Tuesday, 16 October 2007

driving in the dark

At first, it's the quiet that hits you. You don't notice the dark as much stood under a street lamp with the lights from a row of cottages lessening the gloom. But in the car, engine running, the quiet melts away and as the lights disappear behind you, you start to realise just how dark it is out here, not even starlight to brighten the gloom. The clouds that will bring rain later have already blocked out the moon.

The only light in front of us is from the headlights. Looking in the rear view mirror is like looking into a black hole. The only thing out there to see is the glow of the brake lights reflected on the white lines behind me when I slow down to turn a corner.

Belsay is sudden fluorescent yellow in the night, the glow of headlights reflected back at me by a sudden profusion of signs, so many that the only one I take in is the 30mph speed limit.

Back onto the dark road after the village. In the occasional break in the hedgerow Newcastle is a dull pink-orange glow. The hedges are hypnotic in their regularity, the white line the only brightness.

Blue flashing lights come over the top of a crest of a hill, sudden, pulsing from side to side and flickering. I slow as they head towards me and as they pass the light, too bright, burns onto my retina, causes a stab of pain in the front of my head. A few minutes later another passes; this time I pick out the word AMBULANCE picked out of the white light on top of the cab. I wonder how far they have come, how far they have still to go. What has happened. Whether the casualties will live or die.

Newcastle is more defined in front of me now; I can pick out individual street lights. It's like driving towards the glow of a fire, smoky orange taking over the sky in front, while behind me is still black.

We hit Ponteland and then the airport is upon us, brightly lit, vibrant. The speedometer pushes 70 as we hit dual carriageway before I slow down for the roundabout, taking the car out of gear and coasting up to the red light (there's nothing around), decelerating smoothly. I look at the speedo and realise we're still doing 30 and brake. 'After you've been driving at 70, 30 really is a crawl,' I say, and my voice is a shock. Neither of us have spoken in miles.

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