Miles Kington Remembered: Folk verse that springs from motorway service stations

3 December 1993
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The Independent Online

One of my chief hobbies is collecting modern folk verse from drivers I meet in motorway service areas – modern folk ballads about motorway life represent some of the most compelling verse being written today. Seldom, however, are they as haunting as this ballad, told to me by a sad-looking driver not long ago at Charnock Richard, and called The Ballad of the M33.

Oh, listen, you maidens,

And hearken to me

And don't you drive down

The M33!

For many young policemen

And RAC men

Who went down that road

Were not seen again!

The signs are so tempting

Saying "Turn off ahead",

But don't you obey them

Or you might end up dead...

One night as I motored

Along the M6

I saw a big signpost:

"Exit Here For The Styx

On The M33,

One mile ahead",

And I wish now I'd driven

Straight home instead.

But inquisitive, I turned off,

Although it was dark,

And found a great river

Running through a great park

And the the boatman said, "Hi there!

You coming with me?"

And I said I was looking

For the M33.

"I'll take you," he said,

With a skull-like grin

But I ran to my car

And jumped right in

And drove back again

The way I had come

To the distant sound

Of a funeral drum...

Behind me the terror,

Ahead the light

– I drove quite reckless

Through the night!

Till I came back down

The same exit road

And only then

Relaxed and slowed.

When suddenly out

of the dark, dark night

There came a familiar

Flashing blue light.

"Hello," said the policeman,

"and what have we here?

Parked on the shoulder?

Oh dear, oh dear...

"A little bit drunk, sir?

Or having a snooze?

It's not what I'd call

A good place to choose..."

So I told him the truth

Of where I'd just been

And he said: "I know no one

Who's seen what you've seen,

For the road that you speak of

Does not exist!

It's all been a dream, sir.

Are you sure you're not pissed?"

Not a drink had I taken

Not a wink had I slept

And I showed him the mileage

I'd carefully kept

Which proved that I'd driven

Twenty miles more

Than my scheduled journey

Door to door!

"I believe what you say,"

Said the man in blue,

"But you must tell no one

What I now tell you,

For the M33

Is a ghost motorway

Here tomorrow,

And gone today!

No atlas show it,

No gazetteer,

It comes and it goes,

– It's usually not there..."

And I must have dozed off

As he wandered on

For when I awoke

That policeman had gone!

And I started in horror,

Then started the car,

And didn't look back

Till I'd gone very far

And that's why I say,

Oh, listen to me,

And ignore all those signposts

Saying "M33"!

Note: the man who told me this poem said he heard it from a white-haired driver whom he began talking to during a two-hour tailback one evening on the M4