Now into the third year of his despair, Jason realised he had been consigned to a kind of internal exile. The last time his country had been that badly damaged by the reassertion of the Status Quo he had gone and lived abroad for eight years. This time he couldn’t even afford to get his passport renewed, and this man of the pen had been indoctrinated by the mantra of the day: “Pen is penis; the PC is peaceful change”.
It was terribly believable, but he lacked the latest skills and was stuck with what he knew, only a few things that would always need saying, but nobody had time to listen any more.
The ‘War upon the Motorcar’ had brought him odd moments of guilty exhilaration and relief at not being detected, and then the understanding that his actions – despite some explosive attacks on parked cars – rather than being undetected, had barely even been noticed.
At his local news outlets each day, scanning the papers on the shelves, craning his neck (they had been placed upside down carefully to deter non paying headline readers like himself), still finding his actions ignored by even the pettiest tabloid.
That day’s local rag might occasionally contain some reference to his latest ‘Act of Vandalism’, never on the front page, never giving any indication that they understood the true purpose of it.
The campaign to ‘Pile up the Rubbish’ didn’t catch fire either, apart from the trash fire that had led to the Council removing what had only ever been an insignificant build up of litter around the estate.
The rest of his time, away from his ‘hobby’, Jason struggled to keep up with the petty demands placed upon him; he was always just a day or two away from going under completely.
The flat was in a state, and that was Jason’s responsibility too, because if Clara wasn’t at the hospital visiting Darren she was out getting more short term zero hour contract work than he could manage. Her mess was all about her daily routine – clothes hanging up, freshly laundered and waiting to be ironed, scraps of paper that ‘mustn’t be moved’, discarded or reserved products (he could never tell the difference) and items that got her to work looking presentable or relaxed her afterwards, their equally intimidating packaging, or the special piles of journals and correspondence relating to her never ending crusade to get the boy well and home, an increasingly lonely battle for Clara because he was so useless or clumsy in everything that might help Darren, Clara or even himself.
Left alone there, all Jason could think of to do was tidy up the place a bit, clean up his messy cups and plates, try and dust, and punish his own hoarder’s instincts by throwing out or at least cutting back his own ‘collections’, all worthless to everyone except him. His ‘war weapons’ were stored away and hidden from Clara, neatly enough but with the effect of making their home seem smaller and even more cramped.
Having partially completed that chore he would go on to making preparations for that night’s dinner or trying to keep up with his ‘job seeking’ obligatories – useless and irrelevant to him but mandatory, time consuming and stressful.
It was a treat to get off the computer but he had lost the ability to switch off and rest. He had to think but rejected each of his own ideas and schemes. The simplest effort distracted him, ate up his time uselessly, mocked him.
So he would sit or lie back, peer through the shutters or stare out the window, eavesdrop on the activities outside, imbibe the media’s latest messages of doom or enforced cheer.
The weather on that December day was cold but still; he could only think of worse storms coming, nothing good.
There was Darren’s room, kept intact, mainly by Clara, but already a place the boy would have outgrown, should he ever return. The memories it brought back to him were irresistible and unbearable, because there was nothing to replace them and it seemed there never would be.
He wasn’t really that angry with motorcars. They just represented the first offensive line of forces he couldn’t fully understand, or control any more than his little boy could. They had power, status and respect; his attempt to rebel against their dominance and the culture that accompanied them was just another aspect of what led to his loneliness, they helped to point out his uselessness, though what they contributed to was the destruction of the planet.
The dream was of course to change the world’s mind, make it see that there were other values, other ways to bring change. At that moment Jason could only see the extent of his failure. He couldn’t even think about it any more; he was irrelevant.
The familiar sound of Clara’s key working the door made him jump, and she came in, full of her day, radiating it’s chilly realities.
“I thought you were going out”
Clara said, not unkindly but without a hint of gladness. As she strode past him on the way to the kettle Jason noticed she was carrying a glossy shopping bag, a souvenir from more prosperous times.
he asked her. She ignored him for what seemed an age, not even offering to make him a cuppa. Then, her coat removed, mug put in it’s place on the coffee table but still standing, she pulled the bag open and removed a tatty toy they both knew well. It was a childish version of an elephant, made of some durable but unappealing form of rubberised plastic, a big artificial smile on its face.
“Of course I do!”
“I found it outside, right next to the bins.”
“I’m sure it’s not his but it is just like the one he had.”
“You sure? You sure it’s not something else you threw out that day?”
He couldn’t be sure about anything, of course, so he said nothing.
Clara might’ve started an argument, but she just rejected his belated effort to touch the precious reminder and stomped off to the bathroom with it, to sponge it clean and ask him, with the tender tone that always melted his heart,
“Do you think Darren would like it? Do you think it might wake him up a little?”
“I don’t know love. I hope so.”
“Don’t call me ‘love’, for God’s sake!”
