Sometimes, I just need to write – just my way of creating a little something. And sometimes my head is full of other stuff, like Basil. So I like the postaday idea from WordPress – since it gets me thinking about things other than where my head is right now.
And today’s a good one – your favourite road trip. I have lots and lots, so it’s hard to pick one out that I liked the most, but I think it would be a toss-up between hitching from the Amazon to another boat post, or driving down to my dad’s with my sister. Maybe. I loved the drive up through Scotland into the highlands though… so it’s not an easy choice to make. And possibly my favourite ever journey was one by train, anyway.
The train journey was from St Malo down to St Hilaire de Riez – 7 trains in a day. Every single one of them was on an ancient old SNCF train with small compartments and deep seats with huge springs. The seats smelled musty, in a good way, and reminded me of the old train that used to run between Bury and Manchester, back in my early teens when I used to go to Affleck’s Palace when I was a very small, cute emo child to buy patchouli-scented clothes and second-hand levi 501s. It was overcast for much of the journey, and it all seemed so foreign. Dol de Bretagne. Rennes. Nantes. A hazy, warm and soothing journey.
I’d got off the ferry at St Malo, early in the morning after sleeping on the boat. I’d slept on the floor in the seating area – most people had cabins, but I was hard up. I had few cassettes and I’d picked ones I loved since I didn’t have much room (back in the days before you could get 10,000 albums onto something you can fit in your palm!) I had Depeche Mode and James.
It was Laid that I was mostly listening to – and the title track is brilliant, although the album is known more for this track:
which is great in itself because when I find bipolar disorder hard to live with, this song sums up much of it.
I’ll sing myself to sleep
A song from the darkest hour
Secrets I can’t keep
Inside of the day
Swing from high to deep
Extremes of sweet and sour
I hope that God exists
I hope, I pray
Drawn by the undertow
My life is out of control
I believe this wave will bear my weight
So let it flow
I’m relieved to hear
That you’ve been to some far out places
It’s hard to carry on
When you feel all alone
Now I’ve swung back down again
It’s worse than it was before
If I hadn’t seen such riches
I can live with being poor.
It’s soft and calm, hazy and gentle, then rousing at other times. I was reading a lot of Kerouac at the time, and I’d taken On the Road with me, clichéd as that might be. A 22 year old doesn’t care about being cheesy and clichéd. I watched the grey dawn rise as we came into St Malo, and when I went back in 2004, it was just as bleak. I guess that’s why I liked Essaouaira in Morocco so much – it reminded me of St Malo with its coastal fortifications. And I watched the ferry draw in, around six in the morning, and I knew I was getting closer to Phil, who I was travelling to see. He was my first love – the boy I fell in love with at 17 and I stayed with until after the summer.
I ate a pain aux raisins in a café in St Malo, before getting on the train. Seven connections and I would be there. It seemed like an eternity. Each train brought me closer to my one love – hard as it had been that summer to be separated. In fact, when he came back, when he said he was going again the next year, I broke up with him. I couldn’t bear to be apart from him.
Going down to Rennes, I was struck by how many trees there were – we seemed to go through miles and miles of forest, thick and damp. From there, it was down to Nantes, across plains of yellow corn, ripe in the fields, and the sun began to come out. I slept a little on the train, comforted by the gentle motion of the train and the comfy seats that bounced. I had an ancient old suitcase of my great-nan’s, and the whole journey seemed to be one from many, many years ago – not just 20 years ago. The train was quiet, the carriages empty. From there to Challans, then Challans to St Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, getting warmer and warmer, sleepier and sleepier. It seemed a whole country away from the cold, damp St Malo I’d landed at in the morning. I felt like I was leaving England behind: it was the summer after I finished training as a teacher, so it was a holiday that marked the difference between being a child and being an adult. It was the first holiday I paid for myself. It was the first time I’d travelled alone. I felt on that trip as if I were leaving my childhood behind to become an adult. When I came back, I went straight into my teaching post, left my first love behind, began the stages of adulthood – working, buying a house, getting a pet, so that journey was like the journey out of youth into limbo, a place where I was free from being a child, a dependent, a responsibility, yet free from adult responsibility. I think it was the last time I really, truly, felt free. The hazy, lazy music of James coming through an ancient cassette player seems ever more appropriate now.
Part of that road trip was about seeing Phil when I got there – he was sun-tanned and lovely – and we had one of those kisses that last for hours, so sad and so happy to see each other once again. He was in shorts, his hair long and loose – the beautiful boy who was my first love. Journeys don’t get better than that.