The constant drone of wheels on tarmac, a sudden downpour of rain, swirls of water jettisoned from the back of an articulated lorry, towering clouds of cotton white, deepest grey and the endless green of fields flecked with sheep and cattle. Driving on the motorways is always something of adventure, filling the boot with bags, stocking up on snacks and drinks, laughing at local radio stations and grabbing a coffee in the nowhere spaces of service stations.
Driving to and from Manchester a couple of weekends ago reminded me of trips as a kid, the seemingly endless road, counting cars, seeing hot air balloons and eating enormous bags of crisps. When we were young we’d drive to Spain every year, a three day drive of bizarre place names, the slowly descending count of kilometres to Perpignan; the Spanish border beyond. A never ending supply of ham and cheese baguettes, chocolate milk and familial bickering. We’d eat in grubby truck stops, a whole rotisserie chicken or a massive bowl of moules and the inevitable British staples of travel sweets and tea from a thermos. Someone was always sick . I’d play my Game and Watch computer game until the noise drove everyone mad, usually way before we hit Dover; Donkey Kong and calm nerves whilst driving round the Périphérique being mutually exclusive.
Here, service stations are a quintessential British experience; brash and placeless, the bright colours and neon tainted by the smell of exhaustion and the sound of crying children. The food, no matter how hard they try seems lost; it’s just fuel, like the petrol they sell. There are hints of a sea change. Marks and Spencer’s food halls seem to be trying to establish themselves on the roads along side the Burger Kings and Little Chefs and I hear good things about service stations on the M6 in Cumbria and Gordano on the M5 with local produce and good food on sale, perhaps one day French lorry drivers will be singing the praises of the Heston service station and a certain namesake might have taken over the restaurant.