It’s been a long time since I drove very much at all. There was a time where, for several years, I would drive from Birmingham to London and back on a day at least once a week. But that would be a three-hour drive in the morning, leaving around 5am, and a four-hour drive back in the evening.
Plus I’d do eight to ten hours work in the middle.
So that was, what, help me count here: up to 17 hours away from my home office. And all but a ten-minute lunch break of it spent working.
When I got my first book contract, it obviously came with a deadline and I could not afford to lose 17 hours on a London day each week. I also obviously couldn’t afford to walk away from the eight to ten hours paid work, even if I hadn’t enjoyed it. This was Radio Times, easily one of my favourite writing jobs in my career.
But I could reclaim at least some of the travel time. If I gave up driving and instead went by trains or coaches – very often coaches because, wow, the price of trains that early in the morning – I could write. Not all the time. Once or twice on a train coming back I’d take a look at the crowd with me and feel wee bit uncertain about getting out a couple of thousand pounds of computer equipment. And sometimes I’d just be too tired.
Quick aside? The train from London Euston to Birmingham New Street goes via Birmingham International where there is the airport and the National Exhibition Centre. Amongst very many other things, the NEC hosts rock concerts. One night, I fell asleep on the train and woke up with my face pressed against the window.
And on the other side of the glass were a group of AC/DC fans pressing back and grinning at me.
I forget how long this went on for but it was probably three months. The book was published in November 2012 – it’s BFI TV Classics: The Beiderbecke Affair and I am deeply proud of it, I feel honoured that I got to be the one to write about that – so this would be late 2011, maybe early 2012.
But what I remember with total clarity was that when it was done, when I had delivered the first draft and could go back to driving, I had saved slightly over a thousand pounds in petrol.
Now, that’s not an accurate figure for saving because it doesn’t account for all the money I spent on trains and coaches. But it was a shock of a figure. Shock enough that to this day I refuse to let myself think about all the months of petrol I’d paid up to then. At least ten years with at least once such drive per week. You add it up, I feel ill.
It was also shock enough that I could not go back to doing it again.
So from that day on, I stuck to trains and coaches for my London work. I sold the car, even.
We still have a car: Angela has one and I use it when necessary or when we’re both going somewhere, I will usually be the one who drives us. Gives her a break from all the driving she does in her work.
Today it was necessary. I dropped Angela off at a place this morning, drove to a couple of jobs, then to a Theatre Cuppa gathering in the early evening and back. Then Angela was off to a production meeting for her theatre work (you cannot believe how proud I am that I can say that to you, I just find the very words delicious) and I was off to a Writers’ Guild committee meeting.
My meeting was quite short but it then took me an hour and a half to get home by bus. I’d driven 170 miles in about six hours today, the last 10 miles were a 90-minute series of bus rides. And those bus rides had more adventure in them. I got to see stand up rows between passengers and drivers, I somehow got to see one woman passenger flash another one even as I actually couldn’t quite see why. The flasher was not complimenting the flashee.
But I missed a lot because I was writing. I wrote nothing all day except some notes at the various places I drove to so I was behind. But on these buses, while keeping an eye on timetable information through my various iOS travel apps, I got to write.
I didn’t enjoy that it was 90 minutes, I didn’t enjoy the drizzle as I got off the last bus. But I got things done and so instead of feeling knackered and pointless tonight, I feel I’ve got on with something and that I secretly deserve to watch the first episode of Community, Season Two, which the finest of fine people has just loaned me.
There are 24 episodes in this season. That’s my productivity destroyed for the rest of the week.