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Friday, 8 July 2011


Finally, finally, the lights turned to green, signalling that our lane could turn right. Not a big ask. My erratic heart was lulled into hope that something as crazy as actual movement might be on the cards. I was almost hysterical with what betrayed me as misplaced relief. Silly me.
Late and stuck in traffic, I had just spent half my life behind the most impossible old man.

The car at the front of the queue might have looked disconcertingly empty but it was headed up by a shrivelled homunculus consisting of a ropey cardigan and a flat cap and a sackful of crappy driving habits. I know. I was there. A plume of smoke and the irritable shucking of the fag ash out the window was all that proved that someone was putatively alive behind the wheel. Normal life form was undetectable in terms of things like motion.
The lights had changed, and his car stalled. Again.
The long tail of vehicles behind bobbed about cartoonishly, heads within craning for a look. Salesmen revving.

His engine retched into a kind of life, plunged forwards and died again. I weakened under a wash of adrenaline and panic, twitching with impatience. The driver’s door opened and a bony, shiny shin, topped off with a loafer, poked out, followed by the creature himself. Age shall wither him and custom soon staled. Bloody hell. I’m sympathetic to a T, but.
Bent double he shuffled, slipper slow, cardigan sliding from his shoulder, down to the boot which he opened with a hopeless arthritic paw.
There’s nothing in the boot, I seethed, nothing. Get back behind the bloody wheel.

The lights slid through green to amber to red. I sat back in my seat and wondered about weeping. The junction involved a four million way combination of goes and stops and filters, ten seconds of which came our way, finishing off with a completely unnecessary free-for-all half an hour stop for pedestrians, of whom there are always none. None. Not one, ever.
We sit there, aging, heading towards death, our petrol leaking from our tanks, obedient to coloured bulbs.

A bicycle – oh, woeful sight – then wove its precarious way past and popped itself comfortably in the red zone ahead of the old chap, bang in the middle. Vicious vibes (mine) made their way sharpish through the ether and the woman turned her headscarfed head, blinked, took in the queue and, wonder of wonders, wiggled obediently to the left.

The old man meanwhile stared blankly into the boot, like Lolly at her empty bowl; you could see him thinking, “Oh?” Then “No.” Then “What brings me here?” He gave a theatrical shrug, slammed the boot with unlikely strength and lurched back to the car. He sat down – need I say ‘slowly’? sinking into what had to be a pile of cushions to give him the requisite height to see out. His right leg was hanging still out of the door. Shut the fucking door, I was seething. Shut … The….

The lights changed to green. He pulled his leg in; reluctantly. It bent in slow motion. He then reached for the door handle without looking for it, his hand just batting blindly in its vague direction.
I thought I might scream. I did, inwardly, hurting my throat.
There was no movement.
The old fuck, I thought, snarling; my conscious being a maelstrom of rage, my unconscious part busily replenishing the adrenaline levels on a second by second basis. No movement: the car sat stock still, but I sensed the seat belt being subject to some sort of play, a half-hearted tugging. The green light shone bright. Not the fucking seat belt, COME ON!!! I didn’t dare beep, knowing it would occasion a slow, slow, puzzled turning of the head.
Nan wobbled off on her bike, some freakish cousin of science keeping her upright. Knowing the sequence of lights, I knew we were into the home run, the few seconds allotted for us, presumed reasonable drivers, to turn right was about to expire.
Cars started beeping behind me, in the mirror I could see hands thrown up in the air. The slow tortoise head began to make its interminable turn. I fell on my car horn almost sobbing with rage. He started the engine. And the car bounced away, coughing and spluttering. I revved like a boy and threw the car into gear ... as the amber light came on. Was the flow in traffic flow again to be denied?

The old man finally noticed Nan weaving about like a pisshead and slammed on the brakes, guessing that just the ten foot clearance wasn’t sufficient in Senior Land. Anything might happen in a world where headscarfs and flat caps are part of the uniform. It would be me ending up with the liability but I managed to avoid ramming into his vile beige boot and the lights swept from amber to red leaving the three of us blocking the route of the oncoming traffic whose turn it now was, all three lanes of it with their left and their right and their straight ahead priorities.

A volley of horns and flashing lights came our way. Nan panicked and put her foot down on the ground to steady herself on the bike. The old fucker stalled. I thought it would be easier to die, just to have a heart attack and let some nice chap in an ambulance take us all away – at least we’d get a blue light right of passage, but I swung my way out and round past the pair of them, glared at a white van man bold enough to dare think he might slide ahead of me and stormed down the road, giddy at attaining 29mph.
At last!

And ahead of me, encouraged by the surprising absence of traffic, a tractor had edged its way, sliding happily in to burble down the road, king of the road, dragging his clattery thing noisily and enormously and painfully slowly behind him. Within seconds the convoy built. I hovered behind him, tight and close, eager for a chance to overtake. None. My mirror told me that Nan was drawing near on my inside.
The tractor was going slower than Nan. The tractor driver was presumably reading his paper and eating his sarnie.
I was spared direct line of ole Tortoise in my mirror, by dint of Van Man having shoved his furious way in between us.
We were a grim line, a mix of rage and incompetence.

