A childhood memory comes back from time to time of sitting in a car in a lay-by. Cars approach at speed and pass by with a ‘whoosh’, sometimes the passing of a lorry causes the car to shake. The location of the lay-by remains clear, beside the road there are signs pointing to Honiton and Exeter in one direction and to Andover and London in the other. The road was the route to London from the West Country, it would have taken us past Stonehenge on its way eastwards.
The road has been the route for many prosaic journeys, but for that moment forty-odd years ago, it had a poetic glow. We were bound for London Airport, a mythical place in the mind of a six year old boy, to meet my aunt and her family who were returning from Canada for a visit. Canada was so far away, and air fares so astronomically high that it felt like going to meet someone returning from outer space. Roadside lay-bys in those times were no more than a widening of the road with an old oil drum serving as a litter bin, but as part of a journey that was important for a small boy, it was a memorable place.
Riding up the autoroute that crosses from the north coast of Spain and heads north-east towards Bordeaux and towards the countries of northern Europe, there is a moment to look around at the trucks and the cars hurrying on their way. The overwhelming majority are going about their daily work; there are trucks from Portugal to the west and from as far as Lithuania in the distant north-east, not much poetic for their drivers in yet another motorway. Yet amongst the cars, might there be a six year old boy looking out the window, noting every passing detail, as his family heads off on an important journey? Might there be cars where there are people who see that road not as just mile upon mile of tarmac, but as the route to excitement, as the way to the magic of childhood summer holidays, or to meeting with people they have no memory of seeing ever before? There are times when to be able to ask people about their journeys would provide tales for countless story books.
The traffic bunches up and reminds me of the dual carriageway passing our house at rush hour, where is everyone going? Even at the quiet times, in the early hours of the morning, there are cars passing up and down the road. Often the night traffic is taxis, taking people to their homes in the neigbourhood, but as the hours pass and the private cars become more frequent, are there people heading southwards to Rosslare and across the sea to who knows where? Are there people driving towards the airport, and flights onward to destinations that can only be imagined? Looking out the window, might there be a glimpse of a small boy taking in each detail of a journey he will still remember in the middle of this century?