Cardiff and back

I nipped to Cardiff this evening to take pictures for my documentary project. I was a little nervous about the trip, but it was fine: crossing the Severn Bridge at dusk was really quite lovely, and the drive into the centre of town almost completely painless. Less so was my choice of car park, which came to £11.20 for three hours. Yeesh. I took enough project images to make the trip worthwhile, thankfully. Before leaving I nipped across town to check out the Torchwood Plass, then had a can of Red Bull to keep me awake on the journey home.

It has yet to wear off. I am currently more than a little nuts (it probably didn’t help that I skipped tea). Bit weird to be simultaneously hyper and sleepy.


A couple of years ago I introduced you to Boris. Today, meet Ken:1


I finish house-sitting today. Possibly. The lane looks like this:


and it’s anyone’s guess whether my little Micra will make it to the main roads. I’ve waited for passing tractors to clear a couple of grooves, which means I’m pretty late and my ticket for The News Quiz this evening will probably go to waste 🙁 Damn.

  1. both named – I thought – randomly, and I have only just now spotted the connection. My subconscious is weird. []

Driven to distraction

I had a truly excellent weekend in Devon: great company, Pixar, monkeys and Katie Melua. That’s a pretty much perfect combination right there.

To keep me entertained on the drive I bought the audiobook of On Chesil Beach. I thought this was a good plan – I always like Ian McEwan, and this was an unabridged version of a fairly short novel. So I set off, windows wide open to stop me burning up, having set up an iPod playlist with a bit of music and a podcast for when I needed to concentrate, then the book once I reached the motorway. This worked great, and the book started just as I hit the traffic jam.

I don’t know if you’ve read On Chesil Beach. It’s about two virgins with sexual hangups on their wedding night. It’s far from obscene, but has a few choice phrases in the first ten minutes.

Couldn’t do it. You know how in heavy traffic you always end up next to the same cars? All their windows were open too. I tried, but I had to turn it off. ‘Engorged penis’ was the final straw. What a wuss. It was stop-and-start for much of the M25, so I gave up – I’ll listen to it when the world’s cooled somewhat.

Lots to write about, but I’m a little bothered this evening and the words won’t flow. More soon.

Not just crows

A local village has an annual tradition of building scarecrows. The results are placed by the road / on public benches / leaning against lamp posts, for everyone to see. It’s obvious that a lot of work goes into them, and I’m sure it’s a lovely endeavour for the whole family. However, driving through this village at 0030 creeped the living shit out of me. *shudder*.

B0rking the default

In 2004 I spent five weeks driving across America. I don’t remember struggling with the ‘wrong’ side of the road other than at roundabouts, of which there were, mercifully, only two. Once home I pulled onto the right-hand side exactly one time, which scared me enough that it hasn’t happened since. The one thing that broke and never came back, though, was instinctively knowing which side of the motorway I should be on. Not, like, which slip road do I use, but whether it’s the left or right lane that’s for standard, non-overtaking, driving. I regularly have flashes of ‘hang on, should I be here?’, and need a moment to figure it out. I haven’t yet got it wrong – subconscious seems to know what it’s doing – but the certainty has gone.

It’s exactly like how I instinctively know left and right, but east and west need cognition. The default motorway lane switched from instinctive to cognitive, and hasn’t changed in four years.

I bring this up because last weekend I used a foreign keyboard for two solid days. Along with various cool cyrillic characters, it switched the @ and “. I had to type a lot of @s, and this entire week I’ve had the same cognitive pause with every email address. Normally I’d think it temporary, but it feels identical to the motorway thing. Damn it. That could get annoying.

Uninvited passenger

I drive the road between Stratford and Solihull eight times a week. I have done for over two years. It’s interesting to me how every journey will still bring some new experience.

It was nearly midnight, and raining heavily. The wipers were on and working hard, and I noticed a particularly persistent clump of bird shit clinging to my windscreen. I hate cleaning cars, so I quite like it when the rain does the job for me. I hoped I’d have a sparkling view by the time I got home. A few minutes later the clump detached itself and lowered abruptly onto the dashboard.

I smiled at my mistake, and continued to drive through the countryside outside town. A few minutes later streetlights appeared, and I spotted the spider.

I used to seriously dislike spiders. I’m a bit better now, and sometimes even find small ones quite cute. But if they have bulbous bodies, forget it. I don’t pretend this is rational. I don’t seriously think they’re poisonous. They’re just nasty. The one on my dashboard had voluminous lumps for a torso. Urgh.

An unpleasant spider crawling over your dashboard is quite distracting, but just about bearable. But when it starts heading for the steering wheel, something has to be done.

