Calm Journey, No Killings

It’s hard to stare dreamily at the sky when you’re stuck behind a bunch of BMW-driving twits thrusting at each other in stop-start traffic on the A1. Hard to stare out of the window and muse on the nature of journeys as some pillock whacks his hazards on and you’re neck-cricked back into the mundanity of the UK’s infrastructure and the tiresomeness of humans in general. It’s almost impossible to reflect on life and beauty and all that when you’re mostly fantasising about killing the tractor-driver up ahead who’s causing all this chaos; this hokey-cokey for cars.

It is sometimes in cars that you come to see how compatible you are with your partner. Some people find out slowly in their own homes, or hotels, or fancy restaurants, or family functions (if your partner belches his way through The Lord Is My Shepherd at your great nan’s funeral, for example – you might be encouraged to question the future of your union). Sometimes you can get the measure of a man in a car. Something about the confined space creates an almost laboratorial effect around a couple; the car tests you both.

Now, I always, as a rule, prefer it if a man doesn’t threaten suicide alongside the central reservation halfway to Manchester, or kick a satnav off the windscreen when he’s feeling a bit narked. That might just be me. I’m a bit sensitive that way. So it was with relief that Matt and I made it to Newcastle last week without me nervously chewing myself an internal dimple.

I navigated. This is a posh way of saying I read out the bulletpoints we printed off Google. Matt doesn’t like sat-navs. I respect him for this. In my experience sat-navs are mischievous, megalomaniacal, or just plain rude.

Test one was the CDs. I picked them. He let me. Impressive.

Test two was how soon after our leaving breakfast would we cave and confess to each other that we wanted to break open the packed lunch. I’m glad to report that we both lasted under an hour and so were our foundations strengthened; it is against human nature to ignore beef and mustard sandwiches, even if you have just had a full English. If one of us had been a low-carb carrot-wielding chub-watcher who wanted to wait til evensong to eat a slice of marrow we’d have probably broken up before we hit Peterborough.

Test three was a little more hardcore. I stupidly decided to stick my nose in Matt’s neck during a dicy bit of the roundabout leading onto the M25. Most men would be forgiven for shouting at me or for careering into an obstructive Honda then blaming me forever. Matt stayed calm and even managed to take the right exit without making me remove my nose from his earlobe. It was like he would rather we died than offend me, which is sweet.

We got to Newcastle, tackled inner-city ringroads, an NCP, and a Travelodge, and I realised at the end of it all, as we locked the car and stretched our legs, that I felt calm. That Matt, although a bit frazzled from driving, mostly just wanted to make sure I was okay. That I just wanted to make sure he was okay, better than okay – happy. And I thought that was a pretty good sign. If a six hour journey on the A1 with a load of cretins remains mostly unremarkable but for realising you are at long last content and peaceful with someone, then that’s pretty good going.


Love On The M25

The M25, that concrete serpent throttling the neck of our nation’s capital, is seldom considered a place for clarity, unless that clarity is the sheen on the righteous murderous intent directed at all other drivers in rush hour traffic. But clarity of a non-homicidal nature is what I had there on that writhing mass of roady woe last week.

I was on a road trip with my boy and my bestie, on the last leg of the journey home from a gig. We’d stayed over night with bestie’s Dad, Martin, who I have not so secretly stolen for my own. He spoiled us rotten and I duly repaid him by reading extracts from Adrian Mole over breakfast while he indulged me as he would if one of his own was being dull. His loveliness is such that I reckon I could bleat most entries of the Encyclopaedia Britannica at him before he even raised a tired eyebrow.

Anyway. We’d reluctantly left Martin’s fairytale house in the woods to drive home, and were partaking in the sort of chatter that gurgles up with hangovers on return journeys. We meandered our way around books we love, people who hack us off something chronic, music, careers, basic existentialism, and sausages. Then Bestie, driving, told us something sad he had learned the night before. And he started to cry. While thundering along that arterial beast, he had a moment about something he should have had a moment about a long time ago.

We sat with our hands on him, one on his lap, and one on his shoulder. It was a brief moment, tears pulled back from the brink of real weeping by manly stoicism perhaps, or the very real possibility of crashing into a Scandinavian heavy goods vehicle. I thought my heart would break watching it. I felt so impotent seeing my friend in pain, especially when it was too dangerous to administer a full hug from the back seat at 80MPH.

But sometimes good things spring from powerlessness. It creates an inverse sort of power. We three sank into that car not knowing quite what to say or how to make such a big thing better, and then we charged up. We bashed the balls off the blues. We vented about every thing in our lives that we hated, every thing we wanted to change. We action-planned our next moves like we were newly-appointed commanders of the world.

We did what most nerds with a plan do. We made a list. This was our list.

1. Lose weight
2. Cope with suicide
3. Eat more fruit pastilles
4. Book Paul Foot tickets
5. MB to lend DG ‘Herzog’
6. DG to lend MB ‘The Catcher In The Rye’
7. SH to stop being agoraphobic
8. Make chutney
9. Network
10. Write more lists
11. There is no 11

We rallied around the sadness and life’s dissatisfactions with tangible plans in our seatbelted mania, and we laughed at the list even though it was just trying to helpful.

I suppose now, in retrospect, that the energy in the car was not marked by our discontent with the stuff that went on to be hidden behind the safer conciseness of bulletpoints in a semi-joke list, or even the sadness that prompted the fervour in the first place. It was love. Something happens when you see someone break down. And in a car on the M25 you are just there with it, with nowhere else to go. It binds you tighter.

With our little car newly brightened we performed the next integral stage of our operations. We stopped for petrol to get us home, and fruit pastilles – the confectionary of champions.