Although I would have preferred Dylan to be located in the community where we have both lived, to get the specialist provision he needs we had to look beyond the city boundaries. His new home is only just outside the city; ‘six exits away’ to be precise. Such a description might help me to visualise the journey to see Dylan but, as I realised when I explained it to a friend this way, it’s not very helpful in terms of miles or time.
Someone once gave me an ‘average figure’ for travel time between tube stations and I used this to calculate journey times with astonishing accuracy while I lived in London. I think it was four minutes x the number of tube stations. Short rides in central London could be much quicker, of course, and significantly longer in the outer zones, but as a general guide it worked. Unfortunately I don’t have a figure for average time between motorway exits so getting to Dylan is still a bit hit and miss. Also, unlike on the underground, other motorists and the weather get in the way.
I make the journey four times a week at the moment: to collect Dylan from his care home on Saturday and return him the next day, and to take him for a short walk and meal on Wednesday evenings. I’ve worked out a largely-motorway and a mostly non-motorway route but they don’t seem to make a lot of difference to time. I really ought to check the mileage and see what the difference is between them, particularly given the amount I am spending on petrol. I hadn’t factored the cost of fuel into Dylan’s transition. I am horrified by this, actually. I used to be a very light user, spending maybe £30 every two weeks on petrol. I am spending more than that in a week now. I am so unused to this level of consumption that the emptying fuel gauge keeps catching me out; twice now I have got myself into difficulties. Fortunately both times I was on my own rather than with Dylan but I found the experience of running out of petrol alarming. [Note to self: buy a spare fuel can]
Once your disabled child moves into residential care their benefit payments, quite naturally, move with them. Income levels can fall dramatically for the ex-carer and when some of this money had previously been applied to general household expenses (as is natural) it can be difficult to adjust. Furthermore, significant expense can be associated with transition. So simultaneously with income falling, some of my outgoings (not least on fuel) have risen. One of my responses to this has been to try not to use the car other than for Dylan. Walking the two hours it takes to work and back again has been a major feature of transition so far – though I admit to having been so tired (and the weather so foul) earlier this week that I used the car.
To stop myself from driving my car as if it were a tube train I try to build in variety. Dylan definitely prefers the non-motorway route – he gesticulates wildly at me to persuade me onto the B road – so when I am alone I tend to use the motorway. Yesterday I built even more variety into my mid-week drive by arranging to meet a girlfriend at a nearby market town after seeing Dylan. As I headed across the moors the sun was just dropping below the horizon and the sky was a mustardy-gold colour I swore I’d never seen before. Away to my left, a magnificent Victorian railway viaduct I’d had no idea existed. And then, as I approached a roundabout, a trucker. I slowed, let him swing his rig 180 degrees so that it temporarily obscured the sun. And as I watched I remembered that when I was child I’d dreamed of being a long distance lorry driver. Perhaps it was this moment I had yearned for: driving west at the end of the day, into the sun? Six exits, I thought to myself, is what my horizon has shrunk to.
But late last night, driving home down unmarked roads, it struck me that perhaps it isn’t distance that matters: driving a short way repeatedly, until I know every camber of a road even through pitch blackness, is just a different sort of freedom.