Nowhere In Particular
Sometimes even I found myself hard to understand. Here was I, trundling up the M1 in my clapped-out 4x4 at half past three in the morning, and I was enjoying it! The car had no real creature comforts, no suspension to speak of and definitely no sound insulation, but I was enjoying myself.
The motorway was surprisingly clear at that time in the morning. The only really discernible visual elements were the cats' eyes marking the lanes, getting progressively brighter as they whizzed towards me, reflecting the light from my dipped headlamps.
Fifty miles an hour may seem like a pedestrian pace to a lot of you - hell, it usually did to me - but the drone of the tired straight six diesel seemed most comfortable at that speed and at that time I felt as if I had a symbiotic relationship with the car: It being happy made me feel happy. It sounded totally unstressed, just going about it's raison d'etre in the way it had done for the last sixteen years.
A pair of headlights gradually approached me from behind, the heater matrix in the rear windscreen casting a set of horizontal lines over the dash and up on to the roof as the vehicle came closer. This was followed by an amber flashing as the vehicle signalled it was about to overtake. As it pulled along side me, I could see it was a large truck, it's huge engine rattling the windows and beating upon my diaphragm as it lethargically pulled past me, the sides of the trailer dotted with small amber marker lamps.
Once the truck was about five yards infront of my bull bar, I pulled on the indicator stalk, switching my headlamps to main beam for a couple of seconds. In response, the truck indicated and then pulled across in front of me, flashing his indicators on alternate sides for a couple of seconds as a thankyou for telling him he was clear of me.
Even that made me feel good: That a simple flash of my headlights could make someone else's job easier seemed to partially scratch an itch that I never really knew I had. All that I did know was it made me feel good in some small way. I smiled.
I suppose I'd better introduce the freak you're reading about: My name's Harry and I'm a 21-year-old pseudo-student. I say "pseudo" because I had just finished the first year of my University degree in Electrical Engineering and made the rather scary decision to go into obeyance (put the course on hold) for a year.
You see, University wasn't really working out for me: Two years ago, I had passed my 'A' levels with a reasonable set of results, but not reasonable enough to get into my first choice of university: Edinburgh. Instead I deferred entry for a year and went to work in an IT department in a local company having been accepted by my second choice, Brunel in West London.
I can honestly say that the gap year really opened my eyes - working in a corporate environment was such a far cry from the public-school education I had received - it was WONDERFUL!
To cut a long story short, by the time I went to Brunel, I was fairly sure that I had chosen the wrong course, but when I brought it up with my tutor, he reminded me that I was there due to the University's kindness alone and beggars could not be choosers.
So I applied myself to the best of my ability but I was simply not enjoying it for a combination of two reasons: One - I had experienced how much I enjoyed working with computers and networking, and two - I had a terrible secret that only I knew about that was cramping my social style to the extreme.
Back in boarding school, there was no social life to speak of outside of lessons: Sure, I had plenty of friends and we would sit and talk, kick a football around or study, but that was about it.
Out in the big, bad world of Uni, people went out to clubs and pubs, pulled girls and screwed them senseless, both parties enjoying themselves to the extreme.
But I found it difficult to join in with this. I am gay.
In my own mind, I had set out not to hide who I really was as I had done for the last twenty years - I was going to be out and proud, rejoice in who I was and be accepted.
"What, you gay or something?"
"What? NO! 'Course not."
That had done it. I had denied it the first time someone had queried my sexuality, even if he was just joking. Just as I felt I was riding out of the gates of the Castle of Repression, the portcullis slammed down infront of me and the drawbridge to freedom well and truly raised. Spineless. Truly spineless.
As the year progressed, I found everyone around me making good friends with each other while I simply made acquaintances. No one ever said anything bad to me or was unkind to me - I was just "there" - present, but passive.
So, I decided to try something else - something completely different. I would go and start a business based on my knowledge of computers and one of my favourite hobbies: Film making. I applied for a year of obeyance, duly got it, and found myself free to do whatever I wanted.
It was a feeling like no other. For the first time in my life, I had complete control over my destiny. My future was now uncertain - I had swayed from the parentally-devised roadmap of completing higher education and was now working off my own initiative. But I was also slightly apprehensive: What if things didn't work out? What if everything just came crashing down around me? I suppose that was half of the thrill. Besides, I could always go back to Brunel a year hence and carry on where I left off. But I had a feeling that wouldn't happen.
And that's how I found myself trundling up the M1 at half past three on a fresh June morning. I had completed my final end-of-year examination the previous day, loaded the car with an assortment of kit from Uni (namely some camping gear, clothes and my prized possession - a broadcast quality Sony 3CCD Betacam SP camera and tripod), pointed it northwards and began to drive.
I wasn't quite sure where I was going or what I was going to do when I got there, but then I realised that's why I was enjoying it so much. No agenda, no schedule - just a completely blank sheet of paper on which I could doodle any way I saw fit. I hadn't felt this good in years!
I suddenly realised the amber "Fuel Low" warning light was starting to flicker on the dash, bringing me from my inexplicably euphoric state back to reality. Thankfully, I had got fed up with the lies the car's fuel gauge told on a regular basis and had adjusted it so the light came on when there was about thirty-five miles of fuel left. This was an immense improvement over the light meaning the vehicle was running on fumes or had a hundred miles left, choosing whichever took its fancy at the time. In my headlights I spotted one of the blue "SERVICES" signs, indicating that the next "Welcome Break" was in ten miles. Just right - I'd fill up and get some shut-eye, only just realising how tired I was.
About twelve minutes later, the countdown stripes for the service exit appeared and I pulled off the motorway, the car doing it's best DC-10 impression as the revvs dropped off, the noise level falling to something that could be almost considered socially acceptable.
