Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Driving in the Dark

As I drove back home after taking my mother to the airport at the end of her visit, I trundled through the evening traffic and watched the moon rise golden, slightly melted at the edge, now it’s just past full. I had to get my night eyes back in training, remember to focus my eyes on the lines at the side of the road, not in the middle to get drawn magnetically towards the oncoming traffic. I realised that these days I hardly ever do drive in the dark. I’m usually at home cooking supper as the sun sets. It is my husband and sisters-in-law whose headlights the children watch for at the gate.

Long gone the easy nonchalance of my youth, the disdain with which I secretly regarded those who made a big deal out of setting off home before it got dark. These last couple of weeks, unusually, I’ve made several late journeys back from Cape Town after having dinner with my clients and though I’m not nervous of the driving after dark, there is a frisson of daring, where I used to be blasé.

The novelty brings back memories: a crazy epic journey in a Landrover from Italy back to England in under 24 hours, driving through the night along the autoroute in France at hours when the only other vehicles are long distance truckers, keeping awake with a supply of Pocket Coffees – wickedly strong dark chocolates with a liquid centre of condensed espresso coffee, no music but the noisy chortling of a diesel engine, the so urgent cargo in the back an entire cured Carpegna ham (like Parma ham but far more recherché!), several pecorino cheeses from Pienza, wines from out of the way Italian vineyards, some prized extra virgin olive oil, all due back for a gourmet tasting the next day. Now I don’t know how I did it and also wonder Why did I do it?! From time’s perspective it seems far more desirable to wander in a leisurely way across France, in daylight to enjoy the view, rather than hurtling madly throught the small hours of the night in a speed/ endurance challenge.

Other memories of living in London, where winter darkness engulfs the afternoon rush hour, raindrenched windscreen wipers creating prisms of light from a multitude of headlights in the traffic, the swoosh of tyres through puddles, fog blurring the Christmas lights strung across the high street. Here we’re closer to the Equator so the difference between the length of day in summer and winter isn’t so pronounced. Our winter evenings draw in when we are already at home, unless we’ve been out visiting friends late in Cape Town, and high street Christmas lights are only ever seen unlit in the summer sunlight.

There are some bonusses to driving through the dusk: against the extra concentration and hands gripping the steering wheel extra tight, I weigh up the glow of setting sun behind the outline of Lion’s Head and Table Mountain, the full moon rising benignly to guide me home, stars glimmering above the sea fog that creeps over the road and curtains off our hills, so that the watched for silhouette of black hill against dark sky is strangely absent, making me suspect that I’ve travelled unwittingly into a different dimension by blindly following the tail lights in front of me! Then the warm lights of home beckon me as I get out to open the farm gate and the moon smiles gently having seen me safely home.


  1. A beautiful journey. I love how the mind traverses planes while driving a well known path. That is what I miss most about driving.

    Beautiful post.

  2. What a vivid and beautiful post! Your writing is so rich with visuals and language. Lovely Kit.


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