The ‘C’ Word
Saturday afternoon, I embarked on the four-hour drive from my flat in London, back to my parent’s house in Cheshire. My good friend Drew is running a half marathon on Sunday. He has raised over £1000 for Pancreatic Cancer UK and I wanted to support him on race day to show my appreciation! Anna had to stay in London as she has other engagements on Monday, so it was just Lucy the puppy and I.
I’m not a huge fan of driving anymore. It can be fun and I am a confident driver, but I’ve been doing it for long enough that the buzz of it has gone, and I’m not particularly into cars or racing or whatever else might keep driving more interesting to an individual. Driving somewhere feels even worse when I know doing so is slower than the train too, which it is when going home from the flat in London…by at least an hour. Further to this, it takes just over an hour on an average day to get out of London alone, before then embarking on the three hours of motorway motorway motorway. Because we live in South-East London, and my parents live in the midlands, it means that there is no quick way of getting out of the city to head north. To quote We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!” So you go from driving an average of 10mph and stopping every twenty seconds in London, to driving at 70mph in a straight line, fearing anything that would force you to stop, as that would mean it was a queue on the motorway. Queuing on the motorway is the only thing more depressing than driving on the motorway.
As I sat in a big queue in Kensington, West London, my mind started focusing on the surgery. It was triggered by a slow song coming on Spotify that has nothing to do with surgery. The melancholy vibe of the song infected my brain and took it somewhere dark. I dwelled there for a few minutes, before deciding that it was enough. There were another 3.5 hours to drive and I couldn’t be in this place whilst travelling, especially whilst travelling alone. I put on my summer playlist and tried to think about other things. A few hours later into the drive, when I was about 45 minutes from home, I realised that I had successfully distracted myself most of the way. It was at that point that I set myself a challenge – to write a blog post about some of the things that were going around in my head during that drive and try to turn it into a coherent post. It will probably be competing with the one on Fashion for ‘Least interesting topic for my target audience’, but I can’t always just go on about c****r and s*****y. Perhaps I’ll start a series titled ‘The ‘S’ Word’ if I keep going on about surgery. That’s the second time that I’ve used the word in this post; I’d be failing miserably if this was the start of the series, but I’ve mentioned the ‘C’ word plenty of times in this series, so whatever. I’m the only one policing it anyway, so I say it’s acceptable.
As I said, the novelty of driving has worn off for me. Nowadays, I view driving in a similar way to the toilets at service stations along the motorway; they’re necessary and sometimes I need to use them, but I aim to spend as little time utilising them as I have to, and would rather someone else took the lead whilst I sat on my phone (unsure how the final point applies to service station toilets – I’ll let you use your imagination). There is one thing that might bring some of the novelty back to driving, though.
Anna’s brother, James, has a retro-looking sports car from the 90s. It has an open-top and was apparently featured in the Goldeneye film, according to him. On my penultimate day visiting Dorset, he offered to take me out for a spin in it. Although cars aren’t my thing, new experiences certainly are, especially where they involve Lucy the puppy getting angry at her ears flapping about. She hates the wind, similar to my hatred of the sea. The difference is that the sea is easy to avoid if you want to, whereas wind is pretty much impossible to avoid all of the time. You can opt out of getting in the sea; you can’t opt-out of being blasted by the wind. Especially when driving in an open-top car. She actually uses her paws to try and hold her ears down when it is blowing them around – it is incredibly cute yet pathetic.
I have to say that riding in an open-top car is good fun. This was my first experience and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. Finally, I understand why people enjoy going around in them. Although I will never buy one as I do not believe I can pull it off, I have a newfound respect for them. That is until my drive back from London. As I finally made my way out of London and got onto a dual carriageway, I witnessed a man in a sports car with his roof down doing something morally blurry.
