The frost has created a white film which clings onto the car windscreen, thick like the hide of a wild animal. I watch patiently as the demister thaws the edges, a process so gradual that seems without end. I think about the brief conversation I had with my wife before I left the house moments ago.
‘Where do you have to go to?’
‘Yes, I know that, but where in Dublin?’
‘I dunno….just Dublin,’ I answered with a shrug.
Eventually I pull out onto the main road and begin the drive south. The truth is that the world is a lot smaller than it used to be and a trip to Dublin should really be as routine as popping to the shop for a pint of milk. But it never seems like that inside my mind.
Last night I had an anxious sleep, interrupted with unpleasant memories of previous trips south. The troublesome toll booth, finding myself at the cash desk before I realise I’ve no Euros. Or the occasion when I went to the pre-paid lane by mistake and ended up stuck between a barrier in front which refused to rise and a line of inpatient drivers behind.
Then there are the mysteries of the city centre traffic. The occasions when I’ve spent hours transversing the dizzying warren of roads in a growing panic searching for some elusive location or my car being surrounded by swarms of lycra-clad cyclists to the point where I’m afraid to change lanes lest I ingloriously unseat one. Almost invariably the trips end with a van driver sounding their horn and shaking their head.
Today, I’m heading to the city to carry out an interview for a magazine article and I have to find the office where my subject works. I’ve given myself plenty of time and everything is going smoothly. I’ve made the obligatory stop at the Applegreen service station for a coffee and a pastry and I’ve counted out the toll booth money in advance. I’ve programmed the location’s address into the sat nav on my phone and I turn the directions on as I near the city. This trip, I have decided, is going to be the one which cures my phobia about driving in Dublin.
Just a few miles from the city the sat nav buzzes into life. The calm, authoritative voice telling me to take the M50 exit off the M1 motorway. I move into the far left lane and manoeuvre as instructed.
Then, after a moment, the sat nav fires another instruction.
‘After exiting the M1 stay in the right hand lane towards the R139 and take the second exit at the roundabout towards Malahide.’
In truth he could have told me this a bit earlier because I’m now wedged into the far left lane in morning rush hour traffic and can’t get across to get to the lane which takes me towards the roundabout. Instead I find I’m trapped on the M50.
At once my brain seems to turn into blancmange and I’m infested by fears I’m going to be boxed in against my will in traffic, until I end up in Cork or Galway or some other such place.
The sat nav now senses a problem and the voice is there again.
‘Make a U-turn. Make a U-turn.’
I let this go the first couple of times. Then again….
‘Make a U-turn. Make a U-turn.’
‘I can’t make a fecking U-turn!’ I roar defiantly. ‘I’m in the middle of the fecking M50 you knob!’
The sat nav must be suitably chastened because he does not repeat the instruction again. Instead he finds an alternative route which involves me coming off at the next roundabout and doubling back on my route.
I glance at my watch. Before getting lost I was on course to be comfortably early. I’m still on schedule to make the interview on time, but I can afford no more mistakes.
The sat nav guides me to a huge industrial estate in the middle of several other huge industrial estates on the edge of Dublin. Every building seems to be modern and stylish, and all are without signs to aid easy identification.
The sat nav triumphantly chirps ‘You have reached your destination,’ before going back to sleep.
But in reality I’m just on a road in my car staring at multiple red brick buildings, vainly trying to find a name or number.
I slow my car down to a crawl to have a proper look. The roads are narrow and I notice that a large white van is looming in my rear view mirror. As my pace decreases he begins to angrily sound his horn, forcing me to pull away again.
I take a left turn to allow the van to pass, but it also turns left. Then I take a right. The van turns right. I try another left. The van turns left.
I slow down again to attempt to get my bearings. The van sounds his horn even louder. Eventually I manage to pull onto the footpath. As the van passes me I give a weak wave as a gesture of reconciliation and apology. The driver makes a wanker gesture with his hand in my direction.
I look around and realise I’m lost again. There’s nothing else but to wake up the sat nav again to try and get back to my original location. I’m sure I can detect a hint of surprise in its voice.
We have another argument as I drive off and it keeps repeating ‘Make a U-turn. Make a U-turn.’
Some minutes later, and after stopping several people to ask for directions, I’ve found the right building. I glance again nervously at my watch, I’ll just about make it on time if I can get a parking space quickly.
But there are none to be found. I drive up and down narrow streets looking in increasing exasperation without success for any space in which I can wedge my ancient, battered car. Moreover, every lamppost and building has a sign attached warning that vehicles will be clamped or towed away if they are illegally parked.
I’m close to desperate when I spot an arrow-shaped sign which reads ‘Retail parking.’ I follow the arrow, which takes me to another arrow, and then another, before I finally pull up outside what seems to be a multi-storey carpark. My car enters the cavernous building.
It’s all narrow lanes on the ground floor and, surprisingly, there are only a small number of parking spaces, all of which are occupied. My watch now tells me I’m going to be late so when I see the ramp which leads up to the next floor I head straight for it.
But it’s desperately narrow, barely any wider than my car. I have to make several turns and adjustments just to get the vehicle square in line with the ramp. As I ascend, glancing nervously in my wing mirrors, I’m muttering ‘How the feck do they expect people to get their cars up here?’
The first thing I see at the top is a large green cross. It takes the smallest of moments to recognise this as the sign for a pharmacist, only slightly longer for me to think ‘Funny having a chemist in the middle of the carpark’ and another moment to realise I’ve gone badly wrong.
I’ve driven my old car right up to the pedestrianised shopping concourse. Several startled shoppers stop to stare. One old woman makes an urgent stop gesture. I wave and smile in a way which I hope conveys the message ‘My gifts lie in other areas.’
My next problem is getting back down. There’s no room to turn or manoeuvre so I have to begin reversing my car back down the narrow ramp. This would be a test of my dexterous driving skills on any day, but now my arms and legs feel like they’re full of water and I can sense my face is flushed like a beetroot. Somehow I get back to ground level, drive out of the carpark and find a space nearby. There’s a sign warning that cars will be clamped and I’ve no idea if I’m parked legally but I’m too late to be worry about it now.
I run to the office and circle it curiously, looking for the entrance. I see a man leave through a glass door and head straight for it. I’m hurrying as I go to push through the door, only to realise too late that it is secured with an electronic lock and my face slams straight into the resistant glass.
A security guard on the other side wears a neutral expression as he points out the revolving door, less than six feet away. As I’m about to enter the building I notice there are four empty parking spaces at the front door and a little sign which says ‘Visitors’.
I sign in at the front desk, just a few minutes late. My interview subject meets me with a handshake and smile.
‘Did you have any trouble finding us?’
‘No. No trouble at all.’