I drive to see Frank regularly. A routine drive up the A3, round the M25, a crossing at Dartford and down the A12.
Frank is my bloke, and lives 150 miles away.
"A 300-mile round trip?"
"Oh," I say, "It is but the price to pay for a relationship that begins in the geographical bubble that is University."
Lucky that I quite like him really!
We shall maintain his anonymity by calling him Frank. Although a seemingly bizarre name choice, it is not a random selection and perhaps related to his inability to croon like the Great Sinatra.
Every Friday, I climb into Brian ... my trusty Ford KA. So called because he is old, reliable, quite simple and to be honest you can never really get angry at a 'Brian'. Complete with an array of goodies (of the sugary variety), liquid refreshments, and musical accompaniment, I set off on what should be, but often is not, a three and a half hour drive.
The bonus of a long -distance relationship as I am sure others will agree, there is always a date to look forward to. And, like a child at Christmas I find myself counting down the ‘sleeps’ until I see Frank. For this reason, I often find myself speeding along the motorways. ( I will admit the speed is also related to the desperation for a glass of wine to soothe away the aches and pains of the working week. A medicinal routine, which my colleagues begin at 6’oclock.)
Unfortunately, on this occasion, my simple and routine drive took a disastrous turn after paying the £1.50 toll for the Dartford Tunnel. Sadly, this is perhaps a highlight of my journey; when for one brief moment I can pretend I'm about to unknowingly enter a high-speed car chase through the tunnel with a drug-mob who have mistaken my car for that of another very speedy KA. My imagination gets the better of me...Quite often!
At Junction 28 on the M25, after all the maddening road works - which are thankfully finished, I exit and join the A12. Or, at least, I am meant to.
However, when driving for long periods of time with an impressively predictable music collection and no-one to talk to (it seems that on Friday night's my friends have better things to do than take my hands-free phone calls) one must seek alternative sources of entertainment.
So after daydreaming about a high-flying job in the city, a flat in Chelsea and a different pair of Jimmy Choos for EVERY day at the office ... I get frustrated with my materialistic goals and start to sing. Very loudly.
(I am no chart topping success, nor am I a karaoke queen but I enjoy the happy freedom of singing in the car where obviously no-one can hear or even see you when you attempt to impersonate the impressive vocal tones of the red-headed songstress of Florence and the Machine fame.)
And then, Brian sailed past the junction. Had Brian been fitted with secret microphones, listeners would have been graced with my tuneless wailing followed by a lengthy series of expletives. And even though everyone knows you never reverse on a motorway... I contemplated it. Briefly. Very Briefly.
Thankfully, Brian keeps a Satellite Navigation system in his glove compartment. Plugging in to a faulty cigarette lighter and attempting destination programming on the M25 surrounded by lorries is not advisable, and is a skill I have yet to perfect. So, I pulled on to the hard shoulder to re-navigate. Driving back on myself seemed an utterly pointless and very frustrating option.
But my sat-nav didn't work. I will not stoop to such levels as ‘naming and shaming’ the incompetency of my particular choice of electronic engineering, but it sounds like pom-pom and let me down when I needed it most. And before you ask - yes it was charged!
My radio was still turned up loud, and I was preoccupied with my sat-nav (if in doubt, beat it) so I didn’t see the 4x4 with flashing lights pull up behind me. Or see the man in uniform approach. It wasn’t until he hammered on the window ( and make me jump so much my bottom left the seat) that I realised he was there.
“Everything alright Miss?”
Note: Always suck up to uniformed men; they might let you off with a warning. But if he is a highways officer and not a policeman like this lovely gentleman was, then don’t panic.
I explained my predicament.
“So do I come back on myself or go up the M11?”
He had a heavy East London accent, and in my first (and hopefully last ) 5 minutes of being a stranded damsel in distress I was not allocated an officer with the boyishly good looks of Jude Law (who is obviously nothing on Frank!), but the rotund and balding Ray – he politely introduced himself.
His advice: to drive back on myself.
I ignored it. And opted for the M11.
And – without map or functioning satellite navigation system, I embarked upon on unfamiliar motorway. Under Frank’s instruction, I followed signs for Stansted and the A120 and eventually I would rejoin the A12. Lovely. Having faith in my ability to self-navigate uncovered territory Brian and I drove into the previously unexplored depths of Essex.
Finally at 11.40pm, five hours after leaving work and two necessary service station stops later, I arrived at Frank’s flat.
Perhaps the most distressing thing about the trials and tribulations of this journey is that if it had not been for seeing Frank in rainy Ipswich - the time taken and the money spent on petrol for Brian to consume could have gone on flights to somewhere hot!
I would like to thank the staff of Costa and Starbucks at the Clackett Lane and M11 services for keeping a weary traveller hydrated on her journey.