Friday, 29 July 2011

On the side

I'm not sure exactly when they arrived. One day the sides of the motorway were just plain banks of grass, the next, there was a swathe cut through and a tarmac path running parallel to the road. Suddenly there were three caravans, parked nose to tail on the concrete, traffic cones marking their space like a red and white picket fence.

There are net curtains at the windows; a strange suggestion of homeliness, and once or twice I've seen a man emerge blinking into the early morning sunshine as I pass by on my way to work. He wears the violent lime-green overalls of a construction worker and I wonder if he is actually living at the side of the road.  The transition from my quiet home to the hectic madness of the motorway is always a shock to me; I can't imagine what it must be like to have no transition at all, to spend your working days and sleeping nights on the side of the road. This is one of the busiest motorways in the country, there is no end to the roaring traffic, and as the lorries thunder past rocking the fragile trailers, I think it must be like living in a constantly churning tumble dryer.

I wonder what the workers do once they've finished for the day. I picture a thick-set man in his late forties, ducking his head to step through the small doorway. He takes off the hard-hat he's been wearing all day and tries to rub away the lines it has left on his forehead. Then he eases off the heavy boots and places them together just inside the door. I see him trying to wash the grime of the road off his hands at a small stainless steel sink, before heating a tin of beans on a tiny two-ring stove. What does he do for the rest of the evening? Perhaps he's slumped back against the geometric-patterned fabric of a thin bench, peering at a portable TV; he must be frustrated at the quality of the picture, the poor reception caused by the constant traffic. Does he sit at the small table playing game after game of solitaire,or quietly reading until his eyes get heavy and he realises he's almost asleep and missing half the words? I smile at the thought that one night he might order himself a take-away;  at the image of the bewildered pizza-boy, trying to find the right lay-by.

The roadworks are scheduled to last until the summer of 2012; twelve months of contra-flow systems and traffic cones; a whole year of speed limits that the crawling traffic has no chance of breaking, and speed cameras that threaten us should we dare. As summer turns to autumn, winter, then spring, I'll pass through this way on my journey  to work each day and back again in the evening. I've no doubt I'll complain when the traffic is bad, swear when I get held up. I won't enjoy the journey, but I will be grateful that, unlike the imagined residents of the roadside caravans, I am just passing through.

11 comments:

lladybugg said...

:) "I think it must be like living in a constantly churning tumble dryer."
This made me think of people who have made their homes permanently on the side of the highway, purchasing houses on the side of the road so they can have a huge plot of land.

Everytime I pass by I wonder how loud it must be, when logging and transport trucks go by. I cant even begin imagine what it would be like to live on a busy motorway would be like. But I suppose you have done that for me.

Wonderful, whimsical words...giving us a peak at what it might be like to live that life.

-Kristi

The Idiot Gardener said...

Another nice clean 'bite' of life.

Maybe you should visit him one day, tell him you're a neighbour, snd give him a home-baked apple pie!

Deirdra Eden-Coppel said...

You have a fabulous blog! I want to award you with one of my homemade awards: Powerful Woman Writer Award for all the hard work you do!

Go to http://astorybookworld.blogspot.com/p/awards.html and pick up your award.
~Deirdra

Starlight said...

A brilliant piece, I loved it very much.

Pat said...

Maybe he wears earplugs. People do get inured to noise. I once stayed with a friend in her skyscraper apartment in New York and there were police sirens from the street below all night.
I wonder why there is only one of him?

light208 said...

Just lovely. A great read for a Sunday morning - a chance to imagine someone else's life.

I was recently walking in Wales and a fantastic group of construction workers stopped work to let me walk through because there was no pavement along the road. They have my admiration - I don't know that I would cope well with that lifestyle.

Happy Frog and I said...

I love your writing as you know and this is such a beautiful snapshot. So many lines I could quote but I particularly liked 'He takes off the hard-hat he's been wearing all day and tries to rub away the lines it has left on his forehead.' I could really visualise the scene through your eyes.

Baglady said...

Fab piece - I love the way you've mixed fiction and non-fiction so well to let us peak behind those net curtains.

Shopgirl said...

A nearby road and shopping complex have been under construction for some time now, and sadly I've lived in your last paragraph (the grumbling parts) off and on.

Kudos for taking a sight like this and turn it into something so beautiful.

caterpillar said...

I love the way you find stories in the most routine things of life and then put those stories into words so well....

Bth said...

What a different story. I love the way you can pick up a scene in the world and turn it into something colourful and interesting with a background and personality. I agree with Baglady, the fiction/nonfiction mix worked really well!