So there I was, driving home from work the other afternoon, smoking a cigarette and half listening to Radio 4’s ‘PM’ programme on my tinny but temperamental car stereo. They were discussing somebody or other’s reaction to something or other, but I wasn’t really paying too much attention. You know how it is.
I was stuck in traffic, but it didn’t get me down. I’m not what you might call an angry driver. I don’t tend to suffer from bouts of road rage, although I have had the occasional en-street sulk and highway huff. In any case, it wasn’t as though I needed to cling on to the hope of getting home eventually with every last fibre of my being. My fibres had better things to cling on to. I pulled the handbrake and let my mind slip into a mid-theta state. I thought of my family, my friends, the people I care for. I reminisced about happy times, smiling faces and even found time to compose a saucy limerick.
And then I heard it.
It was a low and distant rumble – almost imperceptible at first – but becoming more tangible with each passing second. It was from somewhere out there, somewhere behind me, and it was getting closer. As the rumble grew into harsh, brutal, thumping sound I could feel wave after wave of sonic vibrations work their way up my spine, down my jaw and along my teeth. The windows of my car shook, CDs in my glove compartment rattled and my St Christopher’s Medal did a St Vitus’ Dance across the dashboard. Then I glanced into my rear-view mirror and saw it:
Some idiot had pulled up behind me with his 500 gigawatt car stereo playing at full blast.
He was driving a low-slung, souped-up, high-performance testoserosa. Although it was beyond my field of vision, you can safely bet it had a ‘Max Power’ sticker on the back window. The driver was a wiry, pinch-faced Caucasian in his mid-twenties who seemed to scowl with disproportionate indignation at my un-slung, soup-free, modestly-performing Citroën Saxo. Not that I took it personally: he was probably equally apoplectic about all the other vile, pernicious vehicles that stood between him and his manifest destiny (wherever that happened to be). Especially the ones without alloys.
His head was doing that jerky left-to-right, bobbing-and-jutting thing in time to the music which I guess was supposed to convey an aura of brooding, masculine aggression coupled with a keen sense of rhythm. To my untrained eyes, though, it made him look like a constipated pigeon with anger-management issues.
The relentless sonic booms erupting from his car were the worst kind of bland, radio-friendly, production-line R&B imaginable, and they seemed to bring out the worst out in me. I decided to indulge in some good old-fashioned alpha male one-upmanship: I was going to give this strutting sonic peacock a run for his money! This would require some industrial strength audio ammunition and it needed to be loud. I reached for my glove compartment, grabbed a handful of CD cases and found what I was looking for: Rocket To Russia by The Ramones. I cackled triumphantly like a Bond Villain as I prised open the CD box, then just as quickly my heart sank. Inside the Rocket To Russia case was a sodding Nick Drake album.
I slumped into the driver’s seat and accepted defeat. An oversensitive singer songwriter and a tinny but temperamental car stereo were no match for this full-scale audio bombardment. As the cars in front of me slowly inched forward, I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that this harrowing experience had at least validated my Second Rule of the Road, namely:
“The volume of a car stereo is always and without exception inversely proportionate to the driver’s taste in music.”
I also made a mental note to sort my CDs into their correct cases