Last night I drove from the office back to my hotel through moderately heavy snow, on icy and unfamiliar roads, in an unfamiliar car. It was simultaneously boring and terrifying: everybody around me was driving slowly and cautiously, but I was keenly aware of the dangers.

Two blocks from my hotel I attempted to come to a halt at a red light, applied the brakes and – nothing. A grinding noise but certainly no actual stopping, and I sailed into the intersection, waiting for death to claim me. But then the slow, cautious drivers nearby simply slowed further and drove around me, and a minute later I proceeded to the other side of the intersection and into the hotel bar without further incident.