To Cardiff

We’re on a day trip to the outskirts of Wigan. Seven days of rehearsals done, we’re decamping south to get an early start on the Cardiff soundcheck tomorrow having eschewed a full day’s production rehearsal. In our experience production rehearsals involve twenty people standing around for a day with about an hour’s worth of music. I suppose they’re necessary if you have costume changes, dancers and explosions.

Summer is finally showing signs of leaving, though the air is still thick with a warm fug. We bend in a great arc around Glasgow to find south, the sun lowering prettily behind the high quilted grey. Our vehicle is of the “executive class” sort — leather seats and gadgets. A display in the roof reassures me that the temperature within is a steady 20 degrees. I flip a switch to notch it to 21. I am the all-powerful ruler of my environment. Iain WiFis into the entertainment system to play some Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour, adding some shuffle, country and boogie. The road lies out before us, a ribbon into the reckless plans we’ve made for ourselves.

I fill out a quick crossword and watch the sky grow dim and the tan coloured hills darken to deep green as wind turbines hail farewell to the day. Dylan’s gruff voice nurses us into the night, the music calling through the decades from other roads on other continents. A fat crescent moon appears from behind a torn curtain of cloud like a sleeping ghost. The western sun dabs some final colour and falls. The land goes grey, oncoming headlights flooding past us like a rush of comets. Hendrix’s The Wind Cries Mary plays and everyone is silent.

We arrive at our waypoint around 9:30 and the friendly staff of the hotel’s attached carvery rustle up some chips and sausage sandwiches for us as they’re closing up. Drums and keys order red wine and I’m a little jealous but the pangs are mild. I wrap myself in my starched white duvet and stare at the TV for an hour, little footballers running about in their coloured outfits, falling over sometimes and shouting. Sleep comes reluctantly.

The morning creeps around the blinds with a pewter hue. England is blithely pretending there is no pandemic. The receptionist last night invited us to remove our masks as if generously exhorting us to put our feet up. He said it was only the Scottish guests who were still wearing them. I remain unconvinced by the hybrid immunity strategy and suspect we’re heading for a big public health calamity in winter. But things look more pre-Covid south of the border. The traffic is back. That edge of hustle is back. Carry On Fuck-It-All Let’s Just Risk It. Great British Pluck. Stiff Upper Lip. Ignore the stiffs in the corridors. Ignore the waiting lists. Ignore climate catastrophe. It’s unadulterated madness and here we are stitched into it like a pattern. What justification can there be for this?

We grind on south on the grey roads with the grey cars and the dirty white vans. The weather is poised on the fulcrum of summer and autumn, no chill, no heat. Curly-headed hillocks rise around us, the route bending between them as we enter Wales, everything lush with the merest hint of yellow in rare patches. There are white houses dotted about the steep thickly wooded slopes, the verges a frenzy of shrubs and young trees. As we pass the Cardiff city limits sign the sun rains down suddenly in a fit of golden munificence. We are alive, we are born anew.