The blaring sound of sirens was ringing out behind me. Sirens are such a common sound in London that they practically send me to sleep now. Their piercing sound is as relaxing as morning bird-song to me. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t sleep for a single second in that damn city. I’m sure this is true of any city, but I can only really speak for London as I have a very bad memory and can’t remember if it was true of the other cities I have lived in. Due to their sound being so familiar, I wasn’t panicking too much. Looking in my mirrors, I saw it charging up behind me. I was driving in the right overtaking lane at the time, and I saw a few cars behind me waiting until the very last minute to move out of the way. I’m not sure why they were doing this – just move over and let the damn people past! Aren’t we all supportive of moving out of the way of emergency vehicles as we understand that if we, or our families, were in dire need of them, we’d hope that other people would move the hell out of the way to let them through for our benefit? Anyway, I moved over into the left lane as I saw it getting closer. The roads were very busy but we weren’t standing still – the speed limit was about 40mph I believe.
As the ambulance came raging past me, I saw a car that I had watched practically refusing to move over in my mirror only a minute prior flying up behind the ambulance to utilise its status as an important vehicle that everyone needs to get the fuck out of the way for. This ambulance chaser was technically not doing anything wrong, but damn was he doing something wrong. I detested him; I couldn’t help but scorn his immoral, selfish behaviour in my head. People are hurt and he’s only thinking about how he can take advantage of the situation to get to wherever he needs to be a few minutes faster. It got me thinking – was this actually morally wrong, or am I getting wound up about nothing? No, I’m pretty sure it is wrong. But why is it wrong? At some point, after the ambulance has come past you in the right lane, you have every right to go back into the right lane. So what was wrong with this particular incident? I think it was the way that the driver was sticking to the back of the ambulance and following its every move, making it obvious that the driver is using the situation to his own advantage, trying to break through the large volume of cars clogging up the road.
Not only is it unsafe, but the stakes are higher. If there is a crash involving an ambulance, they are adding to the number of problems that the ambulance service has rather than allowing them to address those problems. It also may put the ambulance driver off from focusing on the task at hand if they see a car hovering behind them in their mirrors. I know it puts me off when a car comes flying up behind me at twice the speed of anyone else on the road, then breaks in a passive-aggressive way at the very last minute, cruising as close to the back of the car as possible until you move over. What usually happens then is you witness them speed up incredibly quickly again until they meet the next reasonable human being in the right lane, which then forces them to repeat the whole process again. I’ve always wondered what these people get out of doing this. Perhaps they are rushing to the hospital as their wife is giving birth, although I suspect they’re just total egomaniacs that think flying around the roads dangerously makes them akin to a formula 1 driver; in reality, it just makes them total idiots who are increasing the risk of someone needlessly dying on the road that day.
Driving seems to be one of the best ways to see game theory playing out in front of you. For those of you who do not know what game theory is, here is a definition from the Brittanica website:
‘Game theory, [is a] branch of applied mathematics that provides tools for analyzing situations in which parties, called players, make decisions that are interdependent. This interdependence causes each player to consider the other player’s possible decisions, or strategies, in formulating [their own] strategy. A solution to a game describes the optimal decisions of the players, who may have similar, opposed, or mixed interests, and the outcomes that may result from these decisions.’
At one point, there were lane closures on the motorway just outside of London. It was made very obvious on the big digital overhead signs that the drivers needed to move out of the two left lanes and into the two right lanes. This led to a buildup of traffic, but I wasn’t sure why. I then noticed that some people were simply flying down in the soon-to-be-closed lane all the way to the bottom of the traffic jam, where the cones would force them to finally merge over. They were then forcing their way into the right lanes at the last possible point, stopping all of the cars trying to move the traffic jam forward. It was clear that you had two choices: move over into the right lane early and join the queue, or fly down the left lane, driving past all of the suckers deciding to do the sensible thing. You would miss out being in the huge queue that had formed behind, but you would also be contributing to that queue worsening as you force your way in front of it. I watched as more and more cars followed suit and took the arsehole approach, making the entire situation worse. Some things in the world make you lose all faith in people. For some reason, this situation really did that to me for a few seconds. “Humans are all just self-serving assholes,” I thought to myself, despite it clearly being the minority of people choosing to take the selfish approach. I realised that I was over-generalising and being harsh to my fellow good citizens. I apologised and got my happy hat back on. The world and I were in alignment again.