So they lapsed into silence and he kept his distance but watched his wife, silently sharing the memories of happy bedtimes when saying goodnight to Eric the Elephant was the last thing their son asked of them before he snuggled down, ignoring their last kisses, and escaped into innocent oblivion.
Clara’s determination could drive him mad, but there were times when he genuinely admired it, taking strength from her refusal to give up, something he did every day. She would just keep going, every trivial action full of purpose.
“Your tea’s getting cold,” was all he could find to say but, though his words were useless, she could still find something in his tone that raised a wan smile, and she grabbed her mug and gulped down her drink.
“I’m sorry, it’s been a hell of a day.”
“Do you think he’ll get better?”
Too many of Jason’s previous promises had turned out be fruitless, but he truly wanted to say something that would make her feel better. Finally he half whispered,
“No matter what state he’s in, he’ll always know we love him,”
and, though he could even doubt that, Jason resolved there and then to make it so.
“So will you come to the hospital with me tomorrow?”
That was no comfort to Clara, his efforts had let her down too often before. She bristled a little but it was better than the gloom and negativity she usually came home to.
So that was their life, and Jason couldn’t imagine anything changing. He was so tired, everything so hopeless, but just having her there was a kind of comfort, so he could honestly imagine just giving it all up and accepting that nothing would ever change. It was the same despair, but at least it enabled him to smile when, in her own familiar tone of matching resignation Clara finally asked him the same old question,
“So, what have we got for supper?”
It’s different every time
And you only ever get a glimpse of the real thing
In all its unprepossessing glory.
Keeping your eyes open, to catch a sight
Might be considered rude
Undesirable, plain unpleasant, or unforgettably sweet
Intense concentration is required on all sides, of course!
That, or some insane level of intoxication
Utter ruthlessness, selfishness, cunning and spite
Or fearless, loving and joyful delight
Which cannot ever be faked
So far our intercourse has been more social than sexual, except perhaps
For one or other of us separately, once or twice?
That one time when your breath and voice touched my ear at once,
That was something else again, and I’ll never stop listening to you.
So, should you ever have or could feel something of the same
The prospects for deeper intimacy seem unusually good.
But sex! Sex is something else
It’s like trying to cook a special dish together
Fit for a “special occasion.”
Less self critical chefs or cooks might enjoy making a mess of it
Others might be horrified most of all
By the stolen bites and clumsy nibbles.
And we do have to be careful
When every moment together must be so memorable
When ridiculous things like shoes or cards or rings
And even the most abused and neglected, unkempt body parts
Suddenly draw unexpected attention and cause such tension
It’s unbearably impossible for love not to be mentioned.
So let us take time and use all the arts
To share and forgive our bodies and learn the secret of our hearts.
Darren’s condition remained stable but, however passionately Clara and Jason pleaded, the hospital would not let them take him home, explaining or at least claiming that he needed ‘special care’. This may well have been true, as the coma persisted for weeks, then months, and the doctors worked to stop the boy’s head swelling and pressing into his skull, but to Clara in particular it could seem as if “they” had simply decided to adopt her son for themselves. Every comment seemed like a criticism of her as a mother, and the way the ever smiling Dr Simbese (“Call me Joan”) spoke to her didn’t help.
“We’ll give your son the best care!” she said, “You must carry on your lives as normal, ready to welcome him home when he is ready.”
“Nothing is normal!”
Clara snapped, while Jason tried to be positive but to be supportive to Clara and to glean the best information and, of course, felt utterly useless in himself.
“Nothing is normal.”
While Darren was confined to a hospital bed and fed by tubes and could only be visited under strict supervision, Clara couldn’t think about much else. She tried, but couldn’t consider any of the temporary roles she was offered, even though the benefits agencies, seeing that Darren’s condition had stabilised and that Jason had failed to find a permanent job for himself, prepared the best way to force her back to work and, ideally, off at least some of the benefits she was in receipt of, as a mother whose child was under full time care.
Clara was aware, dimly, that Jason would shut off his PC and go out at night as soon as she had made him think that she was asleep.
She wanted to believe that he had some scheme, however mad, to bring Darren back home and, without destroying that hope by putting it into words, would ask him questions that seemed to Jason – who felt completely out of his depth – like further attempts to discover the secret of the war upon the motorcar (which, for her own protection, he couldn’t share with Clara) or just like veiled criticisms of himself as a father, a provider and as a man. So their relationship continued to deteriorate.
Thanks to his “magic spray” Jason could decimate up to five cars a night – the only satisfaction he was getting out of life – and, while anxious to escape detection, it didn’t seem to make any difference to the relentless flow of traffic round Southampton and Jason even began to be annoyed that his campaign wasn’t getting any attention apart from a few references on line, to the point where he began to think about how he could possibly go public without being arrested immediately.