A hundred yards on were some pedestrian activated lights. Oh joy. A trio of hoodies slouched by, one hand of one little bastard reaching out idly to set the lights to change. They did. The tractor driver could have sailed through, I would surely have done the same, but no. And so we sat there, my insides rotting, my hope of a timely arrival dying on the vine, awaiting the crossing of no one until the last second, the very last second, when the thing was beeping and my hand was pressing on the gear stick.

At which point a sturdy lass, sense dimmed by sleeplessness, trudged into view leaning on a pram and dragging a toddler. Her expression brightened at spotting the lights on green. Technically not green at all, let it be known (indeed I would have welcomed the chance to deliver a quick lecture), but flashing, which meant red for her.
Her thinking was clear: surely this long line of friendly motorists wouldn’t mind while she took her time in crossing? After all, what’s the hurry? Who would begrudge Mum with her pram and a little one, too? And if the little one dropped his Bunnie and burst into tears and Mum had to set the pram on the brakes and do a comedy trot, remarkable for its tardy inefficiency, back to pick up Bunnie and squander a few seconds in comfort and reassurance, root around in her too-tight trews for a grubby hanky, well, who’s to mind?

Further down the road, my future lay in the form of more of the same, fresh but familiar hell, a comforting sight, that of motorised nerves, of a learner driver, lurching from the left jerking into the traffic, grateful for a long gap in which to execute such a tricky manoeuvre. The tractor pulled in to a bus stop and wearily waved us past and I pulled up behind the learner.

There was a sign. “Watch Your Speed!” it growled. “30!” Chance would be a bloody thing.


Sarah said...

Oh my days! I just laughed until I almost peed. Brilliant post! Love your blog! Please don't die - the world will ve an infinitely duller place without you!

sea-blue-sky & abstracts said...

Ten out of ten Milla!

We've all been there - he of the cloth cap has been in front of me at the petrol station more than once.

Described perfectly - I feel your pain, he he. x

Preseli Mags said...

Utter genius. I adored it, especially 'obedient to coloured bulbs'. I would laugh but it's too true. I agree with Sarah, please don't die, not even for the blue light right of passage. (Although I wonder what would have happened had an ambulance or fire engine in a hurry joined into that happy throng.)

Frances said...

I don't know Milla, but this post has almost got be praising my daily subway train commute, even if the summer heat has got us melting on concrete platforms waiting for the airconditioned train to eventually arrive. Bad hair, bad thoughts, most limbs. I try various forms of meditative techniques, mixed up with artistic observation of my fellow platform wilters. What are they wearing. Male, female, hair right down to their toes. Is green the toenail lacquer choice this year? How does that man look cool in his suit jacket? Really. I study tattoos, so glad not to have any myself.

Gosh. As I get older and know I might sometime live in a place where I might need to own a car and actually drive, I wonder if might have left it too late? Don't think I could afford a chauffeur, might I find a husband with an unspoilt driving record?


Frances said...

"moist limbs" ... or should it have been most limbs moist!

Milla said...

thanks y'all. Really, so much of life is so stressful, no wonder I need to take to my sofa. Shamelessly I am going to insert here a dear comment from Twitter which will otherwise slide into the ether: from @littlestuff, a most sensible soul:

"Can I just say this post from @Milla64 is a thing of genius. Sheer tortuous, snarly-filled genius. I love it. And her"

ah, sigh. No plans to die yet, rage-fuelled heartattacks notwithstanding.

hairyfarmerfamily said...

*nods enthusiastically*
I have BEEN behind that old bugger, having this self-same angst.

We tend to call them Dribblies now, after a friend of ours casualy referred to older drivers as 'Dribbly Dicks'...

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Haven't we all been there?! And those tractors.... What a pain they are....

CJ xx

A Cuban In London said...

I've been there myself so many time. And like you I debate whether to think in a more sympathetic way or let it all off my chest. Believe me, sympathy has a threshold. If I find myself driving at a lower speed (maybe I'm carrying passengers who frown even at the 20mph speed limit in residential areas) then, I pull in and let the car behind pass. Easy. Just don't get in the bloody way.

This was a funny tale. especially this: "And if the little one dropped his Bunnie and burst into tears and Mum had to set the pram on the brakes and do a comedy trot, remarkable for its tardy inefficiency, back to pick up Bunnie and squander a few seconds in comfort and reassurance, root around in her too-tight trews for a grubby hanky, well, who’s to mind?" Been there, happened to me, bought the T-shirt and sold it on eBay. But, I guess, the situation wasn't too mirtful for you.

Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Joanne said...

And this would be why I only like driving in London - you never get over 15 anyway, so it's relatively stress free.

Mind you, because of that I suspect that when I do drive anywhere else I am the indecisive old fucker in front.

Exmoorjane said...

Poor old fucker, says the sturdy lass, sense dimmed by sleeplessness... You are a bad woman, Milla Cuntrylite...(oops, that was a genuine typo but I think I'll let it stay in penance for all your fucks).