Friday was always going to be a challenge. It started with Hope trustees meeting at 9.30 in the morning, in our new offices on the far side of Birmingham. I gave myself an extra half hour to drive and, what with Birmingham rush hour traffic, arrived frazzled just in the nick of time. An afternoon of bits and pieces had me leaving the building slightly later than I’d hoped. A visit to my mom in her nursing home managed to be both too long and yet nowhere near long enough. Then packing, because I going to be in York for a couple of days, then camping. I can’t estimate time. Packing is one of those ‘think of a number and double it’ things to me. 9pm and I’m finally ready. According to sat nav I’ll be there at midnight. At least it’s well past rush hour so the roads will be clear.
The roads. What a saga. M6 north. When has that ever been clear? I used to work night shifts at the cafe at Hilton Park services. 3 in the morning? Still they came… Anyway, road works at Stafford, then an accident, then the entire section from Stoke to the Knutsford turn off is being upgraded to smart motorway. How smart do we want our motorways to be? Honestly? What level of IQ is appropriate for what is, in essence asphalt? Anticlockwise round a blissfully quiet M60 to the M62. Which is closed. Totally shut. No way in. It’s midnight, and I want to be in bed. So back round the same M60 only clockwise this time. I’m diverted through chadderton, where I become aware of my need for both petrol and coffee. Out of the dark looms the twin arches of a McDonald’s. Needs must. And at least the car park has plenty of spaces. Which turns out to be because it’s just closed. The people inside are all wielding mops. And there is no petrol station. But according to sat nav there is one in a couple of miles. Which is closed. Things close after midnight. Who knew?
Finally I get back onto the M62, a couple of junctions on from where it was closed. About 20 miles to the services at Hartshead Moor, my petrol will last till there. The little light has only just started flashing
So the 62 was closed in two places? This time we’re dragged off the motorway into winding little Pennine roads, through the sleeping villages of Calderdale. Well, they would have been sleeping if a constant crawl of stop-start cars, vans and diesel-spewing HGVs weren’t inching through, 50 yards of revving between 3 minutes of idling. There is no signage, but you just need to follow the red tail lights.
Another closed petrol station. And the stop-start can’t be the most fuel efficient way to get up and down these hills. If I run out of petrol on one of these narrow, winding roads, how happy will the hundreds of tired, frustrated drivers begins me be if they have to wait till morning for me to get out of their way? What’s the best tactic? Flee into the hills or beg for mercy? I’m stopped by a traffic light just outside of Halifax. And there are no tail lights to follow. It’s a complex junction, there isn’t an obvious routeand I was so deep in my growing Yorkshire gothic fantasy they I didn’t watch which way the cars in front went. There are just ghostly, empty streets. Lights go green. I pick a direction at random. Nothing follows me. I need to stop and think. Inspiration strikes. On my phone (with signal! Thank you!) I Google the nearest 24 hour petrol station. It’s 3 miles away. I punch the postcode into my sat nav and, fixated on the blinking fuel warning light, make my way to a well lit, gloriously open forcourt.
Fuelled, even at 2pm this seems doable. York into the sat nav and off we go. 10 minutes later I rejoin the M62. Even though I don’t need petrol, I stop at Hartshead Moor for coffee and a snack. There are other bewildered travellers there. The woman behind the counter tells me everyone had been talking about it.
“We should form a support group for survivors” I say.
And then I stop and listen to my own words.
I think of other survivors. Other friends. Other journeys whose horror so transcends my minor inconvenience.
At 3 I get to York, still reflecting.