White (From Something About England, December 2010)

I scraped the snow from the weather-buried car this morning, opened the door,
sat down in the driver’s seat. For a couple of minutes, there was no traffic,
no sound: a pre-industrial peace. The calm stillness was pricked, suddenly, by a
rush of mocking thoughts and blurred, threatening memories and I quickly
scrabbled around for some music to put on. I stuck Nebraska in the CD player,
wondering briefly why this was the first time I’d listened to it for a couple
of years, if the heater was ever going to start working, if Springsteen had ever
driven a bloody Seat. I put off turning the key, just sat there shivering, as
song followed song, as the thoughts and memories shifted and as, slowly and
silently, a misty, twisted, echoing cloud of tired, sick ghosts eased into the
car with me: young people whose zest and fire was long-ago extinguished by the
adult world’s sly envy, unemployed middle-aged men who’d worked all their
lives for family and self-respect and their country, lovers whose joy in each
other had turned to pity and alienation, coppers and criminals whose ideals had
disappeared in nights of need and desperation, women whose love and desires and
heat had been suffocated, petrified. I turned to look at all these familiar
strangers, felt angry, insistent guitars slice through me and I thought: this is
the soundtrack to our future.  For what seemed like hours, I didn't move, just
listened, still cold but OK with it until, halfway through Johnny 99, I brought
myself back, took a deep breath, turned the engine on and drove us all off,
carefully, down sharp-white, funereal roads towards our English town.