As a kind of stop gap measure, a step towards fully revealing the true nature of his campaign, Jason started a subsidiary campaign, which was inspired by what appeared to be conditions deteriorating around the estate.
People seemed to be increasing the amounts of rubbish being dumped around the place – old furniture, including chairs, shelf units which varied in showiness of design but had all proved unable and too flimsy to meet the first test of an antique and last anything remotely close to fifty years of practical use before being rejected and thrown out – wardrobes, beds and all sorts of smaller items,outmoded flat screen TVs that had been replaced by other flat screen TVs that were even bigger or more digital, children’s toys, mattresses and so on and on, anything, in short, that the council would charge to have removed properly and which – the council having moved the town tip to a more distant spot only reachable by car – the inhabitants could only afford to jettison by stealth, often by simply throwing items from the most convenient window or balcony before clearing it away properly, or not.
As a conscientious green and “free cycler” himself, Jason would notice this buildup of random items placed near the bins behind each block, near the recycling bins by each car park or just anywhere, and in happier days he had picked up a lot of rubbish and a few treasures, leading to lively discussions with Clara as to which category each item he brought home fell into. And, having grown up on the rubbish strewn streets of central London, he would even feel a nostalgic inner glow where others might just complain about the neighbours causing such a mess, or blame the council for not clearing it up quicker.
The increase that might have been noticed at that time was really just for the usual reasons – people moving in or out, or dying, or wanting to treat themselves to “new” or different stuff, or finding a bargain of some sort, or selling ‘up’ or ‘down’ as their circumstances seemed to dictate.
After the shock of Darren’s accident had worn off a little and Jason began to notice his surroundings again the normal chaos seemed to be just more grist for the mill of his depression at first, but then he saw certain possibilities which he attempted to exploit.
Jason ‘s greeting to an elderly man who had approached the two large bins stored under their block at the same time as him was so unusual and so artificially boisterous that it almost frightened the life out of him!
Jason suppressed his irritation at being regarded with such fear and suspicion, and his distaste at observing the other’s unsorted waste, and attempted to strike up a friendly conversation.
“What do you think of all the rubbish dumped around here?”
“The rubbish round here!”
“I aint deaf!”
“The rubbish round here!”
“Yeah, it’s terrible; they should go back to their own countries, or Millbrook or wherever they came from.”
Racist as well as an irresponsible sorter of his own domestic detritus. This was why Jason generally didn’t speak to others living on the estate, or fancied himself to be a cut or two above them.
“Well, there is a lot of it, but sometimes it adds a bit of colour round the place, so long as it doesn’t interfere with the trees. And there’s a lot of good stuff mixed in with it, I expect. What’s that you’ve got there?”
Jason terrified the poor old boy again by diving boldly into his open carrier bag and pulling out an item that looked promising, but hard to assign to either the big general waste bin or the recycling one.
“That’s my old radio!” The man (who was called Charles and affectionately known as Charlie by the dwindling number of people who knew and liked him) retorted with the sudden interest that energises people when other people take a sudden interest in something they’re about to throw out.
“A radio! Oh yeah. Is it broken?”
“Had it for years.”
“Much better than the TV, aren’t they? The pictures are better.”
“It’s got no pictures, it’s a radio!”
“You know what I mean! Er, what’s wrong with it, is it broken?”
Jason couldn’t go so far as to claim that he could fix it, but the two of them did bond a little as they examined the ancient transistor, neither remembering that non digital radio signals had recently been taken off the air.
“Don’t know what you mean about the rubbish looking good, mate, it’s a disgrace! The council should keep up with it all and take it away properly.”
This gave Jason a way to work around to his potentially cunning agenda.
“We should protest!”
“That never works; it only causes more trouble than it ever sorts out. What about, anyway?”
“About all this rubbish everywhere! And if the council had any sense they’d make some money out of it by recycling it properly and not just driving it off to the nearest landfill or whatever.”
Jason continued to make his case in wearisome detail that the reader need not not at present be wearied with until, as with so many ‘politicians’ of all colours he had so wearied his listener – Charlie in this case – that he felt obliged to at least agree with him.
“Well anyway,” Charlie looked longingly toward the door of his single bedroomed but ground floor flat whilst attempting to placate this nutter long enough to make a getaway, “The council never listens to anything, so what’s the point? Do you mind?”
Jason picked up Charlie’s remaining rubbish bags and his own modest leavings, taking care to choose the right receptacle for each item, while carefully choosing his words.
“That’s why we’ve got to use reverse psychology, if you know what I mean. The council isn’t going to do anything if we just make ineffectual complaints. We’ve got to take bold and direct action!”
Heedless of the further alarm he was causing Charlie, Jason ploughed on, in effect thinking aloud.
“They won’t be bothered if we just quietly put away what we can and wait for them to deal with the big stuff. We should just leave it all to rot until it makes a big enough mess to attract nation wide attention, or city wide at least. A big enough mess to, dare I say it? Hold up the traffic!”
