Journeys can stimulate the mind. The words to Mad Dogs And Englishmen came to Noël Coward during a trip from Hanoi to Saigon. Franz Liszt's Années de pèlerinage suites were inspired by his travels through Switzerland. And last week, as I passed Leigh Delamere services on the M4, I guessed that the "B" in B&Q stands for "Block".
It was a game our group had made up (out of sheer necessity) that consisted of guessing the names of British businesses known by their initials. I'm able to tell you that the Q of B&Q is for Quayle; DFS, rather mundanely, stands for Direct Furnishing Supplies, while MFI drops the initial bombshell of "Mullard" followed by the more prosaic "Furniture Industries". C&A, it turns out, wasn't British at all. Clemens and August Brenninkmeijer were responsible. I'd have gone to my grave without knowing this stuff were it not for the stultifying tedium of motorway travel. Road trips with other bored humans can provoke unexpected cul-de-sacs of thought about bacon, volleyball or both and because there's nothing else to do you share them.
You make pointless attempts at guessing which crops are growing in adjoining fields despite having zero knowledge of arable farming. "Barley, I think. Is that barley?" "No idea." People end up airing hitherto private opinions on string, moss or Chad. After a 20-minute silence in traffic around Stonehenge, the word "hamstring" might be muttered by someone in the back seat for no reason, whereupon it takes on a beauty, majesty and hilarity of all its own.
And I know you're not supposed to get into cars with people you don't know, but it struck me that long road journeys are perfect places for first dates. For starters, there's an understanding that silences in cars are acceptable, in a way that silences across restaurant tables certainly aren't.
As the largely bland landscape of the British trunk road system whizzes past, you can air idle thoughts, allowing flights of fancy to develop properly before coming to their natural conclusion. By the time you've driven from Woking to Weston-super-Mare you'll have a true measure of the other person. Of course, if you hate their guts you'll have the return journey to endure, but maybe that's why the M25 was invented.