Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sea Spray

After extensive research I can reveal that the worst service station on the M5 is Frankley northbound (between junctions 3 and 4). Mere words cannot begin to describe its awfulness but if you must visit it I will proffer this advice: leave nothing but tyre-prints, take nothing but a quick leak. Then get the hell out of there.

Strensham southbound isn’t so bad. It's one of those silvery-glass Roadchef ones mostly consisting of a huge lounge area with armchairs, just right for reclining and dopily contemplating the gentle unreality of such travellers’ non-places.

We stopped at it on the way home on Monday and ate McDonalds. That’s right, educated blog readers, MCDONALDS! Mrs Brit had an excuse for this – she is pregnant and is therefore entitled to eat a breakfast consisting of a cup of microwave porridge and a Rolo McFlurry ice-cream. My defence is that I am required to put on a stone as a mark of solidarity with my birthing partner. After the indolent Turkey trip I’m well on the way and I imagine the strange cheesy-baconey bagel thing I consumed was another helpful nudge in the right direction.

The bagel was terrible and delicious. McDonalds has dramatically improved, hasn’t it? I avoided the place for about 12 years, regarding it as by far the worst of all the major fast food joints – partly because of my middle-class food snobbery, but mainly because they seemed to do something to everything to make it taste nasty. But since they’ve tarted up the branding and introduced all the supposedly healthy stuff, it leaves Burger King in the dust (KFC still rules, of course). At Strensham my cup of PG Tips was 80p and compared to the £3.99 buckets of froth on offer at Costa Coffee, McDonalds seemed honest, humane and noble.

For various reasons I seem to spend a lot of time on the motorways. I don’t mind because it means I can get through a lot of CDs, such as Paul Weller’s last one, 22 Dreams. It had very good reviews and indeed it is a return to form after a decade of mneh dadrock. Mind you 14 Dreams would be an even better album as there’s a fair bit of noodling nonsense on there. But it’s a good motorway record: its length kills a lot of junctions and it ebbs and flows along nicely, carrying you home and then right at the end wallops you with a wonderful, rolling, sucker punch of a song called ‘Sea Spray’.

Immediately upon hearing the song for the first time I felt like I’d learnt it in the womb. It filled me with a faux-nostalgia which then triggered a drenching Proustian torrent of real, awful nostalgia for the town of my early childhood: the cold sunlit slabs of Old Portsmouth harbour long before they built the Spinnaker Tower, the Pompey Chimes, the broken trampolines sunk in the shingle beach, the salty air, learning the forward defensive cricket shot on Southsea Common, fizzy coke and crisps at the Still and West pub, schooltrips tramping around HMS Victory, cub scouts, foghorns, Spice Island, North End and South Parade Pier, vast naked ships in drydock, Grandad watching the racing as we munch corned beef sandwiches, acolytes in Portsmouth Cathedral, the Jubilee Fountain and the ferries churning ceaselessly across the dirty bluegreen, scrotumtightening sea.

That sort of nostalgic rush is pretty dangerous when you’re barrelling down the M5. I’ve always said I had no particular geographical roots other than Englishness so it’s strange to find them suddenly tangling at your soul from a 2008 Paul Weller number, but there they were.


monix said...

There must be something extra in the tea at Strensham services. I had some on the northbound journey, just before a series of accidents forced us to leave the motorway and take the scenic route. I was overcome with intense nostalgia for my childhood home, too.

worm said...

my favourite service stations are the original 60's ones, especially the really 'futuristic' ones with restaurants over the motorway and things like that. I love that juxtaposition between the optimism of the original designs, and how people must have seen them as exotic when they opened, with the modern grey disappointment of the crumbling concrete and lorries rumbling through litter.

And I fully agree, KFC all the way - especially the Hot Wings

Gaw said...

Very true about the motorway reveries. I wonder whether the monotonous regularities of motorway driving induce a sort of meditative state?

Having children triggered a flood of childhood memories in me. I wonder whether the imminent arrival is doing the same for you? Coincidentally, I've recently been listening to Thick as Thieves (from Setting Sons), a track which evokes intense nostalgia for childhood friendships.

malty said...

The opposite ends of the petronosh spectrum are, and we need to time warp here, Johno's Caff halfway down Wrotham hill on the old A20, at weekends in the mid sixties packed with mods and rockers exchanging venue details for the next punch up.
The cuisine, if indeed it was, consisted of brown sauce sandwiches with some embedded sausage, tea served by the gallon and so corrosive that the mugs were titanium lined. Conversation was inevitably about who had just died doing the ton.
The old A20 was made famous by Fleming of course, some baddie cutting the rope holding the paper bales on the back of a Reed's paper mill lorry and ruining Bonds Aston.

At t'uther end is the Hoose of Bruar on the A9 near Blair Atholl, a roadside cafe with retailing, reeking with such pretentiousnessit makes Harvey Nicks seem normal.
This joint has shops selling the green welly, New Zealand waxed coaching stuff by the boatload, attracts mainly the Freelander-Discovery tribe in all of their deeply embarrassing glory.
The provender on offer is mainly of the econosh / wee pretendy local produce variety so stock up with your own sandwiches for afters.
Oh, and did I mention the silly prices.

Of the two, Johno's has to be the winner, the customers were mainly earthlings.

Anonymous said...

i really like motorway service stations. i haven't driven in 5 years but service stations were one of the definite pluses of being a motorised Elberry.

Brit said...

Great comments, all.

You're right about motorway reveries, Gaw, but only when driving south or west, I find.

Malty - splendid stuff... 'petronosh' and 'econosh' will be part of my lexicon henceforth.