Saturday, 5 April 2008

Martin Amis, London Fields - Traffic

Now -- the streets, the traffic. We know that traffic reflects the temperaments of the great capitals (and here in a farewell flourish I invoke my world citizenship): the unsmiling triumphalism of Paris, the fury and despair of old New York, the cat-and-mouse audacity of Rome, the ragged murder of Cairo, the showboat longevity of Los Angeles, the industrial durance of Bombay or Delhi, where, four times a day, the cars lash the city in immovable chains. But here, in London -- I just don't get it.
They adore doubleparking. They do. This is true love -- a love whose month is ever May. They park in the middle of the goddamned street. I turned into the All Saints Road -- and it wasn't a road any longer. It was a lot, a doubleparking lot. The traffic lights are barely more than decoration, like Christmas lights. You hit a red at the crossroads but you inch forward anyway, in the lock, into the headlock. You may even decide the time is ripe to get out and run an errand. Why? Why not? Everybody else does it. It seems clear to me, after five seconds' thought,t hat if everybody does it then nobody gets around, nobody gets anywhere. But everybody does it because everybody does it. And here's the other thing: hardly anyone seems to mind. At the crossroads the drunken youth drops out of his van and waddles into GoodFicks or Potato Love or the Butchers Arms, and the cars don't mind. They just nudge and shove each other, the old heaps, and not angrily, in this intimacy of metal and rust and not getting anywhere.
That was more or less how it was ten years ago. That was more or less how it was ten days ago. Now, in the last little packet of time, it's all changed. We have moved from purgatory to full inferno. And suddenly everybody minds. Even the gentler sex. And if plump mums scream over the grizzle of their strapped kids, if old ladies in old Morrises parturate with venom and smack freckled fists on the horn, then how are the men taking it? Four times in the last few days I have sat tight in the car, gridlocked under the low sun, with no way out, while jagged figures discover what the hard machine can do to the soft: what the hood of the car can do to the human nose and mouth, what the tyre-iron can do to the back of the human head. Traffic is a contest of human desire, a waiting game of human desire. You want to go there. I want to go here. And, just recently, something has gone wrong with traffic. Something has gone wrong with human desire.
I don't get it. No -- I do! Suddenly I do, though there's no real reason (is there?) why anybody else should. In traffic, now, we are using up each other's time, each other's lives. We are using up each other's lives.

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