Thursday, 3 March 2016

Why Life in a Vacuum Can Sometimes be Good

Yesterday morning I had to take the car to the garage. Vauxhall Zafiras have had a widely-reported problem with some heating systems going up in flames recently, leading to the manufacturer carrying out a check on affected models to ensure that they are safe. We duly got the call for our car to have the examination at our local Vauxhall dealer in Ashford. This is between 20 and 30 minutes' drive from our home, depending on traffic. so there was no question of my leaving the car and coming home again. Gilly was at work, Graham was at pre-school, Grandma was taking care of Isaac and I...?

The Vauxhall dealership is located on one of Ashford's out-of-town business parks, about two miles from the town centre. Traffic was busy and I dropped the car off at about ten past eight. The man asked whether I was waiting.
"No, I'm going to wander about a bit," I said, indicating the world outside the glass with an enigmatic wave of the hand and giving him my mobile number to contact me when required. "It's going to take about two hours isn't it?"
He glanced up, explained that this was uncertain. "Might be done in one hour."
So time was now elastic and I had between one and three hours (estimated only) to spend in complete and utter idleness; no kids, no plans, no jobs, nothing to do except wait. For this morning, at least, my life had become an empty vacuum; devoid of purpose, dedicated to idleness.

And it felt pretty good. Orbital Business Park, Ashford is not the most thrilling place to spend your time being a dull place of windswept roads, flanked by a busy dual-carriageway, open fields and housing estates and populated with car dealerships, a few manufacturing businesses, a McDonald's, the cattle market and with a tangled jungle of winter-bare vegetation in the middle. Yet, in my present mood, none of this seemed to matter; I was on holiday and not particular as to where I spent it. I found a local restaurant, ordered a large cup of coffee and sat, reading a book, listening to the radio chirping in the background and enjoying the unusual sensation of being utterly at ease while the busy world whirled around me. There are not many times when a parent can relax so completely into sloth - even our leisure moments are charged with significance and with definite boundaries (the cherished hour before bed being a prime example) - and occasionally, just occasionally, it is nice to know that if you spent the next couple of hours just staring at a blank wall and humming the lyrics to The Sound of Music it really doesn't matter one teeny, tiny bit.

I didn't, obviously. I lazed away an hour over my increasingly glacial coffee and then rose, returned my cup to the counter ( I didn't have to but I felt generous and kind this morning) and sallied forth into the Winter day without. It wasn't an ideal Winter's day; there was a good deal of grey cloud, a brisk and chilly wind and a threat of rain in the air but not even this could squash the serenity of my mood this morning. I wandered down roads bereft of beauty, past grey warehouses, sterile, glass-encased salesrooms and rows of parked cars until eventually I wended my way into a newish housing estate and took a track along the side of a brown little river. The wind whipped in vicious gusts between the houses and drove ice-cold bullets of rain into my face and rattled them around my hood. It was time to go. I turned, plodded back to the dealers, collected my car and went home; back to the children, the noise, the washing, dinner-making and nappy-changing - back to life as it is.

And, mind you, that felt good too. I believe that everybody, at some point, should be permitted a moment in the vacuum if they want it but I believe, also, that they will only want it for a while. It is the brief descent into idleness that is important, not the continuance of it; the drop that makes the climb back up much sweeter. Take this aimless existence for an hour, two hours, three and then let it go. You will have no regrets.     

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