ABBA, Blueberry Muffin, BREXIT, Heavy is the Head, Kiera Knightly, Lexus, Life On Earth, Love Actually, Maltesers, mamma mia, Playlists, recycling, Sir David Attenborough, Skidmarks, Snap Chat, Speed of Life, speeding, Spotify, Stephen Fry, Stormzy, SUV Hybrid, TXTing
Mike did not see Sir David Attenborough until the moment he stepped in front of Mike’s speeding Lexus Hybrid NX 300h.
Thankfully Mike did what every right-minded father-of-two raised on endless episodes of Life on Earth would do when a force of nature steps in front of your vehicle.
He braked; heavily.
Truthfully Sir David was never in danger. A combination of a fierce primal instinct to preserve Sir David’s life and the superior braking system of Mike’s new hybrid Lexus SUV meant that Sir David was successfully avoided. Mike was highly attuned to forces of nature. He recycled – and drove a hybrid, albeit a self-consciously ‘desirable’ one.
No, It was the occupants of Mike’s car who experienced the full weight of this event. In so many different ways.
The first fact we must absorb is that Mike is speeding. No surprise there. It’s not that Mike is irresponsible. He is a very cautious man in many ways. But. The smarter the technology life gives us, the simpler and more effortless our ability to accelerate to fibre-light speed, and the more cocooned we are made to feel as we do it, the more oblivious we are. And ultimately, the faster we go. It’s a human thing. It’s what we do.
Now to Mike’s driving. Is he fully attentive to the road? Kind of. Truth be told, he is perhaps a little preoccupied with how things are going right now. Mike is a reasonably senior director in a small local firm. And BREXIT has been a little bumpy – but things are sort of OK. They’d only had to lay off Sharshi, but frankly that was more to do with her being a gob-on-a-stick as well as being highly inappropriate with the logistics manager over company email than it had to do with any financial pressures bought on by ‘BREXIT. But Mike cannot shake this creeping feeling that failure is lurking around every corner at the moment.
The other occupants in Mike’s speeding Lexus NX 300h with superior braking are: Tilly, Mike’s partner. Tilly is an exceptionally rigorous and controlled laboratory director at the local University. And part time keep-fit instructor. Though right now, data sets and crunches are the furthest thing from her mind. She looks blankly at the txt. thread she should never have answered talking back to her now in highly physical terms. Words like sucking and pumping shouldn’t be in her message threads, especially when accompanied by a picture like that. Jesus! Her laboratory was potentially losing funding – cheers BREXIT – so everything is a little crazy.
Next is Kiera [yes, really. Blame the film Love Actually.] Kiera. 15 years old. Up to her ears in GCSE study modules, performance anxiety and Spotify playlists [her most recent being MentalSplinter – music to die for.] At this very moment life is a mixture of ear-bleeding headphone-induced oblivion, fierce self scrutiny, a particularly tricky spot on her hairline and a pubic pimple that was frankly freaking her out. Fuck growing up if this is what it had to offer.
And then there is Rachel. The ‘clever’ one. Rachel is 13 and better read than Mike currently. Two more text books and she will over-take her mother. She is startlingly astute, with a vocabulary and syntactical sensitivity that could fell Stephen Fry. BUT. For all of Rachel’s blistering astuteness, learned appreciations and curious ability to breakdance, she cannot fathom what to do with the complete B in year 8 making her life an utter hell on SnapChat. Speccy virgin. Shoot yourself. Skiddy Knickers. Nightmare. And no idea how to stop it. Yes. I know… I shouldn’t even be on Snap Chat but COME ON people. Anyway, right this minute, the sun’s streaming across her and ABBA are on her playlist. LOVE Mamma Mia!
And now to that series of events:
Well, heavy braking creates a rather remarkable succession of immutable truths – unstoppable occurrences that one always hopes will end well. So with an optimistic note, let’s unpack them a little more.
The minute Mike hits the brakes two things happen. And they happen in hyper-slow motion.
Firstly everyone in the car is dragged [sometimes screaming] at hyper-speed from whatever thought, moment, reverie, dream, fantasy, space or private perceived hell hole they’re in into the Now. Boom. And what a Now it is.
As the driver’s reflex dictates, Mike puts his left arm across Tilly’s chest to potentially stop her over-accelerating towards the dashboard and, hopefully, the airbag – and in doing so comes far closer to her breasts than he has been for quite some time.
At the exact moment Mike stamps on the brakes, Tilly’s txt concerns become utterly irrelevant as a mixture of gravitational pull and sheer momentum pitch her towards the dashboard in a rather twisted and uncomfortably movement caused by her badly positioned seat-belt [Tilly always slightly wriggles the seat belt down and across her so it doesn’t cut into her gunmetal silk blouse.] The raised airbag logo on the dash board is something she has no wish to become more closely acquainted with but equally appreciates that she may well end up emblazoned on her forehead. What’s more it will be reversed in much the same way that AMBULANCE is written to be legible in the rear view mirror. Nonetheless forwards she goes. And she is uncertain as to what is less welcome, the word airbag tattooed on her forehead, or Mike’s hand hovering in intimate proximity to her breasts.