I pulled into the garage forecourt infront of one of the diesel pump and killed the engine, shivering as I stepped out into the cool morning air. I unlocked the fuel cap, inserted the nozzle and cast my eyes heavenward as I noticed the extortionate 78.9 pence per litre they were charging for diesel. Resigning myself to the fact there was little I could do about it, I squeezed the handle and watched the digits spin on the display at a wallet-batteringly alarming rate.
Forty-two quid and a Snickers bar later both the car and myself were fed and parked in the most secluded corner of the Service Station's car park I could find. Sleepily, I reached over into the back seat and pulled the sleeping bag over on top of me. One of the things I liked about this car was that with one pull of the seat adjustment lever, the front seats fell flush with the back producing a surprisingly comfortable bed. I smiled once again to myself and drifted into a peaceful, dreamless sleep.
I was woken the following morning by the deep, boneshaking rattle of a truck accelerating past me. Drowsily, I turned the ignition key to the ACC position and squinted at the fluorescent digits that appeared on the radio's display. 6:38. The sun was already making its presence very well known, its beams filtering through the pollution-scathed tree I was parked under.
I sat up and ran my fingers through my hair. It matched my eyes at a dark hazel colour and, having been persuaded to do so by my cousin, was growing longer than I had ever been allowed to before. Hell, it almost reached my collar! My shift of position was enough to wake my digestive system, it announcing its presence by rumbling loudly. Not being able to disobey such a direct order, I pulled the seat upright again, retrieved my wallet from the footwell, got out of the car and headed for the main buildings of the services.
I meandered into the lobby and followed the signs to the cafeteria, the smell of coffee and things being fried proving to be a source of even more culinary frustration to my tummy, making it rumble and groan with renewed vigour. Being a little on the heavy side for my liking, I was making a concerted effort to eat more conscientiously than I usually did: The eggs, bacon, sausage, fried bread etc. seemed horribly tempting, but will power won out and I settled for a bowl of meusli, glass of milk and a round of toast.
I loaded the items onto my tray and meandered over to the till where a rather cute lad (couldn't have been more than seventeen) was looking insanely bored. He was sitting on his tall stool, heels of his shoes hooked over the crossbar about two-thirds of the way up, legs moving to and fro in an attempt to waft away the tedium as if it were a nasty odour.
I placed my tray in front of him and he rapidly punched in the components of my breakfast on the membrane keypad.
"Four pounds fifteen please, sir,"
I dragged my wallet out of my pocket and fished the over-used debit card from it's pocket. By over-used, I mean to the extent that the mag stripe had been worn off the back of the card, ensuring that whoever was unfortunate enough to deal with me had to key in the sixteen digit account number.
"It may never happen," I grinned at him.
He looked slightly puzzled and then cottoned on to the fact I was referring to his vacant expression. "S'pose not, but you got to be prepared for it, haven't you?" he smiled back. He had the sort of smile that could melt ice in the antarctic at the depth of winter.
The cash register beeped as it complained it had about as much chance of reading the card as the pope did of endorsing contraception, so he began typing the numbers.
"You been on long?"
"Nah - only a half hour. Got another seven to go yet."
"Jesus... I take it job satisfaction isn't a term known too well around here."
"Oh, it is - just by the lack of it."
The receipt printer whirred into life and spat out an authorisation slip for the payment.
"Check the amount and autograph here please," he said, handing me a pen.
I scribbled the few arbitrarily placed loops (that in no way resembled any letter of the alphabet from any language you care to mention) that was my signature on the slip of paper. He dutifully checked the loops against their counterparts on the back of the card, then hit the enter button to sap even more funds from my flagging bank account.
"Good luck with the rest of the day," I grinned.
"I'll most definitely need it - bye for now."
I picked up my tray and meandered over to a table near the window so I could watch the cars rocketing up and down the motorway as I ate. Even though cars travelling at eighty miles an hour are not to be trifled with, the white noise generated by their tyres relaxed me rather well as I began to munch on my meusli.
Twenty minutes later I felt suitably refreshed and awake enough to continue my journey to wherever I was going. I stood up, nodded at the guy on the checkout (who smiled broadly back at me - why don't I meet people like him on a day-to-day basis?) and made my way back to the car park. It was now bright daylight outside and, albeit a bit nippy, had the makings of a glorious day.
Just the feeling of the fresh air and sunshine lightened my spirits no end, so I decided to start to document the trip. I unlocked the car and fished out the little Hi8 camera from its bag and attached it to the custom made (cobbled together is probably a better term) bracket on the dash, then twisted it round so it was pointing at me rather than the road.
I climbed back into the car and fired it up, producing the customary cloud of black smoke from the tailpipe as I did so, then cleared my throat and switched the camera on.
"Day... uh... two, I s'pose - I'm at a service station off the M1 and I'm just about to rejoin the motorway..." I pushed the gearshift into first and pulled out of the car park an onto the slip road. Once I had rejoined the appreciably bigger stream of traffic, I continued to talk.
"I'm going to be completely frank - what's the point of having a diary if you can't confide in it? Well, I dunno what the hell I'm doing driving to nowhere in particular. I guess I'm hoping I can clear my thoughts somewhat... That guy in the restaurant was cute..."
I fell silent for what seemed like ages, but it was probably only a minute or so. Problem is, a minute on video IS ages.
"Ugh - the moment I start talking to you I can't think of anything to say." I turned and looked at the camera, it's single glass eye staring back at me, the only movement being the slight turning of the focus ring as it tried to fine tune the sharpness of the image to the best of its ability.
"Guess I'll talk to you later," I sighed, and shut the camera off.
Well, that's the first chapter of my first story. Let me know what you think - good or bad - by mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I've written quite a few chapters, so I'll keep posting them to Nifty bit by bit.