Sometimes writing is a good way to remember where you were and what you were doing when something happened in the world.

Hurrying home

“They’re not coming.  I’ve got a text.”  

I’m tired.  The windscreen wipers are just about keeping up with the deluge.  If there are white lines on the road they are too shy to be seen in public.  The cats eyes are probably glowing on some kid’s windowsill and we are in the wrong lane.  The road sign tells us we can go east or west.  I want to head south.  Waiting for us is a clean and tidy house and a fridge full of food and now they’re not coming.  What a waste of time.

“What do you mean they’re not coming?  Everything’s ready.”

Accelerating into a gap we join the slip road on to the motorway.  We are a snake of red running parallel to a twinkling stream of bright white.  At times it looks like the oncoming traffic is directly in our path.  As we rise higher we bend to the left and lights sparkle across our bows like a steam of minnows.  All white lights lead to Yorkshire all red lights head to Lancashire.  We are on the right road.  The windscreen wipers slow to a gentle side to side.  I like the rain.  It reminds me of home.

“Are both of them not coming or just one?”  We are supposed to be having two school exchange students coming to stay for a week.  Tomorrow we’re going to take them to the zoo.  It will be fun.  Usually we host Italian students but this time they are French.  The note from school says not to give them take-away food, nuts or kiwi fruit.  We make a joke about the number of kiwi fruits it would take to kill a person and never having known anybody die from eating kiwi fruit we decide to ignore the note.

As the road climbs the rain ceases and we enter gently.  The lights up ahead disappear brake light by brake light.  The sound of the engine is muffled.  This evening I yearn for the bleakness of hills.  Instead we travel blindly wrapped in a blanket of fog.  Perhaps we are in space.  We have left the earth’s atmosphere and our next stop will be the moon.  Behind us we are leaving the din and brash lights of the city.  It is full of people getting ready to go out.  People coming home.  People full of expectation.  People tired of the day.  Evening people putting on evening faces.  In front is the pull of home.  Home is small, quiet and familiar.  You might find it dull in comparison to a big city.  Yes it can be boring too.  But it is comfortable.  There we make friends on our own terms.  There we laugh at ourselves and each other.  There we feel safe.

In front we are left with a single set of red brake lights to guide us.  Somebody told us at a competition that it’s better to be on the side of the box with the red light.  The referee is more likely to react to the red light.  I’m reacting to red lights now.

“They had best have a damn good reason!”

“None of them are coming.  They’re not leaving Paris.  Their headmaster has cancelled the trip.”

I’ve travelled this road many times.  It is the highest motorway in Britain.  There is a sign that tells you.  I saw a programme about it too.  It is a feat of engineering which took seven years to build.  When the Queen opened it she wore a hat that wouldn’t blow off in a gale.  On the day it was sunny and she is smiling in all the photographs.  The weather can change here in an instant.  I make a silent wish but nothing happens.  I know we must be climbing but only because of the rising pressure in my ears.

“There’s been a bomb and shootings.”

The automatic windscreen wipers burst into action.  All day the scoring boxes have buzzed and droned.  Feet on metal piste clattered.  The man from Scotland whooped even when he hadn’t got a cat in hell’s chance of scoring the point.  The girl who howls like a dingo getting its tail caught in the door was in the room.  Nobody reacted.  All day we have carried on as if this is normal human noise.  

Inside the car we fall silent.  How do you describe that silence?  Why do I want to smash that silence?  Of all the wonderful words we have rattling round our brains why do we fail to utter anything profound when we most need to?  The best I can do is “Jesus!”  

At home I have a beautiful book.  Inside are photographs of exotic places I will never get to visit.  Designs on silk and pottery from an age long past.  The cover is described as an open hand, the traditional symbol of knowledge, protection and peace.  To me it just looks like a bird in a tree but it is unlike any sort of bird I have ever seen or heard.  Chapter twenty is all about talking.  “And then a scholar said, Speak of Talking.  And he answered, saying:  You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts; And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime.”  I don’t understand everything in the book.  I think I am beginning to understand chapter twenty.

And I start to talk.  Before I know it I am defending the IRA.  

“Even the IRA gave a warning before they bombed the hell out of us.”  

Does that make them better?  Better than who?  Is it a terrorist attack?  Who has attacked who?  The signs Fog!  Fog!  Fog!  flash above us over the carriageway.  Yes I remember bombs going off in Manchester.  I remember how for a whole week afterwards everybody said “hello” to each other and tried to be nice.  It’s not about blood spattered walls, or smashed glass, or artistic images of single shoes lost in doorways.  It’s about the unknown.  The illogical.  The why?

At some point we have passed from Yorkshire to Lancashire.  On a clear day you can spot a large rose probably made out of cement on a column of bricks.  Look back and you will see one on the other side.  They are the same just different colours.  We preserve the border with large painted emblems of pride.  I was always told that pride was a bad thing.  If you care to delve into the history books you can read of bloody battles, knights and kings.  Nowadays we make jokes about each other.  They are the same jokes that have been around for years but we never get bored of them.  We even include God in some of them.  Not that we all have to believe in God anymore.  

We must have climbed to the top and now we are descending.  Sooner than I remember we are back to civilisation.  Lights appear in front of us.  Fog lights are switched off.  Perhaps this isn’t the time to rant about the way history should be taught in school and why terrorism is evil.  We don’t know if the attack in Paris has been a terrorist attack.  Time to change the subject.  

“Did you learn anything about your fencing today?” I ask.

“Wanted to get through 2 DE’s and I did.  Yep, really happy.  Might not have been a good idea to let that guy referee me when I’d just knocked him out of the competition.  But no, I’m pleased with what I did.”

As usual I am the adult trying to sound grown up and he is the grown up child who knows more than I will ever understand.

We leave the day behind us.  We forget about the fog and the feeling of helplessness.  Over the next days and weeks small things pop into our heads about a fight; a particular point won or lost; a referee’s decision.  All of the pupils in France are okay and we send them cards.  They are hoping to rearrange their trip.  Their English teacher was at the music concert at the Bataclan, Paris.  Along with many others she died when gunmen opened fire on the crowd.

The book I refer to is by Kahlil Gibran’s and is called The Prophet and the Art of Peace.

British Fencing - Sword magazine - January 2016 - Page 28 - travel writing competition