One of my favourite things to do with Drummer Boy – alongside “eating cheese” and “being insufferably smug about a life that looks quite cool on paper but is in reality short on money and long on existential crises” – is going on occasional road trips around the country. We make our little pilgrimage to Bristol every June, because that’s where it all began, and in the couple of years since he passed his driving test, we’ve packed his little car to the gunnels and headed to Manchester, York, Worcester, Hornsea and Winchester, amongst others.
There’s a curious set of rituals that go with roadtripping: the pre-journey food shop, as if you’re preparing to spend three days in the wilderness rather than three hours on the M4, the hasty downloading of new music to the iPod the night before, the forgetting of something crucial like a phone charger or toothpaste. There’s a certain joy to finally getting out on the road – whether you’re zipping along motorways and counting the soulless concrete bridges that someone somewhere chose to build, or tearing round hairpin bends in country lanes and hoping you don’t end up in a hedge.
Do not attempt any long journey without the following…
Normally, I do not need a bag of satsumas, a packet of Percy Pigs, a box of scotch eggs, some cashew nuts and a gallon of water to get me through the day – no-one does – but for some reason, if you’re road-tripping, it’s crucial that the footwell of the front passenger seat is crammed with snacks. This means that you always arrive at your destination sticky-fingered, covered in crumbs and uncomfortably full – and invariably, you then have to head out for dinner or drinks, stomach groaning its outrage at this state of affairs.
Giggling like a schoolgirl at silly place names
One of my favourite first-year Linguistics lectures was on UK place names. Forget BBC4, Mary Beard, and swishy-haired Neil Oliver – you tell the story of a country by the names of its towns. They’ll tell you in the space of a few letters who first settled there, and maybe even what the place looked like hundreds of years ago. Of course, one of the really lovely things about the UK is how many rude place names it has: Twatt in Orkney, Nob End in South Lancashire, and Cocking, Upper Dicker and Balls Cross in Sussex (never been so proud to be Sussex born-and-bred).
Yes, these warrant a whole section in themselves. You see loads of them as you drive around the country, and they’re so reassuring, as they stand tall and wheel round, like graceful mechanical birds. I love them. I want to see more of them. Clean, swooping white metal against a lush green backdrop, making energy – how can anyone dislike them? Can I have a pet one?
Road trips are the best time to revisit the music from your teens, and see what has lasted and what hasn’t. And you have to play albums in their entirety; no cheating. Up All Night by Razorlight? Still stands up. The Killers’ Hot Fuss? Still stands up. Most of Alkaline Trio’s back catalogue? Emo singalong joy (if that’s not a contradiction in terms, which I think it may be). Driving soundtracks should be joyous, nostalgic, and fun. The inside of a Ford Fiesta is no place for experimental jazz, or country and western balladry (unless said balladry is hugely overblown and sung by Faith Hill or LeAnn Rimes, in which case, knock yourself out). More than two people in the vehicle necessitates some sort of in-car DJ rota so you get a full and varied soundtrack. If you haven’t managed to fit Britney Spears, Bon Jovi, Incubus, Frank Sinatra and Metric all into the same journey, you’re not trying hard enough.
These strange non-places are endlessly fascinating in their grimness. They all, without fail, have a sinister feel to them – as if they were once the site of a grisly murder and no-one could face the idea of anything permanent being built there, so they built a place that no-one goes to, they just pass through. (Or maybe I have an overactive imagination.) They’re also piss-takingly expensive. If I wanted to pay the best part of a tenner for two coffees, I’d live in London. Another bizarre fact of service stations is once inside the hollow plastic building, you yourself are always the most salubrious-looking individual you can see. Everyone else is just…. nah.
Sharing and oversharing
There’s something about sitting side-by-side while the world flies by that makes it easier to talk than if you were, say, eyeballing each other across a table in an overcrowded, understaffed branch of Prezzo. We have all our best, weirdest, most frank and far-fetched conversations in the car, I’m sure of it. Plus, the prospect of being stuck in a metal box for hours on end certainly makes you want to bring your A-game, conversation-wise. It’s kind of required that you try and be interesting. No-one wants to resort to ‘I Spy’ over the age of 10 – though ‘I Spy The Rude Place Name’ isn’t a bad game.