27 August 2013

You take the high road and I'll take the low road

I hate motorways. Not just an "I prefer other roads if I can help it" sort of hate, but a full blown "I'm never going to go on another one ever again" sort of hate. I NEVER go on one as a driver and I avoid where at all possible going on them as a passenger. I think I'm a reject from another era and deep down prefer horse and carts to fast speeds.

I can pinpoint exactly where my hatred of motorways stems from. When I was newly married to Greg, I lived in Germany and used to bomb up and down the autobahns to explore other places. I confess to being a bit nervous even then of the lack of speed limits and the sinking feelings when someone came bombing even faster up behind expecting you to pull over even though it would mean swerving into a ten-ton truck you were overtaking, just so they could get past. But the big moment came one early evening in October 1978.

Greg and I had been out visiting another town that day and were on our way back home. It had been a real autumnal sort of day and now it was 6pm, dark, foggy and crisp. The roads were relatively busy and we had overtaken a fair few lorries and other traffic when we came up over a rise and the dark autobahn stretched ahead of us.  In the middle distance there were no cars and everything was swathed in darkness, but in the far distance we picked out a few cars that that seemed to be stationary with their flashers blinking. Greg slowed down as we drove into the dark middle ground between us and them , anticipating there may be trouble ahead. Suddenly Greg slammed on his brakes and swerved to the hard shoulder. There before us, in the dark empty space was the dead body of a horse, lying between the two lanes (this particular motorway only had two lanes as a lot of German motorways do/did). It became apparent very quickly that the horse had been decapitated.

Greg knew that we had overtaken a lot of bunched-up traffic and that they were probably less than a minute away from coming along this bit of road too, so he was fearful of a multiple pile-up. He jumped out of the car, ordering me to stay put, while he took the obligatory emergency triangle out of the boot and headed off on foot back down the motorway in the direction we had come, waving the emergency triangle at passing cars as he went. Fortunately he was wearing his favourite clothing which nearly always included a white Aran sweater, so he hoped to be spotted in people's headlights.

Meanwhile I sat in the car on the hard shoulder, dark fields to my right and a headless horse to my left which was beginning to steam in the cold of the evening. I was terrified Greg would be run over as he tried to do his good deed. What seemed like an eternity passed and Greg returned to the car having eventually got the traffic to slow and stop, aided soon after by the police doing the same. As we eventually set off again gingerly along the slow lane, we soon pieced together what had happened, because there in the throng of cars  we had seen ahead with their lights flashing, were a few people restraining a foal. It would seem the foal had run out onto the motorway from a field, its mother had followed and a car had hit the mother. It was a very sad way to end what had been a lovely day out for us.

After that I started to get very nervous on motorways and hated the speed, the way lorries would pull out, often without indicating and spent the entire journey digging my fingernails into my palms. Journeys between home in Germany and relatives in England would involve at least 8 hours on motorways and I hated them. Once we returned to England, any holidays in Britain began and ended with a nightmare journey for me.  Since Greg has died, I have studiously avoided motorways altogether and if I have had to travel long distances, I have opted for the train.

So it was with great pride and utter terror that I waved Kay off on Saturday to return to uni. She had passed her driving test a few months ago and we had bought a car about a month ago. Because she had been in Borneo she had little chance to drive it or practice in it. Greg's sister volunteered (without any prompting from me) to  come down from Lincolnshire and sit as a passenger with Kay while she drove it ooop north. My heart was in my mouth at the thought of my only-born hurling herself into the mayhem of the M25, then M11 and A1(M) northwards. To start on the M25 as your first ever motorway experience was more than a little brave, I thought.  To crown it all, the weather was typical Bank Holiday weather and the heavens opened with rain like stair-rods from morning to night. The whole world and its granny was on the move too, so that in places motorway speeds were reduced to 20mph or crawling. However, Kay also managed to get up to 70 mph (she said rather too gleefully) and even managed to overtake things too. They broke the journey in Lincolnshire, so Greg's sister could collect her own car and then do the second half of the journey on Sunday with Kay driving in her car behind, thus giving Kay the experience to cope with the drive entirely on her own, albeit following her aunty's car.

When Kay rang me on Sunday afternoon to say she had arrived at the other end safely, I was heartily relieved. She's made of sterner stuff than me. I am indebted to Greg's sister for doing the run with her. I do so wish Greg was still alive as I am sure he would be very proud of them both too.


Furtheron said...

Do you know what has hit me most in this post. Greg was clearly a very caring and compassionate man demonstrated by that selfless act on the autobahn sad that despite that the alcohol claimed him early - it is a devastating thing that continues for the family let behind.

ADDY said...

Furtheron - you are spot on. Greg was caring and compassionate, always putting others before himself, and would not even see an injured bird or animal suffer, without wanting to do the right thing for it. It is indeed a shame, that eventually the drink took over and made him blind to what he was doing to his family. It was so out of character.

Nota Bene said...

Glad Kay made it...the young's belief in their own invincibility no doubt played a part...plus never having seen a horse without its head...

Flowerpot said...

Well done Kay - I used to be terrified of driving but since my husband died I've had to get out there and do it myself and that helped a lot.
Great Post, Addy. x

Anonymous said...

I know it sounds a bit cliche but I reckon Greg was with Kay on that journey, and will be on subsequent ones, too. Motorways are often necessary evils; I drive on them to get from home to my mum's, but up here our nearest motorway is over an hour away so it's not like we encounter them often.

CJ x

Working Mum said...

I drive on the motorway every day to and from work with daughter in the car. It's the M60 in Manchester at rush hour and I am acutely aware of my precious cargo. My dad taught me to leave plenty of time and space to manoeuvre and anticipate other drivers doing stupid moves - very good advice. It's only the odd BMW and Audi that seem to cause problems, just watch out for them!