Objects In The Rear View Mirror

The first car I bought with my own money was a Mark One Ford Focus.

There are many Foci in the world, but this one was mine.

Having decided that a Focus was going to be the car for me, I spent months scouring local dealerships, newspaper classifieds and Autotrader for the right car. Eventually a dealer called me with a candidate. And there it was: a sky blue three door in 2.0 Zetec trim. Despite spending five years gracing the surface of this planet whilst being blasted with wind, rain, road salt and solar radiation, the Focus looked as if it had rolled out of the Saarlouis factory just last week. An inspection and test drive confirmed my impressions: it was a peach.

Farty Weldman.

Haggling was futile. The dealer could see in my eyes that I was going to buy the car. As a sop he offered £150 trade in for my eleven year old Fiesta, which felt like a victory considering it was mostly made of rust. A couple of months previously I had also driven it into the back of a Rover 200 whilst amber gambling, leaving the headlights pointing in two different directions like Marty Feldman’s eyes. Monies exchanged, the Focus was mine.

Considering the time and effort expended looking for exactly the right car, you might have expected me to do a little dance of joy, or to walk with my fists held aloft to the Rocky theme tune. In reality the afterglow of my new purchase faded quickly.

Often when a person spends a disproportionate amount of time engaging in a particular activity, it is as a displacement for something else; so it was with my perpetual search for Focus. Hitherto, my chief activity in the Fiesta had been shuttling back and forth to see my girlfriend, who lived some 50 miles away up north. Despite the distance, we had been in a relationship for the best part of my 20s. But something had gone awry. Life changes had recently brought us closer geographically, but in other regards we were slowly growing apart. Something was missing. The impetus had gone.

My car purchase concluded, my attention returned to resolving the situation with my girlfriend one way or the other. And so a week after consigning the old Fiesta packhorse to the knacker’s yard, I set off from my home in Leicester to Nottingham where she lived. It was the first time I had made the journey in the Focus; it transpired that it would be the last time I would make that same journey by any make or model.

Neither of us had ever been particularly adept at showing our emotions. The back and forth of our break up conversation was strangely muted, like watching two robotic arms playing chess. Nor was the dam of emotion breached once back on my own behind the wheel of the Focus. Instead a tight knot of doubt festered in my stomach. Had we done the right thing? In the rawness of the moment, I could not be sure.

Still, I could not sit there going nowhere fast. Somehow the same old schlep straight down the A453 to the M1 did not appeal. On a whim, at the next roundabout I turned left and headed into the countryside. The journey that followed was nothing short of revelatory.

The East Midlands. Simply awful. (Image: bradgatepark.org)

The East Midlands has the reputation of an abandoned hinterland, but on a fine spring day such as that one the area is very picturesque. The roads between Nottingham, Loughborough and Leicester unfurl like a fishing net thrown lightly on the ground, tracing their way around fields and over gently undulating terrain with quaint villages at the knot of each cord. A lot has been written about the drivability of the Mark 1 Focus, and on that sunny afternoon I found it all to be true. Driving with only the vaguest direction in mind, the car proved itself an entertaining and amiable companion, pleasurably dispatching mile after mile of country lanes and B-roads.

With each corner and crest the tight, sickly rollercoaster of doubt in my stomach began to ease. The further I went, the more my clouded thoughts cleared. The car was an isolation chamber, an ever-moving private space in which the act of driving disconnected the ticker tape of immediate concerns, allowing deeper thoughts to coalesce. The windscreen was a frame directing my attention forwards, with all that lay behind attended to with a cursory glance to the mirrors.

Driving those wonderful springtime country roads in that capable car, a Zen-like state of calm descended. Yeah, things in my life had messed up quite royally. But somehow I knew that Everything Will Be OK.

I was put in mind of that drive the other week by a break up of a different kind.

Brexit. (Image: bitcoin.com)

There have been very few times in my life when I have awoken to find that everything has changed. The morning of Friday 24 June was one of those occasions. However you felt about it, and opinions do vary of course, the news that the UK had voted for Brexit hit me like a divorce. It seemed like a terrible monster had been let out of a cage: within hours the stock market had plummeted and the Pound had dropped to a near all time low. Instead of facing the rolling crisis our Prime Minister resigned, a neglectful captain leaving the bridge of a ship stricken and holed by his own idiotic actions. I was angry and a little afraid.

Still, this macrocosmic turmoil did little to change the minutiae of my Friday morning routine, except to cast it in a pall of unseasonal gloom. My son had to be dropped off at preschool and I had to go to work, at least while I still had a job. Duly prepared, off we went in my Fiesta. (Another Ford. Not everything changes.)

Leaving the young one in the (some might say more) capable hands of others, I returned to the preschool car park to find the car bathed in rare summer sunshine. Turning over the engine, I was gripped by an impulse to take a road less travelled. So, rather than the usual direct(ish) route to the office, I embarked on a circuitous route only tangentially related to the direction I should have been travelling.

It was just what I needed. The Fiesta might lack the Focus’ hydraulic steering and independent rear suspension, but it remains a fun car to hustle. Arriving at the office some 45 minutes late, my gloomy disposition had lifted. I was calmer, my mind clear. My anger had leavened to disappointment and the beginnings of an understanding as to why people had voted the way they had. The moving isolation chamber had performed its magic once again.