I pulled over at the first opportunity, opened the window and turned on the light. The spider veered and headed towards the radio. I pulled a piece of paper from my pocket. The spider started to slip into the crack of the cd-box above my radio. He was half inside when I clicked open the sprung flap, intending to scoop him up onto the paper and out of the window.

Did you spot my mistake?

The sprung flap. The spider pinged into the car. His initial trajectory was underneath the light, so I knew he was somewhere in the front, and not on me. But that’s all I knew, and I couldn’t find him.

I have never itched so much in one five-minute journey.


Just came within centimetres of hitting a deer at 60mph. Damn thing ambled out in front of me, slow as you like, and after a split second of braking I realised it was way too close and just managed to swing around it. Can’t have missed it by much, and the back of my car was going on its own little adventure for a while there. I don’t think it was big enough that I’d have been in danger, but I’d have wrecked the deer, the car and my week. There aren’t any signs down that stretch of A-road, but I’ll certainly be watching out in future.

Reaching the wedding

I wasn’t ready to drive to London late on Thursday, so headed straight to the Harrow campus on Friday morning. After a full day of lectures I met up with Abi at half 6, then we headed off on the supposedly twenty-minute journey over to our friends in Kilburn. Having never really driven in London before, I came to this conclusion: I have no clue how people do it without dying.

It was mental. I’d wait for the exit to clear at a yellow box-junction and have three people overtake. People jumped red lights as I was trying to turn right in front of them, then took umbrage at my being in their way. And don’t even mention roundabouts. We reached our destination an hour later, then set off for Devon at about 2000. We arrived at 0300, after hitting two major traffic jams on the M4.

I’m normally ok in long queues of traffic, but watching the SatNav’s ETA tick over into the early hours was a little depressing. So, I kept the others and myself entertained with classy music, and taught them the Norbert Dentressangle game1, which I’m sure they greatly appreciated. I, of course, won the latter 🙂

Next morning it was up at 0700 for the wedding, and it turned out to be a lovely day indeed.

  1. three points for the first person who shouts ‘nooooooooooooooorbert dentressangle’ on first sight of a truck []

M6 morning

I’d agreed to drive to Liverpool this morning, on an errand to pick up some hard-to-find tiles for a friend. Driving distances doesn’t bother me much – I just plug in Hettie the TomTom, stick on some podcasts and I’m away. Usually.

I was up at 0645, and in the car half an hour later. I haven’t replaced Hettie’s stolen holder yet, so I had a wodge of blu-tak to hold her down. Once attached to the dashboard she wouldn’t boot up. I figured I must have left the power on – satnavs by their nature don’t have auto power-offs – so I reached for the charger, couldn’t find it, and realised after five seconds that it was probably stolen too. Don’t know why it took me so long to realise. Hmmm. Problem.

Contrary to popular opinion, satnav users are perfectly capable of navigating by other means. My map-reading skills have always been ok – it’s remembering the instructions while driving that I struggle with. I can remember maybe three steps, but place / road names simply fall out of my head after that. Thankfully, hurried consultation with the ever-so-clever Google Maps (you can drag the planned route around, and it’ll re-calculate timings!) revealed the entire drive to Liverpool consisted of “M6 J21a. M62 to end. Right, second major left, look for shop.” So for the first time in three years I drove somewhere without a little voice telling me the way. Admittedly I lost confidence on the second major left and pulled over to check. But still, I’m chuffed that I managed it without getting lost at all.

I arrived home around 1400, which wasn’t too bad. By this afternoon I’d forgotten that I even went…By this afternoon I’d forgotten that I’d been…I’d forgotten, by this afternoon, that… I apparently can’t do tenses/elegance tonight.

Made it home

After realising I had no contact lens fluid at my parents’, and being warned never ever to sleep in them by my optician, I risked the journey home. A kind RAC man turned me around before I hit the 0.7m of water at Henley-in-Arden, but the motorway was clear, albeit with a large number of breakdowns. The A46 into Stratford was a worry but turned out to be clear for the most part. It never fails to amaze me that, despite truly appalling weather conditions, people are still prepared to roar past me in the last metres before a blind corner. It’s mind-numbingly stupid on a clear day, but with that much water on the roads it’s pretty much criminal.

I didn’t get a good look at the Avon, but it was peeking over the edge of the manual river-boat crossing, which is certainly as high as I’ve seen it. Yikes. I also took a pass around the local Waterstone’s, just to see what was happening. Despite the rain there were plenty of people, some in costume, milling around and it all looked like good fun. I was jealous and half-considering joining them just for the atmosphere, when somebody shouted ‘HARRY POTTER’ from one end of the street. They could so easily have followed it with ‘lives’ or ‘dies’, and it’s not worth the risk.