Rapidly reassigning Jason from the category of harmless nutter to that of a dangerous one, Charlie covered a rapid retreat with a tide of incoherent muttering, while Jason entranced himself envisioning the block’s bin area, the neighbouring patch of grass, access routes, the entrance lobby and indeed the whole ground floor of that and all the other blocks on the estate, even its one tower block, all covered in litter, scrap and trash until individual piles of waste overflowed and combined with each other into one massive ocean of junk, from the tiniest tissue to the most enormous item of domestic equipment, finally achieving his ultimate aim, causing an obstruction that would be impossible for any vehicle to get through.
Meanwhile, Clara had taken a rare afternoon off her duties at the hospital – which now consisted of patiently staying by her boy’s side tending to every possible need that the nursing staff might have missed, and pressing anyone she could find with time to talk, anyone at all, for specific answers – to go to a meeting at the quietest café that could be found near the General Hospital, for parents, mostly mothers, in a similar position.
She recognised several faces she had seen before, in those unwelcoming corridors where each of them had spent a few desperate minutes finding where their child had last been confined, to be prepared for operations and/or subjected to courses of therapy that they could never ever learn enough about until the ordeal would finally be brought to an end by the tragedy they dreaded or the resolution they dreamt of, whatever the odds.
Clara had never really been at the heart of a medical crisis before, but plenty had. After several soothing minutes of mutual sympathy and tears, with the blessed relief of exchanging the details of their individual stories, the meeting was ‘called to order’ by Shelly, the woman who claimed to have the most experience in chairing meetings and who had the most obvious chance of using the familiar routines of appointing a minutes taker, proposing procedures and setting agendas to distract herself and dull her own pain.
They started with some hope of pooling their skills and experience, and there was quiet consolation in agreeing the time and venue of the next meeting, which would be held, at her insistence, at Tracey’s beautiful home, which everyone there soon realised was all she felt she had to offer and the only place where she could hope to feel remotely normal.
The absent parents and especially the dads came in for a considerable amount of humorous mockery and bitter criticism, but Clara, though it had been good to feel like there were others there who could understand what she was going through the only way anyone possibly could, having got used to this different situation, found herself growing surprisingly irritated with everyone there, the repeated explanations of why Southampton’s health care system was so useless, the claims of knowing about the most miraculous cures, the agonising dumb show of grief and anxiety which some present were not yet able to conceal.
The meeting concluded with an agreement to organise a fund raising event, “to make people aware of the situation” which, it was finally decided after much wrangling, should be a jumble sale, the sort of worthy effort that Clara, in happier days, with Jason’s encouragement, might have affected to despise.
So they trailed out, each gloomily considering which possessions they might be willing to sacrifice to the cause, remembering the memories and efforts associated with each one of them.
There was one face that stood out for Clara and seemed to offer a real hope of companionship. Yes, Linda might not have some solid information for them all, but there was something about her tough, unsmiling expression that seemed to offer the hope of a new and mutually supportive friendship.
“Thank the Lord that’s over for another month,” Linda said to Clara boldly, as they made their way out and back to their parked cars, “I hate that sort of thing, it’s so boring, with everybody trying to be so serious. Get over yourself! That’s what I always end up saying. Stuff Tracey’s place; next time let’s meet in a pub!”
Clara certainly enjoyed the idea of doing that, but Linda had two kids due back from school and couldn’t stay to look for a suitable venue. So Clara stopped for a lonely glass of warm white wine and made her way back to the Northam estate.
She had only ever accepted living there as a temporary measure, and when she got back to it the estate, though busy with the usual after school crowd, certainly looked particularly gloomy and ramshackle on that day, kids shouting at each other, sheets of newspaper blowing around as a breeze blew up and rain started.
She was going around the back of her block to avoid the playground when she was woken out of her reverie by a solid thump and then a sudden shower of broken bits of wood spraying shockingly close to her, from the flimsy little cot of an infant babe.
That was followed by what Clara could now see was the cheap mattress that went with it, floating down to land on the grass, to be held in place by the dampness of it.
Clara looked up instinctively and saw Jason leaning out of their window at a crazy angle, struggling to work the remains of their son’s first computer out of it.
“We’ve got to pile up the rubbish!”
Jason was saying when Clara found him in the chaos that used to be Darren’s room, just about to chuck what was left of their baby’s clothes after his first bed.
“We’ve got to pile up the rubbish!”
[Sorry, left myself too little time tonight, early start, batteries dead. Hope these three poems from 209 make an interesting read.]
After We were Beaten
We used to see documentaries
That showed all the evils of other states
The criminal madness of their leaders
The brave but hopelessly tiny minorities
That fought and died for freedom.
Now we know that our leaders were really the worst
That those we’d despised were right.
