Driving north on the M5 motorway, the sight of a caravan ahead evoked a melancholic moment, a feeling of time being past, of an ending. Of course, there is no reason whatsoever why the northbound carriageway should have negative connotations, it could be leading to a whole new world of adventure, except that it rarely did.
In a Somerset-centred world, taking roads south or west meant Dorset or Devon or Cornwall, it meant time away, holiday, a different world, if only for a short time. Going north or east meant special times were over and humdrum existence was about to resume. Staring ahead, the words of Treebeard in Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ seemed apposite, Treebeard said he liked going south because it felt like going downhill, and if going south is downhill, then the journey northward must be uphill, it certainly felt thus.
It was odd, the sense of a moment having passed was almost visceral, as if all the return journeys had been rolled together into one, as if diverse points in time had become a single point. Pondering what the caravan owner might have felt like, the thought did occur that maybe he was setting out and that his adventure was ahead, though driving northward on a Saturday evening, it didn’t seem likely that he was travelling on the outward leg of a trip.
It being some forty years and more since those first northbound emotions, it is hard to recall what alternative scenario might have been imagined, probably that there might be the opportunity to turn back the clock and that there be a second chance to enjoy the holiday. Dreams now tend to be more specific – well, one is a dream and that the other is a thought.
The dream is being on the night boat from Rosslare to Fishguard with a sense that there is no need to worry about arriving at 1 o’clock in the morning because my time would now be my own. In the dream, there is a a great sense of relief that there is no more responsibility and nothing more about which to worry. It is an odd dream, suggesting no time and no context.
The thought is driving to the channel port of Ouistreham in Normandy to catch the night boat to Portsmouth and having a meal in one of the town’s restaurants and thinking, ‘No, I’m not going back’ and turning the car and heading back south to the sun. It is a silly thought, why would one drive across France if one intended only to turn around and drive back?
Perhaps everyone has such thoughts, perhaps motorways are dotted with people unhappy about travelling back. Perhaps there are even people who think travelling northward is not such a bad thing to be doing.