M25 Man

M25 Man grimly ironed his shirt that dark autumn morning, a hated ritual, right up there with shaving. His wife had stopped ironing them for him, “I can’t be bothered with it any more, and the same goes for you,” she’d said. Part of the reason might have been that they kept getting bigger. When the time came to get new shirts he’d found that moving up a size eased the pressure on his expanding neck. Once the warm shirt was on, he knotted his tie, brushed back the remaining tufts of hair and grimaced at himself in the mirror. Fortunately, as he became older and less becoming, people also became more indifferent, making his dismay more private, less visible.

As he slipped on his badly fitting, off-the-peg jacket he noticed the mail by the door, sorted out the junk and settled on two letters addressed to him. The first a credit card statement. The second made him sit down and swear quietly to himself. He needed time to think, time to work out what to do now that he had lost his job. He folded the letter and put it in his shirt pocket, the cheque in his wallet, said good bye to his sleeping and indifferent wife, and left the house as usual, getting into his car bound for the familiar stress and tedium of the M25. He was required to return company property, so best to get that done today, and the drive would give him time to think.

It took him three hours to drive the 90 miles to Hemel Hempstead, give in his computer, phone and samples, and tell the Personnel Officer where to go when offered an exit interview. Within 15 minutes he was back in the safety of the car in the company car park, staring at the grimly functional building surrounded by lollypop trees and low maintenance shrubs. He was in a quiet corner of the car park, so there was little risk of being spotted. He removed his tie, cried without tears and slept for an hour.

When he woke up he knew he needed a plan, a coffee and a packet of fags. Within 30 minutes he was at the services and had achieved two of his objectives. The coffee was hot and strong, the cigarette tasted foul but he loved it. Another coffee and another fag later, he still hadn’t thought up a plan, and thought it best to press on. It was too early to head back home, so the best thing to do was carry on anti-clockwise to fill the time. The appearance of a normal day at work would buy him time to think up the plan and how to explain it to his wife.

He maintained the façade of a routine the next day, leaving at the usual time, feeling relief as the slip road took him onto the reassuring and repressed energy of the M25. He’d calculated that, with three stops to work on his plan, taking his anti-clockwise route, he could be home about ten hours after leaving. That day, he found the driving easier than the stopping. He was still in a state of shock about the redundancy and scared about what would happen. His wife was bound to blame him and would push the button, ridding herself of the even bigger inconvenience that he now was. She would get him out and have enough to get by on from her job. Where he would live, what he would do, would be a problem. With no income, and no possibility of blagging his way into something decent he’d have to take what he could get, probably security work or something. He’d end up with a liver the size of a football, an ASBO or getting sectioned.

That was a scary prospect, so the next day he hit the road again and made for the M25, completing his anti-clockwise route with stops in the target ten hours. He’d found that not thinking was the best way of getting through it. After a few hours he dispensed with the radio and drove in silence, emptying his mind of everything. Within a week his routine was well established and the familiar habit took his mind off his problems, as he completed his daily anti-clockwise circuit.

In the end he resolved not to have a plan, but to keep to his daily ritual, lost in the oblivion of the road that had been his life for so many years, and which gave him a role and a place to be. He resolved not to go home any more, but simply to stay on the M25. It was for the best and avoided the need to make plans that wouldn’t work.

On the M25 he knew what to do and nobody minded. When occasionally his blissful oblivion was troubled by thoughts, as he cruised past Guildford, ground slowly around Heathrow or looked at the £5 watches at Clackett Lane services, he wondered if there were others like him. As he looked at the armies of lost souls driving alone, he dreamt that they were all like him, sticking to the familiar road, as a way of forgetting the void beyond.

M25 Man


Joined December 2008

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