The drive from London to the Lake District. Motorways and advertisements. Power stations and dead cities. Heavy clouds in Yorkshire.
North of Ambleside, Lake District
Soft rain drips through the tree canopy and sounds against leaves. The air is cold and fresh. Something in the smells, the wet mud, the pine, the fern and the moss covered tree stumps, tells us we’re far from home. This place is fresher, cooler, cleaner. Above the car, a branch overhangs, rain runs down the limb and pools in the leaves. Eventually the leaves fill, the stem fails and the collected rain drops fall onto the car roof, drumming steady as a metronome.
We left town late. It’s rare for us to run to schedule, this was no exception. We treat time more like a considerate friend than a strict overseer. The motorway was a blur of white lines and tarmac, never-ending. A horizon far more desolate than you find at sea. Billboards and factories and strings of distant towns. Melanin 9 and Nina Simone played through the stereo. In claustrophobic country roads we watched bats, moving like shadows, flutter in and out of the headlights hunting moths. They darted along with the car, a fraction of a second behind their prey.
Leaving Hertfordshire you see farm fields, you escape London’s redbrick satellites. The towns where the terraced streets seem so tired and uniform and the people walk in a daze. It’s part of our nation’s anti-aesthetic, brutalist legacy and the post-war drive for social housing. You pass huge warehouses—white, metal oblongs with brand names plastered across them. Further out you see wind turbines through the trees. You go under a hundred concrete bridges that all look the same.
You see innumerable cars and advertisements. You inhale one advert, exhale the next. Even the hills try to sell you something, if only advertising space. And so one our culture’s great ironies is born; the meta-advertisement. The advert for an advert. We live in an era of minus-purchasing power and commercial assault. Our lives are lived on credit.
Around Birmingham things get ugly. Either side of the motorway is clotted with dull, dead looking tower blocks. They stand as an antithesis to their symbol. These structures reach for the sky but they make it look like a chore; like an old lady struggling to grab an item from the top shelf. Countless people in boxes, on top of and adjacent to others boxes, and every morning someone from the top floor rides a stainless steel elevator that smells of piss, has blinking lights and is scratched with graffiti, to the bottom, and to their work day.
Always you see pylons; spindly towers wrapping around the fields, transistors near the top, white and cylindrical. Always you see service stations. As soon as the doors slide open; more adverts. Even staring you in the face as you piss; directly in front of you, head height above the urinal. The one I stood in front of was selling erectile dysfunction pills for £6 each, promising that I don’t need to worry, they are trustworthy.
After you wash your hands and walk to the dryers you’ll see a vending machine for condoms and ‘Male sex enhancements’, with names like Menhacement.
Classy. Witty. Smart.
And what does it say about us, that we can’t even use the bathroom without being sold enhancements?
Most people don’t speak as if they hate themselves, but their behaviour gives them away. We must be enhanced; if it’s not sexual dysfunctions then we’re not pretty enough, if it’s not that then we’re not strong enough, smart enough, popular enough, rich enough. It’s a beneficial situation for those who feed their families with advertising dollar. Then again, those same marketing executives are suckers to their own insecurity inducing ads. Our culture is one with a void at the centre of it. It is one that screams its own inadequacy to the stars, that plasters it from town to town and everywhere in between, to make sure you don’t forget.
This makes getting away even more important.
Sometimes you pass power stations, pollution spews from the tops of huge chimneys. You see forests of brown and grey coarse metal, linking pipes and wires for some electrical substation. This all sits amongst the fields like the bruised eye socket and crooked nose of an assault victim.
By the time we made it to Yorkshire the clouds were heavy, dark grey masses covering the horizon.
In our spot, our car park for the night, the rain is heavier now. It spatters through the sun roof onto my hand, and through the stuffiness of the car. The windows are fogged up from the warmth of our breath and the dabs of water that land on my skin feel refreshing. Grounding. Here I am. The woods around us are a shroud of black that creaks in the wind.
Even despite what lay ahead, I felt melancholy today. Leaving your home to go on an adventure—to run alongside new narratives and to flavour the stories of others – feels just as bitter sweet as returning.