Sunday, 6 November 2011


As I emerge blinking from the tunnel under the Thames, I realise I've allowed too much time for my journey. I've over-compensated for the usual slow crawl, that sees hundreds of cars filter through the toll booths into the tunnel like grains of sand through an egg-timer, and now I know I'll get there much too early.

Just as I'm thinking that I really don't want to hang around on my own at the training venue waiting for my colleagues to turn up, I see the sign for a service station just ahead. With a quick flick of the indicator and a twist of the wheel, I pull off the motorway and follow the road as it winds round and under the fast-flowing traffic.

It's further away than I'd expected, past the signs for the shopping centre, beyond a billboard boldly announcing the'ultimate karting experience'. As I turn in, the slip-road winds on and on until I'm almost convinced I've missed the car-park and I'll be spat back out onto the motorway, but then I see it, looming up out of the last remaining wisps of the early-morning mist.

The huge, white concrete slabs are incongruous against the wasteland and scrub. It's almost as though I'm reliving my childhood games in the garden and I've shrunk down to the size of my lego set. And, as I struggle to find the entrance, I wonder if, just like some of my lego creations, they've forgotten to put in a door.

Inside, it's almost empty, the only other customers are men. So many of them seem to be wearing the unofficial working-man's uniform of an over-sized navy sweatshirt and loose-bottomed jeans. I wonder how many of them actually have any connection with the logos emblazoned on their chests.

The high-pitched welcome of the girl behind the coffee counter is a strange sing-song contrast to the hum of deep male voices all around me. She works slowly and methodically, completing each order with care before starting the next. Even at this time, with so few people about, a queue starts to form. I take my coffee over to a table by the window. Everyone else is dotted around the edges of the room, as though in some sort of hidden code, they've all agreed they won't take the tables in the middle.

I look up across the room at the harsh flashing lights of the 'Lucky Coin' concession, where an array of slot machines and computer games shout silently across the space. I'm always surprised to see these machines, I can't quite fathom the mindset that makes people simply give away their money to a shiny metal monster; even now there's a navy-sweat-shirted man there, pressing the buttons, in desperation or unbridled optimism; either strikes me as sad.

In one corner is an old man, well past the age for the working-men's clothing, he's wearing a cord jacket and a tweed cap. 'A proper old man' I think, as I look across. At first I think he's asleep, then I see him turn the page of the huge large-print book propped up on the table in front of him. I quickly dismiss the unbidden thought and sense of relief that he's neither asleep nor dead. At this time of the day it's hard to think of a worse fate than dying alone and unnoticed in a motorway service station.

To my right is floor to ceiling glass. The clear panes are dotted with transfer images of coffee beans and costa cups; they look like a skein of geese flying across the sky. Outside the mist has cleared, and I realise that time is passing and I need to get on my way. As I pick up my coat and bag I glance out of the window, and I'm surprised to see a huge lake spread out behind the Lego, surrounded by trees and shrubs, with real birds flying across it. I'd had no idea it was there.

As I head back to my car and continue my journey, I'm glad to be reminded that there's so often another view, another world, just waiting to be seen.


Anonymous said...

nasty looking thing from this angle. I'm glad there was another view of it.

ND Mitchell said...

Love your attention to detail here. It's true that service areas are often eyesores in what might otherwise be beautiful places. The characters you describe are brought to life so well-I could almost feel the relief when the old man turned his page!!

Dicky said...

What a spooky tale. Did you mean it to be? And what on earth is that place? Great story as always. Love the way I'm not sure if it's real or not? OK, enough questions...

Susan Cooper said...

Very discriptive and interesting to read . It is a good reminder to pay attention to the world around us. We can always find beauty when we take the time to look.
Susan Cooper

Nessa Roo said...

Every paragraph had something I loved. The counter girl, the no door/lego issue, the old/not yet dead man, the hidden view. I love that you've tagged it The Lego; that part was very entertaining.
Great post, once again.

The Elephant's Child said...

Beautiful elegant prose. And I was so grateful that the lake and the birds were there as a counterpoint.

Cle Reveries said...

...yes, "there's so often another view, another world, just waiting to be seen" and with you I may see that world.
Thank you Kate, when I read your delicious prose I am there with you.
I live abroad, I'm a foreigner, I like your fantastic way of observing and describing the unusual English spots.
You are so lovely that I consider you one of my best friends.

Pat said...

Why aren't there more people like you who would never give a monosyllalabillic answer to such questions as: did you see anyone - did anything happen - what was it like - who was there?
There used to be a service station on the way to the Lakes with a lake - which was a pleasant surprise.

Lizzie said...

Really a facinating look into what is usually somewhere we are so used to using as a stop-by, a place not so much to visit or notice, but for convenience. You gave the service station an identity - and brought everything within it to life. I love the way you capture your subjects so beautifully. Great writing!

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Nice! The Lego seemed so uncomfortable; it takes on a whole different aspect when its setting includes a lake.

Jayne said...

Love this piece, Sharon. The contrast, at the end, between the stark Lego-like building and its pretty, but probably oft overlooked, natural surroundings is wonderful. Aren't you glad you stopped there!

I'm glad you noticed. :)

Duckbutt said...

Really fine prose! You evoked some memorable imagery in it.

Pearl said...

The setting of a truly bad R-rated movie! I was expecting that you'd be led away in a white jacket, protesting, the final shot of your car being towed to the back, by the lake, where all the other cars have been hidden from view.


I need to get out more often.


Bobby Stevenson said...

Sharon, I think Lego would sue if they thought they were being compared to that building. I love the phrase, 'a proper old man' because I know what you mean in an instant which is the strength in your brilliant writing.

Cindy Chance said...

Sharon, I also love the reference to Lego's, your size, and the idea of no door. Love the way you describe the "proper old man", the center tables everyone avoids, and the way you just take a mundane day and mundane observations and create a word picture we can all live within, if only for a moment.
Cindy at

Eryl said...

You have reminded me how much I love motorway service stations.

Sharon Longworth said...

mybabyjohn/Delores - you're absolutely right - it was a nasty looking place - I'm glad the forbidding exterior didn't out me off entirely.

NDMitchell - thank you! I'm an absolute sucker for fragile looking old men - the thought of anyone possibly dying on their own in a place like that is just too horrible, so it really was a relief when I realised he was ok.

Dicky - not intentionally spooky - but I guess it was.

Susan - indeed! I just wish I could sometimes find more time to do just that.

Sharon Longworth said...

Nessa Roo - I'm dead chuffed that you found so much to like in this - thank you!

The elephant's child - yes, it was so good to see some real life and nature and not just bleak lego blocks.

Cle Reveries - goodness me! thank you,

Pat - that's the kindest way of saying I talk too much I've ever heard! Oh and it's been far too long since I visited the lakes.

Lizzie - as ever, thank you!

Jennifer said...

the conclusion to this was wonderful.