(Image: Tumblr)

Occasionally I think about that ex girlfriend, but not too often. You cannot spend the whole journey watching the rear view mirror. Looking backwards is not the nature of driving, nor can it be the nature of life.

Sometimes you may doubt the direction you have taken. There can be obstacles and diversions, or you might misread the signals and end up ploughing into the back of a dithering Rover 200. But you must always keep moving forward in the hope you will get where you need to go. You have to.
Even if ultimately there can only ever be one destination, those are your hands on the wheel. You choose the route and the speed that you travel. So you might as well turn off that A-road, squeeze the accelerator and really enjoy the drive.

Author: chrisward1978

Professional pixel pugilist and word wrangler. Unprofessional pub snug raconteur.

19 thoughts on “Objects In The Rear View Mirror”

  1. I haven’t gone for a drive like that in many years. I used to often do so. Hadn’t realised how much I’d missed it. Thanks for the article Chris. I think I might be late for work tomorrow.

    1. I imagine it’s a different kettle of fish when you drive for a living. My commute is an eight mile round trip, so the novelty doesn’t wear off.

  2. Thank you Chris. Driving is very therapeutic, especially in a car you know well down a road you don’t. It’s that satisfying mixture of the familiar and unfamiliar. I’ve had some very interesting and enjoyable drives when I’ve basically been in a very bad mood and, for that reason, I agree with the idea of the car as an isolation chamber since, for the journey, it performs its magic. Unlike Chris, though, I never seem to find much changed when I get to the other end (or on occasions back to where I started).

  3. I’ve got too concerned about wildlife and pedestrians to drive as I did when the calendar said 1994 or even 2004. That said, under the right conditions, a cold winter’s day you can count on few animals, insects or humans being out.
    I thrashed the Citroen C1 I had recently and it was the windy roads and low speeds that added interest: first to third most of the time. I wasn’t going very fast but fast enough for the narrow road.

    1. To be fair, first to third in the Fiesta is an almighty spread of speeds. Since trading in the Clio I tend to stroke along at a comfortable pace well within the limits of the car.

  4. PS: Chris, can you please not disabuse people of their notions of the East Midlands. It might draw people’s attention to them. This also could spill over to the Midlands which are, I insist, not full of delightful corners but a blasted, forlorn hell. It would be a pity if too many people from the rest of the South discoverer the pleasant and uplifting pieces in the jigsaw of delight this region really can be. Malvern, anyone? Shipton-on-Stour?

    1. I was discussing the Midlands with two other members of this site last month. It is indeed a God-forsaken area, with no decent scenery or driving roads at all. If you’ve heard otherwise, try imagining the fiery mines from a Lord of The Rings film, but populated by less friendly inhabitants. Don’t ever think of going there.

    2. Sometimes I tell southerners how comparatively little we paid for our spacious and extended four bed house in a village on the edge of a picturesque country park, then I laugh in their ashen faces.

    3. I am not surprised that so many here voted for Brexit. Industry has been in terminal decline since the 1960s, a slide that the Tories and New Labour did precisely zero to arrest. Still, all those pits and factories closing has lent the countryside a surprisingly bucolic air, even if unemployment remains stubbornly high.

  5. Chris. Thanks for this piece which I very much enjoyed reading. It reminds me a bit of stories from my own first car (which I also posted here on DTW).

    When I still lived in my home town in the more rural parts outside Zurich, I used to spend a lot of time just driving for fun. While pure countryside is quite rare in Switzerland – hardly any two to three kilometers from one village or town to the next – the area presented some nice hills with a dense, but not overcrowded network of roads, often nicely curved. It allowed detours of any length and flavour.

    Now, living at the border of the Alps, often it’s just one valley, one road. Take the valley next to it and drive it to the end, then over a pass and back to your own place. It’s often joyful and engaging driving, but easily good for a detour of two or three hours. Not the thing I can afford to do often, maybe a few times a year. So, this kind of driving for relief has almost disappeared from my life.

    Sometimes I wonder if the memories of happy-go-lucky driving are a distortion of reality, or if it just happened at a more unburdened time in my life.

    1. Simon: it’s probably a life stage thing. In my lost 20s I’d drive around the Cotswolds and county Wicklow for fun. These days there isn’t the time and the children complain. I don’t like cleaning nose prints from the side glass.

    2. Many thanks. For me the perfect drive is always less than an hour. 45 minutes is perfect. One of the benefits of living where I do is that the roads nest and loop in almost infinite combinations. The downside is that there are very few small villages with quaint pubs for pee stops and refreshments, as everywhere is somewhere these days.

  6. Of course, that isolation cell exists even without starting the engine. It may be the inordinate time I spent as a kid, sitting in parent’s cars with a friend, pretending we were driving somewhere. Sometimes we might be spies or cops, but sometimes we would just act out an ordinary drive somewhere. My friend Colin could convincingly reproduce a 50 mile or so drive from our home town in Surrey to a town in Hampshire, including downchanges for hills.

    This probably fixed my attitude to cars as places of contemplation, from spending time in a VW Microbus revising for school exams, to sitting in the surprisingly accommodating and comfortable rear seat of my Cube to make personal phone calls when I’m at work. They’re not like anywhere else.

    1. Yes, all that insulation does have the effect of putting the world on mute. Also, funny that you should use the Cube for the purpose of phone calls, it does look a bit like a kiosk.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.