Driving north to my parents’ late at night, I realised there were so many lorries on the road that I was queuing behind them.
I have taken to driving at night to avoid the traffic, as the motorways have become so busy in the past few years that what was once an 80- minute drive from Surrey to Coventry is now two-and-a-half hours (or more).
Without whingeing about the numbers of cars on our roads, or making claims about population increase, I simply state as a fact of my experience that the M25 has become so impossible I have to start out after 9pm.
The M40 going south to north used to be a smooth journey, but now it snarls around towns and cities, even when you are clear of “the 25”.
So I drive late at night. And driving the other night, I realised the road was a fast-moving queue of brightly lit freight. Both the inside and middle lanes were full of those huge lorries so high they make you wonder why they don’t topple over.
I couldn’t get around them because I only like to drive below 60mph and the fast cars, going 70mph and more, flashed and hassled me out of the fast lane. So I sat behind the queues of lorries and pondered what was in them.
And one word came into my mind: stuff. Some were food and fuel lorries, of course. But how many were carrying non-essential items purchased on the internet in the run-up to Christmas? Consumerism is another word that came into my head as I sat behind Amazon lorries, shipping containers, and haulier after haulier stretching to the far horizon …
At what stage do we look at all this and ask ourselves whether this is any better than the days when most of us drove ourselves to the shops?
It’s not just the environment that is at stake. I can think of another good reason why ordering online and having your item delivered the next day by a series of lorries that have been on the roads all night is a worse idea than going to get it from the high street. And that is the lack of delay between the impulse to buy and the action.
Google anything – a dress, a television, a bed, a bi-fold door – then select it, click the PayPal icon where your card details are stored, and a message pops up to say it is on its way.
A few seconds after you think of something you might want, ownership of it can be a reality. This feeds the great illusion of our times.
It doesn’t matter for us oldies. I know stuff doesn’t make me happy. But for young people, this is surely disastrous.
Impulses have never been more indulged, latent addictions easily triggered, bank accounts never so readily pushed into the red and credit limits never more strained.
An entire generation are over-leveraged from day one of their adult lives and living in that La La Land in which they imagine Amazon is the gateway to fulfilment.
My lodger until recently was a youngster who was never off her iPhone, even when sitting at the table eating. She would click on items with her left hand holding the phone while forking food into her mouth with her right hand. Nearly every day the door would knock with couriers bringing the stuff she was clicking on. Her room piled higher and higher with it, until I could barely get through the door to clean.
A lot of the parcels she never unwrapped. She was bored with them before they even arrived. When she left, she heaped a lot of the unopened boxes of make-up, clothes, accessories and gadgets into a bin bag and dumped them at the tip.
I was heading north for the funeral of an old friend. She was younger than me, one of three sisters I grew up with in my home town. We had been great friends, and went to convent school together.
Not having siblings myself, the three girls became my surrogate sisters. Sleepovers at their house were a particular treat. We spent our early teenage years at the local ice rink where we trained as youth ice skaters. One year we all performed in a panto, Cinderella on Ice. I still have the photos.
A few weeks ago, aged 42, the youngest sister went to bed one night and simply did not wake up. She had not been ill. The post-mortem examination could find no reason for her death. One thing I remember about her, so vividly, was that she was always in a hurry. She was quite unlike the other two sisters in having that temperament.
I do believe that on some level, a soul understands its journey.
Melissa Kite is a contributing editor of the Spectator
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