Tuesday, April 29

On the Edge: My Story - Richard Hammond

In 2006 Top Gear co-star Richard Hammond was involved in a near-fatal accident while filming a segment of a jet-powered car for the famous BBC series. Although he avoided serious physical injury, in large part due to the meticulous protective measures taken by the production team and the car's owner, Hammond sustained significant brain injury. On the Edge tells the story of the lead up to, and the aftermath, of an accident that make headlines across the UK.
It's bizarre that I enjoy Top Gearwhen I don't drive, let alone have a car, and have little interest in things automotive. I only discovered the program last year, by accident, but since then have become so absorbed that (despite my budgeting) I've bought several DVDs of the series and already read a collection of columns by the show's star. I hadn't heard anything about the accident until a few weeks after I started watching, when I checked the program out on Wikipedia, and learned about the accident that way. The first show back after the accident aired on Australian TV early this year, and they showed footage of the lead up to the accident and the accident itself, which was spectacular.
The book is extremely well written - Hammond opens with an account of frustration several months after the accident, recounts a childhood filled with a love of all things enginey and wheeled, and his early life up to getting the position on Top Gear, then the preparation for the big drive. Occasionally foreshadowed by the events to come, this is witty, amusing and well articulated.
After the accident his wife, Mindy, tells her side of it, and their accounts switch chronologically, giving a detailed picture of the experience. I've had some experience with acquired brain injury, both professionally and in my private life, and have certainly read about it widely, including another by a brain injury survivor and his wife. Like My Year Off , On the Edge powerfully captures a lot of the frustration and worry involved. What I particularly liked about this account was the articulation of how a brain injured person can seem to be functioning normally, the effects of over-stimulation, the consequences of using humour and sarcasm on someone who's thinking concretely, and the sheer teeth grinding frustration of dealing with a person in PTA (post traumatic amnesia), who will keep repeating the same questions for hours without remembering that you. Only. Just. Answered. That.
Hammond does a masterful job of describing his fear and anxiety, and his wife's descriptions of her strength and anxiety, the bravery of her young daughters (particularly five year old Izzy), and the response of both everyone at Top Gear and the British public, brought tears to my eyes on several occasions.
This is a brilliant book for anyone interested in the topic of acquired brain injury, neurological recovery, hospitalisation, cars and other things with engines, autobiographies, or just a great and absorbing read. Top marks - Alex

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