On a Friday recently a mate and I both had a ‘what the hell’ moment, took the afternoon off work, and went for a ride. It was a pleasure, made all the sweeter by the thought of what we could have been doing instead (something involving spreadsheets and management speak). It felt like we had decided to play truant – to give double maths and French vocab a miss and go and smoke cigarettes under a bridge somewhere. The pavlovian temptation to glance furtively around on the lookout for someone who might tell us off added a bit of extra fun to proceedings.
As we floated through the lanes of Lancashire with pre-weekend abandon we came across a worrying sight. These particular lanes have a waterlogged trench running alongside for drainage purposes, and our inane chatter was disrupted by a red Mini Cooper, sticking out of that trench at a rakish angle on the outside of a bend. No other people were around and so our first thought was, of course, whether anyone was in the car and whether they were OK. We sprinted to the car, unclipped, and dashed into the trench; immediately relieved to see moss growing on the black soft-top. The car had clearly been there for some time, and there was no-one inside.
It seemed a strange place to crash though, and even stranger that it had been there long enough for moss to take hold – we’re living in hard economic times, can people really afford to drive a Mini Cooper into a ditch for the fun of it and leave it there, like an obscure and pseudo-philosophical art installation? Surely, at the very least, it needed a little title plaque (car-in-a-ditch?) and a brief description of what the artist was trying to convey (love, loss, reckless abandon?).
As we stood and pondered this unusual sight the air somehow hung heavy with the back story of this car; who’s was it? how did it get there? why had it been left long enough for moss to get growing? was somebody somewhere sitting at home, unconcerned, while their car lay headfirst in a ditch? The fact that the car-in-a-ditch was surrounded by empty fields and quiet lanes added a certain eeriness to the scene.
So we stood and looked, silently, and thought ‘well, what should we do?’. We pondered some more…’well, nothing, obviously’…and we rode on. In these times of You Tube and 24hr global media it’s easy to get the feeling that you’ve seen everything, and if you think of something you haven’t seen then you Google it, and there’ll be a video clip somewhere which hits the spot. I can’t imagine a video clip on You Tube of a Mini Cooper sticking obliquely out of a shallow ditch would get too many hits, but to stumble across this in real life – in 3D and high definition – was unusual and thought provoking and took me back to being a child.
When I was a boy we played out; we made dens, dammed rivers and climbed trees, and the holy grail of playing out was to find something odd. In the movies, it’s a dead body in the woods, but in real-life boyhood it was a skip full of bric-a-brac, a shopping trolley in a field or a dead fox in a car park. A Mini Cooper sticking out of a ditch would have felt like a lottery win – we would’ve had days of fun and mischief out of that.
We’d have tried the doors, opened the bonnet, invited people to come and look at it…we’d have felt like mini celebrities, child stars. And if we’d found this new toy whilst out playing truant, well – that would have been the stuff of legend.
But now we’re grown-ups so we looked at it, had a little think, and then pedalled on our way. I didn’t even take a photo.