Thank you to the motorway people who closed the M25 the other night at around midnight at Heathrow Airport. In both directions. Under a Blood Moon, which was lovely but of no help. Grubby yellow signs pointed occasionally to an alternative route for diverted motorists. Not at all diverting. After we were mostly almost in Maidenhead, we decided to turn back and try to get on to the M25 motorway via the M4. This is a lovely road that takes you straight into London instead of Maidenhead. The M4’s charm is only enhanced by the reductions of four lanes to one, and more of the helpful Diverted Traffic signs. Their reappearance was familiar but not particularly useful. You have to be pretty eagle eyed to spot the signs lurking in the bushes, but we soon understood it’s just part of the game. The signs don’t really point you in any handy direction nor are they diverting. They are nonspecific, so could be for all sorts of other long-way-round routes. You could very easily end up back in Maidenhead without realising it. Another even more exciting level in the game.
In the end we stuck with the M4 and decided to give up trying to get onto the M25 at all. It was by this time very late and scope for serious error huge; the spectre of Maidenhead loomed large. Whatever Maidenhead’s charms, the prospect of ending up there instead of at home was enough to keep us focused as we trundled along, heading southeast as the blood moon rose and slowly yellowed behind unseen clouds.
As we approached Chiswick I remembered that I learned to drive on the smokey streets of south London. Surely finding our way on the South Circular Road, aka the A205 was a matter of finding the correct patches of memory and piecing them together. The A205 runs from east London, somewhere around Beckton all the way to the Chiswick Flyover which is where the M4 peters out. If you head west from the Woolwich Ferry you pass through Clapham Common and Wandsworth, Putney and Barnes, and eventually you get to Kew Bridge. Yay! Thank you little grey cells, not so decrepit after all. Must be all that fish oil. We crossed the bridge under the paling half moon and over the Thames, sliding lazy and velvety towards the estuary.
In Gothenburg visiting our children and grandchildren we had been watching back to back episodes of Ted Lasso and his eventually successful Greyhounds, a ficticious football team, AFC Richmond. It was ironic that we found ourselves trawling the streets of Richmond, following its meandering one-way system bereft of useful signs but lined with small shops in irregular shapes and sizes. I had either forgotten that there was a one-way system or it is a new thing. We passed the Rose Theatre where I saw Equus for the first time and Teddington Lock where the fish slapping scene in a 1971 Monty Python episode was filmed. The night was still, warm and the road super slow, thanks to 20 mph speed restrictions and humps in the road. Being so tired it was easy to feel relaxed, especially as there was virtually no traffic. Memory once awake flooded my mind with pictures of so many excursions in and around southwest London, its suburbs and endless Surrey countryside. Our route, flawless we later discovered when we looked at the map, took us past Epsom and skirted the Downs where I used to ride out for various racehorse trainers. Memories of the people I knew and the people I had forgotten about seeped across the images of old places and added new dimensions to the stories sliding around in my sleepy brain.
Someone recently told me that I don’t think like an old person, which might be true. But I can definitely remember like an old person, and being an old person there is a massive stock of stories locked up in all those dozing grey cells. Decades worth. It just took a closed motorway and a desperate desire to get home to have a reason to wake up those old patterns. And I have been thinking about them ever since and wondering where I will find the next story, sunk deep in the past but jumping unexpectedly into the here and now. Now is all that matters, but it sits between then and what’s to come. That’s what makes it so very exciting.