We used to look down on the rest of the world
Believing that our ways were best
That all sins could be forgiven
In a country of such wealth, such history
And though we knew that things could be better
We only rebelled in ways that wouldn’t rock the boat.
Now we are caught by the turning tide
Follow rules we no longer understand.
We used not to be afraid of making a noise
Didn’t mind making fools of ourselves
For any good cause, or just for a laugh
Now we must never make another mistake
Be perfectly obedient and pray that we seem stupid.
Meanwhile Terrible Things are happening in the World
Which is more painful to dream about
A real woman you’ll never have
Or an unreal woman you’ll never meet?
Both dreams are wrong, but serve a purpose
To live in the Eden of ignorance
Or to drain the snake that always renews its venom,
To staunch the old wound for another night
Or suffer in hope until the morning comes?
How far this is from love, I know
My love just carries on, a continual throbbing drone
Though l persist in living alone.
If we let ourselves rest we could dream better dreams
Meanwhile terrible things are happening in the world
Signs of Life
In a tree nearby two crows are making a terrible row
Screeching at each other like a squabbling couple.
Reflected in my shaving mirror
I see a large Winged insect flying past behind me
For a moment I think it’s a small bird.
Salieri’s Requiem is playing on the radio
It’s not so bad as the press he got
Not so bad.
Hate to be the one to tell you
And please understand my dearest
That I’m only talking about the skin
Around your funny bone and surrounding area
But from there it has gone, the youth of it
And no amount of lotion will ever return it
To the time when that portion of flesh
Glowed from within like a flame through wax.
Still beautiful, precious and your own
While much of your flesh is still perfectly fresh
The first bloom has left that bony knob on your arm
We must mourn it and remember
The wrinkled relic that remains there remains your own, precious and beautiful
Different now but still deserving love.
I shall kiss it still, more tenderly yet
So please don’t shove it in my face again!
[Don't be scared, faithful readers, The War upon the Motorcar will resume next week]
So that was how the war upon the motorcar began; or that’s how the story came to be told, at any rate, once it, Jason Walker and his activities came to acquire legendary and mythical status.
To be fair, though, it doesn’t quite hang together, does it?
All right, so Jason’s little boy was run down by a careless driver, perhaps even killed. And Jason’s partner Clara might well have blamed Jason for the accident – for not teaching Darren enough fear of cars, or for distracting her with a silly squabble when she might have stopped their son from running off into the road, and so Jason might have blamed that particular car and its driver for the final collapse of his marriage. But would that have added up to such an obsessive hatred of all motor cars that Jason would literally have declared war upon them?
It’s the fuzzy sort of sentimental logic you might expect from a film, and even then we would expect our hero Jason to go through hell obsessively searching for the culprit Nobby and, once he’d finally caught up with him, taking some vigorous revenge or other. And at that point he might have been inspired to reflect that it was the combustion engine powered machine that was the real cause of the trouble and, having experienced the thrill of acting as an agent of Justice, Jason could possibly have decided to widen his campaign to include motor cars in general. But if you really are prepared to accept that as the order of events, then, well, Jason does seem to come across as a bit of a nutter, doesn’t he?
“Why did the defendant engage in so many petty and major acts of vandalism, disruption and destruction upon such a huge number of motorcars?”
“Because his son got run over.”
It’s an explanation of sorts, but it doesn’t seem to have the full weight of proper legal argument, does it? You might as well go about attacking doctors and surgeons because some loved one gets a fatal illness, or assassinate a member of the government whenever the economy is not to your liking. It all seems thin and journalistic, and Jason doesn’t come across very well, not so much a hero as a pathetic victim type indulging in special pleading so his crimes might be excused.
You might as well forget all this melodrama and just accept the fact that Jason really did not like cars; and who can blame him? Nasty smelly things, of course they have caused too many deaths, and have a horrible effect on the environment, both ecologically and in terms of the way the world looks, with roads and garages and car parks everywhere, and natural features being eaten up at a shocking rate, and that’s not to mention the hideous effect they’ve had on the global economy and history, with wars for petrol and all the weapons being developed from motorised devices and this petty emphasis on high speed.
In fact, it would almost be more satisfactory to imagine that Jason was already so eager to declare war upon the motorcar that he deliberately engineered the whole accident just so he’d have a decent excuse for doing so. However, that would of course make him a terrible villain, unforgivably wicked, and you can imagine how Jason’s opponents would love to play up that angle as they attempt to influence the way he is viewed by posterity, while Clara, poor woman, could not help feeling on some level, at least, that that was exactly right and so Jason was truly responsible for their son’s misfortune.
We like to think that history is made by individuals, who are influenced by particular incidents, to which they respond with a fair degree of free will, with consequences and far reaching results that, while they may not be entirely predictable, do eventually seem to obey some kind of logic. So yes, it would be highly persuasive if we were to witness Jason – in the midst of some TV interview or televised trial, or in conversation with a trusted confidante, or even in the course of his interior monologue – fessing up and letting us know that his “war” really was sparked off by some idiot motorist knocking his boy over one afternoon.
