Walking back from taking my daughter, Rosie, to the bus stop, Monty (my dog, a fluffy white Maltese of extraordinary stupidity, cupidity and belligerence) and I were briefly enthralled by the spectacle of a huge truck trying to reverse into the narrow driveway of a mansion block being built across the road from us. I was admiring the extreme skill needed to perform this task – something so far beyond my capabilities that I was suffused with the sort of irrational awe that brings certain South Sea Islanders to worship the Duke of Edinburgh. And I was filled with respect for the skill of the driver, and the manual worker in general, so deftly manoeuvring the cumbrous matter of the universe.
But then it all started to go wrong. He couldn’t, in fact, get the angle right for squeezing through the narrow gateway. Cars were backing up, horns honking. The other workmen were getting frustrated, muttering and shaking their heads. There was a grinding sound, as of some slow, heavy collision, though I couldn’t make out precisely what had been ground into… And then the cab of the lorry was flung open and the driver got out. Leaving the door open, he walked away from the scene, his workmates watching in silence. It seemed that he’d just had enough, and was packing it all in.
What was his plan, I wondered? To walk away and never stop, until he reached the coast, and then pause, perhaps, and walk resolutely on, wading out until the waters closed over his head? Or would he go home, pack a bag and take the first flight out to Acapulco? Or just back to the employment agency, and request a driving job with a wider gateway?
Whatever the case, the walking away from the problem, admitting defeat, and letting others sort out the mess is exactly what I’d have done. Those striving with words and ideas tend to think that they’re the only ones entitled to an existential crisis, but it seems much more deserving, much more earned, in those who have to get big trucks through narrow spaces. Anyway, I saw him as a kind of hero, a conscientious objector, a rebel who had seen the futility of building a mansion block for a billionaire developer who would rent out apartments to millionaires.Except that about fifteen yards down the street he threw up his hands, emitted a curse in some Slavic tongue, and came back to finish the job.