In Sickness and In Health: On the road, a farewell to North Circular thoughts

Earlier this year, Rebecca’s husband Nick was hit by a car and seriously injured. Here, in one of a series of columns, she writes about the aftermath of his accident

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The Independent Online

Even on my final journey there, I use the satnav. It has been my saviour since Nick has been in hospital on the other side of London. Despite the fact that I know the way so well now, it’s comforting to see my route plotted out.

I can’t quite believe it, but on Nick’s last night at the place before moving on, I feel nostalgic about the drive I’ve been doing for six months. It winds through beautiful bits of London and ugly ones, past trees and fly-tipping, monster roundabouts and, for a glorious week, an old-fashioned circus big top.

I embark with Kiss FM (I have the music taste of a 15-year-old girl) in my ears. Round the streets near my house until I have unentangled myself from the one-way system. Heading north, I pass the newly re-done pub where I spent a solitary but not lonely Monday night recently. Past the hospital where Nick used to be, eyes peeled for the zebra crossings that stripe the road. Up along the side of Hampstead Heath, green foliage on one side (when the circus isn’t in town, that is) and higgledy houses on the other, all drooping stoops, gingerbread gables and multi-million-pound price tags.

Around the pond where, during one drive, I thought I saw a miniature sea monster lurk. I suppose that it must have been a dog, but I prefer the idea of a north London Nessie, rather than Lassie.

And suddenly downhill. There’s the park that gives my friend Louisa the creeps – she says that it makes her think of dead Victorian children. I rather like the bandstand and the pond and anyway, all of the Victorians are dead now, aren’t they? The place where the road thins and I always hear Nick’s voice in my head (“Mind the tyres!”). The big road that leads to the bigger road. North Circular thoughts – what is it like to live overlooking six lanes of traffic? I turn off, and see the road we used to take to a garden centre where we bought pet fish in a different life. Past the Lidl I can never justify stopping at – buying cut-price prosecco en route to see my husband in a neuro ward never seems quite right – and left at the roundabout where there’s a tribute to Carlos attached to the railings along with artificial flowers.

The Big Asda that I only ever visit on my way home to buy suppers-for-one and cheap loungewear for Nick is on my left, time to turn off down suburban streets where the slumbers of sleeping policemen make for a bumpy ride. The white 1930s houses make me think of cruise ships and I idly think about what it would be like to live in one. Then I notice the front steps and realise that Nick could never get in. Onwards, lifting a friendly hand to drivers who let me pass, glowering at those who don’t extend the courtesy when I wait for them. Past the chain steak house, weaving between the buses. Six minutes to go says the satnav app. Window down ready for the ticket machine. Last song on the radio before the multi-storey concrete eats the signal.

It might not sound like much of an odyssey, but it’s the road – roads – I’ve travelled most this year. Now I’m setting my course for a new direction: East. Will I fall for the M11 eventually? Perhaps I shall.

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