed. She straightened the sheet and checked that everything else was ok. I resisted the urge to do something to make her jump much as I wanted to, more because the controls of the contraption were in her hand than decorum.

“Can you move your legs about – do they feel numb at all?”
I moved my legs, they seemed OK, my thighs were aching and one knee was crying out. I passed on my feelings to her.
“OK well the doctor will be round after breakfast, I’ll leave you suspended that way you’ll not get pressure on the buttocks, and it’ll keep you out of mischief. Your breakfast will be here in a few minutes – is there anything you don’t or can’t eat?”
“Bring it, I’ll eat it.”

It was a shy small volunteer worker that brought the breakfast trolley. She had been told about me and kept the trolley between us all the time. I tried not to laugh.
“D-d-o you want hot breakfast?”
“Hot as it comes sweetheart….!”
She flushed a little. I thought to myself “Boy someone’s painted some reputation of me!”
“Er, and, tea?”
“Please darling.”
“D-do you want, er, toast with that?”
“Sure, toast is great!”
“Brown or white?”
“Eh?” This was my chance…..
“Do you like brown or white?”
“Sweetheart, I don’t mind what colour, I love you all….”
The trolley beat a hasty retreat and I never got any toast. My own fault really.

Breakfast over; the doctor arrived with half a dozen junior doctors in tow. They “ooh-ed” and “aah-ed” as he talked them through my injuries and the surgery needed, what the contraption was for and how lucky I was to be alive. I could see the nurse in the doorway with two uniformed policemen and she was pointing towards me as the gaggle of doctors left. They came to my bedside and drew a couple of chairs across.
“I’m Sergeant Miller and this is PC Vermulen, we need to get your account of what happened yesterday.”
“OK, ask away.”
“Now this is what we have so far – at about 4:00 p.m. you were on a motorcycle travelling through Zeiper’s Banana Plantation in a northerly direction about 4 miles south of the Mumbwa road, is that correct.”

“That is correct.”
“Then your motorcycle was involved in a collision with a tractor mounted grass scythe, is that correct?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“And the tractor was driven by Harry Mitchell, is that right?”
“I have no idea who was driving it.”
“Did you see the driver at all?”
“I saw a man in the smoke with both hands up to his eyes. Who it was I cannot say.”
“How fast were you going when you hit the tractor?”
“Er I’m not sure, I had made three sharp right turns after heavy braking and had thus made a wide circle in a patch of short burned grass, with the intention of heading back to the bananas. I was re-joining the track at about 45 degrees to it when the tractor appeared on my right, out of the smoke. I suppose I was doing about 20 mph and going slightly away from him. Does that make sense?”

“The villagers say you were doing about 100mph through the bananas, is that right?”
“No, more like 70 or 80.”
“Isn’t that a recipe for disaster on a track like that with lots of dogs and children running about in there?”
“I tried riding through there at 30 or 40 before and got dogs under my wheels, children throwing things and even robbers trying to steal the bike. No 70 plus is the only safe way. By the time they heard me and rushed out onto the track – I’d passed by. Are you going to lecture me now on road safety, or are we going to finish the investigation you came here for?”
“Just trying to make a full picture. So could you have avoided the accident?”
“Yes, in good visibility, we’d have both seen each other and there would have been no accident.”

“Harry Mitchell says he was scything the Elephant grass in the west field when he saw the fire jump the track, the smoke got in his eyes and he thought he’d turned to head for the main road, but he couldn’t see. He admits he was driving at full speed through the smoke, around 45MPH, and that he had no idea that he had collided with you until the villagers made him stop. Does that sound about right to you?”
“I can’t say, if that’s what he told you – then that’s probably right. Listen, you are not trying to suggest he was at fault are you? I do not think either of us is to blame. It is whoever caused the fire that you should be looking for.”
“You leave the detective work to us. So, in your words, how did it happen?”

“I saw a flash of light off the chrome exhaust tube, I tried to turn a little more to the left, I heard a bang – I woke up here.”
“Did he attempt to swerve?”
“AH COME ON! The poor guy was unable to see – have you ever been in a bush fire? Look the smoke gets into your eyes, they run like a tap. The smoke goes into your lungs, you cough like an old smoker. He was literally sitting on a bomb. Do you realise that on a petrol driven tractor the fuel tank is under the seat? In a fire, what would you do?”
“That is not for us to consider, and my personal response to the situation is not what we are discussing. Please answer the question.”
“No, I can’t, because I don’t know the answer. But, if it’s up to me, I will not press charges; we were victims of unfortunate circumstances. I have nothing more to say.”
“Fair enough, we come back again though if we think we need more information.”

They stood up to leave and I gestured for them to wait a moment.
“Where’s the bike now?”
“It’s in our pound, pending the outcome of our enquiries.”
“When you have finished please ring this number, speak to Charlie Henderson and tell him what’s happened. He will collect it and sign for it.” I handed them a piece of paper I had hurriedly scribbled a note onto.
“Who is he, why should we release it to him?”
“He’s the insurer and, because I say so – it’s my bike!”
The sergeant took the paper and left without another word. I lay back to rest after the exhausting cross-examination.
Six weeks later I was back home waiting for Charlie’s chosen repairer, Central MotoHouse, to return the ‘Beezer’ to me. Our life together wasn’t over yet.

FA(C)T 2010 Steve Goodings

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Comments by other Members

BobCurby at 01:35 on 25 February 2010  Report this post
AAGH - stupid uploader! I wtote in English, in MS Word using a standard typeface. WHY HAVE I GOT RIDICULOUS HEIROGLYPHICS IN MY TEXT!!!

Now I'll have to do it again...

but not now, I'm too tired....

BobCurby at 08:47 on 25 February 2010  Report this post
Looks OK this time - managed to upload without the hieroglyphics...

Richard Brown at 17:51 on 26 February 2010  Report this post

I hope you won't mind my saying that over the time I have been reading your memoirs your writing has improved hugely. This is a very polished account - I didn't even spot a typo!

I loved the self-mocking touches about your bad habits with nurses.

Well done.

But 'tis a miracle or two that you are alive to tell the tale!


BobCurby at 19:07 on 27 February 2010  Report this post
Well Richard thanks, that is a great compliment - but it equally reflects back to you, and this weibsite. Without your valuable input and advice and that of Sarah, Becca and others - I would not be at this stage.

Writing the other books at the same time as these memoirs also has sharpened my perception. Having them reviewed an commented upon has been a great benefit to me.

Yes, you are right - I do not know how I have lived so long! Once upon a time I was known for my 'accident proneness' and like I say in ch 1 of this book - my mum used to laugh and say that I used to have accidents just so that I could see her.

Thanks again for your comments on this, much appreciated.


BobCurby at 23:33 on 02 March 2010  Report this post
I spotted a typo!

The second sentence - starting "Diedre was a lovely girl" - later stated "by her eyes were"
now it correctly states "but her eyes were"

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