Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Russian Roulette.

I’m on the M4 early heading westward to Heathrow. I thought it would be easy because it’s Wednesday, and early, and I’m going out of London, but I thought wrong and we’re late. 

To make matters worse Middle One has paired his phone instead of mine to the car bluetooth system so we’re having to listen to The Coral and Mystery Jets the whole way.

"Elizabeth," says a doom-laden voice from the back of the car, because as well as Middle One I have two of his friends with me, a girl and another boy. The doom-laden voice belongs to the girl.

“Yes?” I say.

“I’m looking at the M4 on my phone,” says the girl, just as a police car passes us, blue lights flashing, “and I hate to tell you this, but…”

“Go on,” I say.

“There’s been a huge, massive, enormous accident," she says.

"Where?" I say.

"Further on up the road,” she says.


"How bad?" I say.

"Bad,” she says.

“Yes, but how bad?”

“Fifty minutes from here until we reach Heathrow, bad,” she says.


Middle One and his two friends are going on a school trip to Russia with their A-level history group. The rendezvous time is eight. It’s already past eight and we only just passed the GlaxoSmithKline building. 

I get out a bag of sweets and pass them around.

“If we miss the flight, guys, I know it’s my fault,” says the boy, “because you had to pick me up from Trinity Road.”

"It's not your fault," I say, “all part of the service. And you won’t miss your flight, your teacher built in masses of spare time.”

I know this because the original rendezvous time was 9.00, for a 10.55 flight. It was changed to 8.00 in the blink of an eye, at a school meeting in which the teacher took fifty minutes to deliver information that could easily have been condensed into a snappy fifteen, or even an information sheet. Do they think parents have time to kill?

Why oh why did I decide to drive? Stupid me. Stupid. Naïve. Foolish. Me. They could have got the tube. Now I’m stuck in this traffic jam and I can’t even remember the reason. It had something to do with enjoying driving and having my music in the car, and wanting to meet my brother for coffee in Hammersmith because I haven’t seen him for a while.

I pass my phone to Middle One. “Dial my brother,” I say.

“That’s a bit shit,” says my brother over the car phone, when I explain that I might be late because of the jam. “I’m free until 9.45 but then I’m playing tennis, so if you get here later than that we’ll have to do it another day."

I end the call. "Did I ever tell you about the time I missed the Acton turn off when I was meant to be directing a shoot there?” I ask Middle One.

“Yes,” he says.

“The RV was in a laundrette,” I say, “and I ended up having to go all the way on the M4 to Heathrow before I could turn back.”

“Yes,” he says, "you told me."

“I knew the crew was waiting for me in the laundrette (which was actually quite beautiful) and I was so stressed, I nearly died.”

“Yes,” he says. ‘You did tell me.”

“I thought I was going to have a heart attack. If there hadn’t been a central barrier between the two lanes, I would definitely have done a u-turn from the fast lane on the motorway.”

He doesn't say anything.

Well, clever-clogs, I think, I certainly didn’t tell you that the feeling was so overwhelming, and physical, that I started to menstruate right there and then in the car, even though I wasn’t due to do so for several more days - so ha! And I still don’t tell him this, of course, because that would be way too embarrassing and he would be totally “grossed out.”

"Everyone is telling me to bring them something back from Russia,” says the girl.

“Yeah,” says Middle One, “they all want vodka.”

“No one is telling me bring them anything,” mutters the boy, quietly, from behind me.

"You're 17," I say to Middle One. "You're not supposed to drink vodka, let alone buy it in Russia."

"I think you should turn off, Elizabeth,” says the girl, who is 18, and therefore exactly the right age to drink vodka in Britain and in Russia, so she tells me. “I think you can get to Terminal 5 via Terminals 1, 2 and 3.”

Middle One and the girl begin to field a succession of calls, texts, and WhatsApp messages from other friends who are also in cars crawling along the M4 being driven by other over-indulgent/unemployed (sorry, ‘freelance’) parents needlessly dropping their kids at Heathrow. 

"You should come off,” says the girl.

“You should stay on,” says Middle One, at exactly the same time.

“I can’t make a decision with everybody talking at me at exactly the same time!” I shout. “Help me make a decision! Where do I come off?”

“You just passed it, Elizabeth,” says the girl.

“Brilliant.” I say. “Oh well. I need to know for sure anyway. I’m not leaving this road without proof.”

"Someone’s dad just said we can’t get to Terminal 5 via 1, 2 and 3,” says Middle One, his phone clamped to his ear, “and this jam clears in a minute.”

He's spot on, as usual, and it does. We get to Heathrow at 8.55. The three kids leap out. “I’ll see you soon,” I say, holding Middle One to me and kissing him good-bye. He dashes off with the girl as the boy takes his bag from the boot and turns to follow.

“Hey,” I say, “I forgot to tell you.”


“Will you bring me something?" I say. "From Russia?”

“Very funny," he says.

“It doesn’t matter what,” I say, “just so long as it’s for my eyes only.”

Back in the car, I pair my phone to the bluetooth system and drive off, straight into a London-bound traffic jam. 

Love E x


P.S. The things we do for our kids. But I did have a few minutes with my brother in a café round the corner from the Polish Centre on King's Street, which had just been vandalised. Whatever happened to live and let live?

From Russia, with love from my boy.

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