And yet, do we really want to consider him such a helpless tool of circumstance? Do we want to regard ourselves that way, so easy to manipulate, even when we’re indulging in the freedom supposedly allowed in the course of reading a story? Wouldn’t it be better just to say “yes, of course we detest motor cars and their effect, let’s enjoy the fantasy of having some figure doing his best to rid us of them for once and for all, by fair means or foul”?
This may well seem a bit strenuous, and I can only apologise for that, and suggest that you consider that while merely getting a narrative properly launched may be laborious, how much harder it would be for one of Jason’s pacific, gentle, one might even say apathetic nature to overcome his personal idleness and commit himself to a struggle that might end up taking the remaining years of his life, probably with precious little reward and all sorts of costs.
The reader is of course at liberty not to see Jason’s actions from this point on as at all heroic. Those truly wedded to the car based world might choose to consider him as something of a villain, a Luddite, enemy of progress, a short sighted idiot. Jason himself was not as free of such thoughts as he would have liked.
Nevertheless, he stood about in the small car park opposite the chip shop, making sure the people in there could not see him, allowing a lady with a noisy terrier to walk past, strenuously listening out for any possible witnesses for what he was about to do.
There were three taxis parked in that small space, all Fords, only one showing any indication that it belonged to someone who lived there.
Jason walked up to the vehicle in question, elaborately casual but horribly aware that he had no remotely believable cover story. He reached into the left back pocket of his jeans and pulled out a knife.
Hands shaking, Jason eased the blade out, tested it on his thumb -it was very sharp!- and dropped.
He steadied himself against the boot with his left hand, raised his right arm with the wooden handled pen knife tightly squeezed in his hand and plunged it towards the tyre of the left back wheel, missing it completely.
It took three attempts before Jason finally managed to insert the blade into the tyre. He was relieved it didn’t make a loud bang, annoyed that he couldn’t tug the knife down further through the tough material and, once it was obvious that damage had been done and air escaping, thoroughly elated and nervous and running back to his block, convinced that a party of police and irate neighbours would soon be catching up with him.
The whole block was quiet and Jason got himself safely back inside the flat, which was empty, as Clara was up at the hospital to spend the night with their son, leaving him alone to think about what he’d done.
The car, a poorly maintained, uninsured, ten year old Ford Fiesta, struck Darren right on the side of the head, and had been travelling at such a speed that it dragged the poor little boy under its front end, pushing his face into the road and for several yards before the driver, who was not very quick to react, finally brought the vehicle to a halt.
This driver was called Nobby – an extremely minor local “crim” who only had the car on loan for the specific purpose of “picking up” and “dropping off” at the behest of the drug dealer who’d loaned it to him.
Nobby had taken the short cut through the estate and been driving so fast because he was of course, terribly late for that afternoon’s first, essential appointment. Darren had only appeared to him as a tiny blurred figure just before the car struck, and Nobby spent the next few precious seconds trying to convince himself that the thud of impact he’d heard and felt didn’t belong to a small child but to a small animal such as a dog. Then he was torn between throwing the motor into reverse or getting out of the car and seeing what he could do to help the boy.
“Oh no, oh no!”
Nobby kept saying to himself. This wasn’t his first accident, though it was definitely the worst one yet, and he knew what trouble he was in.
Back in the playground, time seemed to have slowed almost to a halt, as Clara and Jason approached the neighbours they’d entrusted their son with, looked towards the open gate, beyond that to the green car parked in the road. Still too caught up in their silly argument, they couldn’t turn to each other for support, so Clara moved to ask the other mother what had happened while Jason forced himself to walk out of the playground area and into the street, close enough to see his child.
“Mate, he just came out of nowhere, I couldn’t stop in time,”
Nobby was yelling his useless excuses, knowing that not shutting up for a second was his only chance of maintaining any control of the situation.
Jason was struggling to control the vicious anger against all cars and this motorist in particular, that was threatening his judgement, so he might fail to do or think of something or make some mistake that might prevent him from saving the boy.
Nobby was saying,
“I think he’s stuck; we better call an ambulance!”
just as Clara arrived, the other parents closely behind, trying to restrain her.
“If we can lift it,” Jason was saying to himself, “If we can lift it and I can, I can pick Darren up…”
“I really think we need an ambulance, mate. I’ve got a mobile here but I think the battery’s gone. Have you got a phone, anyone?”
It was chaos, other children weeping or, in the case of one that was almost as young as Darren himself, crying so loudly that it was even harder to think sensibly about anything, everything moving too quickly except the one or two really important things that seemed frozen, that might make some difference if Jason could only think them through properly. There were enough adults to lift the car off Darren, but was that right, suppose his damaged head was stuck to the car’s undercarriage somehow?