Rachel’s master plan of destroying Yr 8 B in a firestorm of BRILLIANT Snap Chat ripostes simply leaps from her mind as she starts a low-rider body slide towards the back of her mother’s seat. The combination of highly-synthetic patterned jeggings and the leather-creamed sheen of the open-stitched leather seats quickens her already pacy trajectory as the lower seatbelt-strap ratchets up over her hips as its diagonal strap hovercrafts upwards over her wrinkled chin towards her pert nose. The phone that’s in her hand is now just another item in the vehicle heading forwards at a greater velocity than the vehicle in which it is currently travelling. Mamma Mia, here I go again…my my… how can I resist it. For Rachel resistance is futile as forwards she goes in super slo-mo, her wide eyes furiously snapping a million single images in quick succession to turn into some survival slide show for a later date.
Kiera’s mind’s eye has dumped the multiple threads of general teenage angst, confusion over two-timing Archie, the pubic pimple debacle and exam horror to concentrate solely on her trajectory towards the back of her father’s driving seat and the small plasma screen currently showing High School Musical 3 with the sound off. In this moment Kiera is focused on the general dynamics of her motion towards an irritatingly perfect Troy Bolton as her seat-belt steps into the role of Sharpay, holding her back from an accelerated rendezvous with Troy’s plasma-screen lips. This series of unfortunate events is accompanied by the 4th random play track on her Mental Splinters playlists. As it turns out, Stormzy’s Heavy is the Head is the perfect anthem, given that her heavy head separates from her headphones like Usain Bolt on a very good day.
The second thing that happens in times of heavy braking is an exercise in relativity. When seen from the outside world through which it moves, the car slows rapidly, but when viewed from the inside we see that the the occupants inside the slowing vehicle experience the polar opposite physical phenomenon as they accelerate through the cars space, embarking on a whole new journey through space and time. And not only the occupants, but every other thing in the car that is not of the car.
As the Lexus screeches to a halt things fall open, fall apart, tip over, reveal themselves. Objects roll out from under seats and from behind head and arm rests and door side pockets – things once considered lost, or misplaced, or nicked by one’s siblings: Those special Lego characters thought pilfered. A small corner of an ancient blueberry muffin, a load of CDs [wot they] that simply got transferred from the old car to the new one and got dumped in the boot. Three random and now chalky Maltesers. A pen. Old car park tickets. Carb Killa wrappers. A branded gym water-bottle A scrunched and discarded note, written by a teenage admirer. A copy of a ‘no idea, never been there’ restaurant payment receipt for a meal for two. And a Final Reminder letter that proved to upsetting to open.
Once these are seen, they re-enter the lives of the car and the occupants, evidence of other times and moments until recently lost to them.
In a time of heavy braking, as the speed of life both reverses and accelerates, the unseen become seen. Things reveal themselves to Mike, Tilly, Kiera and Rachel – material things, physical things, emotional things, spiritual things – things that they might otherwise miss, ignore, over-look or feel able to hide in the usual speed of life.
And in the midst of this moment, their minds will demonstrate exactly how quickly we adapt – how we create expanses of inner space in what we thought was a mind full up with life’s really important stuff – an expanse of inner space that gives us the room to take up new threads, scrutinise events, record information, and expand to accommodate all of those tasks and complex conundrums and puzzles to solve in the next few nano seconds.
In a moment of extreme reflex survival, our hearts and minds demonstrate how resilient they truly are – how fast they can operate, how much they can absorb, how much thinking they can do, how much consideration they can muster and how many decisions and commitments they can make in the lifetime of infinitesimal moments that occur in times off heavy braking. And in that moment we are re-stitched into the fabric of each other’s lives in the most profound way.
All of this seems clear enough.
The big question is this – when the period of heavy braking is over – once the agile, highly engineered and resourceful Lexus NX 300h comes to a stop [beautifully of course, as the hi spec ABS and sports suspension has fulfilled its role] – once everyone is checked and found to be OK, other than the odd scuff, chaff and wrench – what will Mike, Tilly, Keira and Rachel have learned? About themselves and those in the car with them? What life lessons and outtakes can they pop in the back of their memory for later?
Will the shared moment of dramatic suspension – the memory of their collective journey through space and time, hurtling through the inner space of Lexus engineering towards the unknown [the cosmic unknown that is – there is very little unknown about a windscreen, air bag or dashboard], the intimate proximity of it, their shared expulsions of breath, their primal exclamations, all mixing in some primal soupy in-car atmosphere of survival – will those things positively imprint on Mike, Tilly, Keira and Rachel?
Will the experience make them see how some things are barely worth the anguish or the upset – and how sometimes our vanities and inflated expectations of ourselves and what life serves us are just that and with the gift of a clarifying experience to guide us, should be set aside and good things embraced.
Who knows? But you can only hope.
In these times of heavy braking, take the time of slo-mo living that it presents to look to those closest to you, open your eyes to them – freeze frame these moments. And try and catalogue the gifts this time gives us. Starting with the realisation that the previous speed of life was bullshit really. And all that shiny ‘look at me’ momentum was simply that, the veneer of our vanity. Take the time to think What If… what if we managed to capture even the smallest of the gains from this time of heavy braking – insights, realisations, commitments, behaviours, resolutions, even the smallest of transformations in ourselves, our families, our communities and our societies. That would be good. That would be something.
Author’s Note: I apologies if the use of Sir David Attenborough as the human embodiment of Nature’s volatility. Sir David is Nature to millions of people – so I popped him in there. Though he may not like being used to represent COVID 19 – and some might even question the ‘natural’ nature of the virus given humanity’s ability to turn it into a blight.