Thursday, 12 February 2009

On The Road 2. Wilderness Night.

We had a full house for the show (The Swan Theatre, Worcester ) which was a real pain in the neck because we weren't on any sort of percentage deal. But it went well enough for the first of the season, and everyone was happy. Especially given the date. For some reason, the first anniversary of the Twin Towers seemed a strange day to be going to the theatre.

We eventually crammed everything into the van around the baby buggy and drove off merrily into the night. "Be home by 12.30", I remember thinking.
Half an hour later we were sitting by the side of the A46 looking at the stars and waiting for the recovery truck to come. We had begged to stop because of the terrible smell in the van. At first I hadn't noticed it, being up front, or I assumed it was just the baby. But then even I had to admit that something was on fire and we had to do something quick.
We pulled up in a lay-by behind a parked car-transporter and looked under the van. The exhaust pipe had broken off and was leaking gas into the cab. We called the breakdown service and waited... And waited.... And waited.
Three hours later we were still waiting. Everyone was being very British about it, really. We didn't start blaming each other or bursting into tears or shouting . There were no snivelling Richard Attenboroughs writhing in the bottom of the van trying to steal the last of the rations. There were no rations to steal.
Instead, we all followed the baby's example and tried to get some kip. I was in agony already. My legs were crammed up against the dashboard like something dreamed up by Torquemada.
The driver of the recovery truck was having problems finding us. We kept telling him where we were. Or rather, where we thought we were. The trouble was we weren't there. Even though we thought we were.
The van started to get cold, the battery was running down from having to have the lights on. The baby kept waking up and crying. The seats kept getting harder. Visions of corrugated iron sheeting kept swimming in and out of my fuddled mind. I was wrapping myself up in it to keep warm and cosy. It seemed like a blessed relief. We ran out of water, pear drops and cigarettes. I don't think any of us slept. At least they better not have because I couldn't get a wink. We were getting hungry and started joking about who was going to be eaten first. Naturally, the baby lost.
Someone pointed out that human flesh tastes of pig. Another voice in the night pointed out that pig therefore tastes of human flesh. We all fell a bit quiet.
The discomfort reached that point where you want to scream with pain, but know it wouldn't do any good. You feel so uncomfortable that you start to blame yourself. You think it MUST be your fault. Your tormented psyche thrashes around for someone to blame. Anything to preserve some strand of human dignity and generate enough spleen and bile and adrenalin to keep you warm and alive.
Anyway. After a lot of mucking about we didn't die, and the first truck finally came at about 4.30. We didn't even have the energy to cheer. He was going to take the baby and the advance guard back to London as a priority. Almost immediately after another hour the second one arrived for the rest of us, and the first bout of torture was over. Now we had to get to London, towing the wretched Ford Transit Minibus behind us.
It was not the speediest trip outside the Nurbergring. We finally got inside the M25 at about 8 o’clock, after we spent the whole journey trying to keep the breakdown man from falling asleep at the wheel….
From the northern approaches I saw the sun coming up like a big red dustbin lid over the city and didn't feel at all poetic. The last suburban fields were a simmering thin green soup of mist and rush hour exhaust. There were sad, hoar-frosted broken-down old Edmonton ponies just waking up and nosing the bushes as if they were looking for the light switch or their false teeth. The old dears had spent all night standing up in the cold. Tough. I couldn't have cared less.
All I wanted was my bed and for the physical pain to stop. We ploughed through the rush hour brushing aside the commuters and giving the driver – who’d never been to London - a mini guided tour. That’s the famous Oxford Street, that’s the famous London Eye, and the famous Tower Bridge. I was for ceremonially slaughtering him on the famous Ludgate Hill. But by that point I wanted to kill the entire human race for getting in between me and my bed or for being asleep when I wasn’t.
When I finally dived into The Big Black, the Sneak Preview of Death, I got a brief flash of a merrily burning ‘Wily Coyote’ plunging into a lake in a hiss of soothing steam. The rest is silence.

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