That was too horrible a thought to even talk about and Jason watched helplessly as Nobby took a phone off somebody but then distracted himself by looking in the back of the car, “for a jack” which did not appear, and then tried to make an emergency call but forgot the new number and ended up handing the phone back and starting the engine up again, which horrified everybody, but he won the argument because he had kept talking louder than anybody the whole time and kept saying,
“I’ll back up, I’ll back up! I’m putting it into reverse, see?”
which seemed a terrible idea but he did it anyway, the car moved back and like a miracle Darren was revealed, lying frozen and face down on the ground, ready for his mum and dad to kneel either side of him, begging him not to be dead.
The car screeched to a sudden halt but the engine noise didn’t stop and, once Nobby had made sure he had a clear way out, he gunned it into an aggressive roar, reversed back up the one way street until he could execute a squealing U-turn and then speed out of the estate’s entrance way, into the relative safety of the main road, before anyone had time to think of noting down his license number.
Now that they were able to see their son Clara and Jason could calm down a little and look at each other, trying to create a sense of hope and strength. The crowd that had gathered also grew quiet, focussing its attention on the poor little boy at the centre of the drama, everyone willing him to pull through, until someone did finally manage to produce a phone and call for an ambulance.
[This could be the first chapter of the novel I promised for this year. Please give thumbs ups or down, so I can judge if this is worth continuing.
The usual caution about characters and names being fictional applies.]
The War upon the Motorcar
If one uses a bicycle as one’s main means of transportation in a little town like Southampton there is great pleasure to be had from the innumerable opportunities to overtake supposedly superior vehicles – at the many stops for traffic lights, weaving through traffic jams, dodging along bus lanes, through very occasional cycle only areas, or even by shrewd and judicious use of the pavement. Motor cars, always in a tearing hurry, rush past the cyclist, only to come to a halt at the next obstruction, allowing the two wheeled to catch up and more often than not keep going past them. This tortoise and hare like reversal, in combination with the desire to repay the unthinking arrogance of the majority of motorists can, in a certain type of cyclist, inspire a haughty disdain, a lofty contempt for all petrol vehicles and their drivers, when they consider the cost to the environment, the impact on urban space, the toll of injury and death, the wars fought in aid of maintaining ever more expensive supplies of petrol. The priority given to the private motor, while the public transport system is neglected or split between various companies, and the evidence of ongoing devastation – in news reports and in pathetic little notes and bouquets attached to crash barriers near where loved ones have been killed – can also feed a sense of resentment.
The discreet might keep their thoughts to themselves. Jason Walker prided himself on his lack of discretion.
“Congratulations!” Jason would call, as he sailed by some reckless motorist who, seconds earlier, had only just resisted the temptation to quite literally knock the likes of Jason and his bike out of the way.
“Get off and milk it!” was his mocking cry to those who, for whatever reason, proved unable to maintain their lead over him, despite their vehicle’s ability to achieve speeds that far exceeded any sensible limit.
It got so Jason maintained a continual dialogue with fellow road users – deriding the vanity of their choice of car, as in “Yeah, mate, that groovy little runabout takes years off you. How do you manage to squeeze yourself inside it?”; criticising every detail of everybody’s driving – “Get in lane!”, “Dip your lights!”, “Turn that awful music down!” and generally doing his best to make himself as unpleasant and oppressive to other road users as he found their constant life threatening presence on the roads all around was to him.
He got away with it most of the time, as drivers are usually too wrapped up in thoughts of where they want to get to and too snugly encased in their metallic cages to pay any attention to anybody except someone who obstructs them. However, a memorable exception to this occurred when a BMW driven by a surprisingly young looking Asian man pulled up at the lights in front of the Jet garage on Northam Road in front of Jason and his bike.
This vehicle and it’s driver exacerbated the offence Jason would feel normally, the former by being an open topped model and the latter by having his music playing full blast, something loud and incoherent directed at the young and impressionable that probably contained offensive remarks, whilst, incredibly, carrying on a shouted mobile phone conversation at the same time.
Jason, as was his wont, improvised a few choice remarks directed at this young driver, raising his own voice just to keep up, and basing his comments on the assumption that such a person must be or aspire to be some sort of “pimp” and or “drug dealer”.
“Yeah, man, get me a couple of bags of brown and be quick about it!” Jason, just getting into his verbal stride, was yelling in a horribly inaccurate parody of today’s street talk, just as the young man’s phone conversation and the music track stopped simultaneously, which enabled the driver to catch Jason’s comment and reference to “brown”, and to make the sad assumption based on his experience of life in Southampton, that he was being racially abused.
A tense exchange of looks and gestures ensued, as motorist and cyclist worked out the other’s meaning, and for a couple of seconds Jason could see he was in danger of getting engaged in a major road rage incident, before he was saved by the green light and the driver’s decision to go with that, putting his foot down and channelling his annoyance into driving into town at high speed.