After getting further out of London, the car gave me a warning that I only had around 50 miles left of petrol in the car. There were two and a half hours left to drive, and over a hundred miles. I told myself that I’d stop at the next motorway services to get fuel up. Lucy had been fast asleep pretty much the whole time. Anna and I had taken her on a big walk that morning with my sister, brother-in-law and their dog to tire her out. It had worked. At one point she had stood up and started to make some strange noises as if she was about to be sick. I started panicking and shouting “PLEASE DON’T THROW UP LUCY” and positioning her blanket in front of her so it could be cleaned up easier if she did. I also thought that she might think twice about it if it was her blanket, but that’s applying too much stupid human logic to a dog situation. She didn’t care less where and when she was sick. I’ve watched her eat her own sick multiple times; nothing puts her off being sick. It occurred to me that she might need a stop as badly as the car needed petrol.
By the time we reached the next motorway services the petrol dial was low and the estimated ‘range’ was 27 miles. The petrol station prices were extortionate – 199.9p per gallon for petrol. What on earth is going on? I was so outraged that I actually Googled ‘Why do petrol station prices vary so much across the UK’ before getting out of the car to fill up. I wanted to learn my rights, and figure out if I had any ability as a consumer to complain about this blatant robbery. I don’t. Apparently, it is mainly down to competition, as well as other factors such as supply and demand, and what price they purchased the fuel at. Of course, prices are generally high at the minute. This petrol station was the only one for miles, though, and didn’t they know it! I was their perfect customer – low on petrol and desperate. Consumer choice doesn’t exist in this situation. My fate was clear; I resentfully filled up the car and felt angry at the man, woman or child that ran this place and decided to exploit me and my fellow unorganised motorists. I swore blind that I would never let my car get this low on fuel again, so I could exercise my consumer right to choose a petrol station with more reasonable prices. I could save 10p per litre at a large supermarket and not give these bloodsuckers my money… until the next time I find myself desperately low on petrol on a motorway. It’ll probably happen sooner than I want to admit.
As I drove along with about an hour and a half left to go, my mind started wandering. I was driving in the middle lane of a three-lane motorway when I noticed a car on my right struggling to overtake me. Our cars were side by side as we flew down the road at 70mph. There was a brief second where my glance met that of the driver. It made me chuckle to myself. I started thinking of the future of driving as we move into a digital age. Roads full of automatically driven cars, moving in perfectly ordered patterns along the roads. Accidents are a thing of the past as the vehicles seamlessly travel at fast speeds, communicating with each other and ensuring that collisions are impossible.
I imagined two cars travelling right next to each other down a motorway, both containing a single passenger; one man and one woman. Their eyes meet as the vehicles zoom along next to each other. There’s a connection. The woman smiles are rolls her eyes. She’s bored of the journey. He laughs and shrugs his shoulders. They turn away, each glancing back just as the other looks away. Is it awkward? Do they both feel the same connection? She worries his car will turn off the motorway soon and she’ll never see him again. She decides to write her number on a piece of paper. Holding it up to the window, she’s written ‘Dinner?’ underneath it. He sees something in his peripheral vision and turns his head again. As he reads it he lets out a big smile and nods his head. How long would the digital, driverless roads have to exist before something like this happened, I wondered. Damn, I’m romanticising the future, aren’t I? Why am I such a hopeless romantic…
My thoughts were interrupted by a cloud of leaves flying out of the back of a van. It was an open-top one with large white bags in the back. One of these bags had blown open in the wind. The contents were blowing all over the road, mostly leaves but also small branches and clippings from plants. It felt like there was a hurricane in the middle of Autumn as the strong wind blew the leaves across the road. I was only 45 minutes from home now. It was at this point that I realised how long I’d spent creating this imaginary world in my head, with driverless roads and a hopeless love story. That was when I decided to challenge myself to write a blog about driving and see if I could make it interesting. I’ve achieved the first of those things, to write a blog about it, I’ll leave the verdict of the other one, whether it is interesting, to the jury, my readers. I’m going to bake something nice and tidy away my things from the trip to London whilst you deliberate.