Friday, 13 August 2010

On the Road

It was a challenge but I decided to risk taking the chemo brain on a run up the centre of England; M40/42/M6/M54 to see my mother in Staffordshire, for her 88th birthday.

I have always suspected that our motorways represent the inner landscape of some chilling male brain; made by men for men they are in some ways inexplicable to women.

I still sometimes forget that in order to turn right off a motorway you have to turn left first onto a slip road and roundabout, forgetting this I have gone miles in the wrong direction getting absolutely desperate. Then there are those signs over the highway, showing three destinations, and you wonder uneasily if you have to be under one to get there, what if you are trapped in the left hand lane which has no destination name on it, where does that lead?

On August 5th I set out, at 7.15am, hoping and utterly failing to miss heavy traffic. After an hour’s drive, around High Wickham, I saw electronic signs giving a message of doom – “M42 closed J2-5.”

Now what does that involve and what was I supposed to do about it ? My normal brain would not have been any wiser than the one I’ve got now.

As it was still such a long way to the M42 perhaps they would have opened the junction by the time I got there. I think I knew this was a false hope and there was no information about any kind of diversion, so I drove on wondering how was anyone going to make their way north if the motorway was closed. I was puzzled. At Warwick there was another sign saying, “M42 J 2-5 closed. For the north- west take the M42/M5.

What did that mean? It seemed to be still suggesting the M42 and I do not know the M5 so I wouldn’t venture on it without stopping somewhere to look at a map. The complications involved in doing that made the idea impossible. Was I even going to pass that junction? I wasn't sure, I might leave the motorway before it, but somehow I doubted that too.

Despite all this I felt strangely relaxed, one hand on the wheel, doing between 70 and 80mph, I’d have rolled a cigarette between my knees if I had one. I really enjoyed the long drive, the first since April when I got the bad news. It was also my day of chemo recovery, the transformation, and I was elated to be at the wheel with the scenery spinning past beyond the concrete moraine.

When I got to the dreaded junction we were in a traffic jam. That was the only consequence and I felt too happy to care about that. I smiled at the other drivers around me and began texting my mother and friends. Texting furtively and creeping along in small jolts.

Before I got the bad news about my health I was turning into a nervous driver. I’d almost given up driving in London due to all the restrictions. My car sat abandoned outside my flat, or as near as I could get, its battery going steadily flat.

Now I felt invulnerable as a teenager – it must be a matter of relative threats. I once tried to learn to ride a horse, spent a year in the saddle, getting steadily worse at it and gradually more fearful. I remember the sheer relief of climbing down off one nag and into my Mini Cooper. Four legs bad, four wheels good. Now suddenly driving felt safe again, its dangers very distant compared to other threat against my life.

After two hours I reached the mysterious sign post on the left hand side, showing a giant rabbit’s head, ears strangely crossed, pointing west and east towards Solihull, Birmingham (E & C) M42 and most oddly, north to London.

No matter how much of the ears you manage to catch as you shoot past, it is impossible to work out what exactly they mean, as they twist about divided by a dotted line up the middle of the head. All I do is remember that I go somewhat to the left at that point, and it is usually a good moment as it means I am drawing nearer to the M6 that most sexy and friendly of motorways, or so it seems to me.

As I reached my home village I saw a skein of geese flying over a field, three at the front forming a glorious “V” which I took to mean victory.


  1. I have a Mini Cooper too!! Get yourself a cheap Garmin satnav, take the stress out of it all.
    Much love to you,
    Jane x

  2. I love all the confusion!
    I fear sat navs, soon no one will be able to read maps any more - not that I do read maps, at least not on the motorway. I just have a rough idea and hope for the best.
    I no longer have a Mini Cooper sadly. That was a company car. I now have a beaten up old Seat.