Jason was sensitive enough to hate the thought of being considered a racist, and coward enough to be mildly shaken by the possibility of getting involved in a silly fight.
He did consider moderating his behaviour, but the habit of detesting motorists is hard to shake.
It is just possible that Jason’s resentment of motorists was slightly exacerbated by the fact that his wife, Clara, did have a driving license and, as part of her preparation for the birth of their first child, a car.
Jason moaned that Clara’s ‘Rallye Red’ Honda Civic – which she’d christened Scarlet O’Highway – was too expensive to run, while Clara insisted that a car was essential for any parent, and tended to win this argument by getting more out of the short term job market because of her licensed driver status.
So, while Clara was away performing care work, tutoring or cover teaching roles, Jason would stay home with their rapidly growing son, Darren, or plonk him on one of those front fitting bike seats and take him out for excursions to the common, the shops or even as far as Weston Shore for a glimpse of what he assured the youngster was the sea. Jason would, of course, use these rides as an opportunity to teach his boy the art of mocking motorists, and father and son would have a lot of harmless fun shouting derision after speeding drivers as soon as they’d got a safe distance away.
She might have puzzled over certain comments Darren made about his day’s activities with Daddy, but Clara was usually too tired by whatever she’d spent the day doing and by the prospect of what she planned to do that evening to pay much attention, until the day when, from his vantage point at the top of a slide in their housing estate’s toddler’s playground, Darren saw a taxi taking the favoured short cut through the estate at more than usually reckless speed and suddenly came out and screamed,
“Hang on mate, we’ll just get the chequered flag out for you!”
Clara laughed at first, while Jason was still glaring hatred at the disappearing cab, but after a moment her mother’s protective instincts led her to turn to Jason.
“What is that about, Jason?”
“Darren, do you want to go and have a go at the roundabout?”
“You heard! Why is our son shouting at motor cars?”
Now Jason was grinning, because his interpretation of this discussion was influenced by his resentment of his wife’s being a motorist herself, which he would always consider an ecologically inconsiderate choice, and because of the superior economic and social status which she inevitably enjoyed because of that.
“Well, the taxi was going too fast. They often do round here, and they shouldn’t be round here anyway, taking up all the spare parking and speeding round every corner. You’ve said it yourself often enough.”
“Of course I have, but why is my son shouting at passing cars? Who has taught him to do that, Jason?”
“Everybody should be shouting at cars, especially the inconsiderate ones.”
“Yes, of course, but it’s not the cars, is it, it’s the drivers!”
“Don’t act innocent, you know what I mean. You’ve been teaching Darren to carry on your silly little war against motorcars, haven’t you?”
They both looked at their son, now on the other side of the roundabout, near the gate, but with a mum and kids they knew and safe enough.
“It’s not silly; cars are a menace.”
“Indeed they are, but that is your problem, not Darren’s!”
Jason couldn’t yet understand why Clara was so upset, but he tried to lighten the mood,
“Well, you know what I think about cars, darling, it’s not my fault if the boy’s picking up on that.”
“You’ve been deliberately training him to shout mockery at passing cars. Can’t you see how dangerous that can be? What about that incident you told me about at the traffic lights?”
This reminder helped Jason to understand that Clara did have a point, but, as men often do, he tried to resist the truth with ever more ingenious arguments.
“Of course I know what you mean, but if Darren’s learning the lesson that cars are nasty and dangerous then that’s good, isn’t it?”
“And what about my car? Are you telling Darren that his mummy’s car is nasty and dangerous?”
“No of course not! That’s different; he’s usually on the inside of that car, getting driven where he wants to go by his loving mother.”
“As are you, Jason. You don’t mind cars so much when you’re getting me to drive you where you want to go, do you?”
“Clara! That doesn’t happen that often, does it? I can get to most places by bicycle, even when I have to take Darren with me.”
“Unless you want to get to that useless allotment.”
“It’s the other side of Bitterne Hill! I’m not going to be fit to do any gardening if I’ve had to cycle up that thing, am I?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know, Jason, you’re the expert on allotments, just like you’re the expert on everything, even cars, not that you’ve ever driven one!”
“I wouldn’t want to drive one, not that I’ve ever been able to afford one anyway!”
“Ha! So much for your moral crusade; you’re just jealous of anyone who’s got it together to get a motor, including me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous! You know about the awful damage cars are doing to the world, the ozone layer, the global economy, petrol wars; it’s not just me!”
“Fine! Just don’t try and drag my son into it prematurely!”
“Our son, he’s our son. Darren?”
Sometimes little children can be just as scary and unpredictable as cars. Upset by his parents shouting in the distance and attracted by the roar of a car coming round the corner, Darren had unexpectedly taken advantage of a moment’s inattention, run out through the playground gate and into the road, straight into its path.