My wife and I were on our way to Manchester on the M62 to visit our son and I was thinking about how sometimes if a train breaks down or signals fail then all the trains stack up behind the affected area and lateness piles onto lateness and you stare out of the carriage window for ages at a patch of scrubland.
I said to my wife: “We haven’t been caught up in a traffic jam on this road for as long as I can remember” and then I said “touch wood” and touched my head and we both laughed and, somewhere not too far along in the future, fate was preparing to deliver us a blow. I should have kept my lips zipped.
We set off back in the early evening and just as we got on the motorway we saw on the matrix sign the words “Accident between Junctions 21 and 22” and I wished I’d touched my head a little harder. The traffic ground to a halt and we sat like novelty chess pieces on a novelty chess board. We were pawns, of course. Pawns in a greater game.
Now, I like plays and novels and films where nothing much happens. I’m a big fan of Samuel Beckett, particularly his classic drama (or lack of it) Waiting For Godot, which is the tale of two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, who are waiting for a chap called Godot to turn up, which he never does.
At one point in the play it feels like the tramps could be sitting in the same traffic as me; one of them says: “Nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful.” I know how you feel, my friend.
In that seemingly-infinite space between Junction 21 and Junction 22 nothing happened, and when small things happened our brains leaped on them for stimulation: a cloud passed, really slowly. A bird hopped around at the edge of the road. Occasionally we moved, just a little, and it felt like things were beginning to shift but then we stopped again.
And in the end it was nothing like a book or a play or a film because when it’s art and literature there’s a point to the pointlessness; nothing is happening as a comment on something happening.
In the end, Waiting for Godot is funny in a bleak kind of way, because we know that Vladimir and Estragon will keep waiting forever and that Godot will never turn up. In real life the waiting was just dull, and frustrating, and seemingly endless.
Time passed like sludge. A tortoise could have got to Barnsley faster than we did. After a while it felt that we’d spend the rest of our lives in this non-space and this empty time.
“How can I write about this?”
I asked my wife. She didn’t answer; she was too busy counting the dandelions in the grass at the side of the road. We started to inch along the tarmac and my hopes began to rise. Then we stopped again.
At least in Waiting for Godot they had an interval!