Another day, another book tour and today I’m revealing an extract from Gill Hornby’s fabulous new book, ‘All Together Now’ So make yourself a cup of tea and enjoy.
At ten to six, Tracey was, as usual, steering her way through the tunnelling that would take her up to the surface of the earth. Even on a good evening it took a while to get out of the car park. She always used those few minutes to select the soundtrack for the journey home â€“ an eye on the bumper in front, a hand rifling through the CDs on the passenger seat. According to Billy, this was the last car to drive across the First World with such a pre- historic sound system. He was always on at her about it, like she was an Amish, or Fred Flintstone. He didnâ€™t seem to notice that they would need to win the lottery just to upgrade to central locking. And anyway if he wanted Traceyâ€™s opinion â€“ yes, if â€“ the CD player was the best thing about this car. It gave a physical dimension, an extra sensation, to her music that advanced elec- tronics denied her. Here in the excellent Flintmobile she could still touch it, spread it out, sift through the albums of the gods of rock like a jeweller her diamonds . . . And tonight, it looked like she would have even more time to play with than usual. She settled in to the long slow queue for the barrier and set about making her choice.
ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼â€˜Here.â€™ The parking attendant knocked on her window. â€˜Some- thingâ€™s up.â€™ She wound it down. â€˜Itâ€™s terrible out there tonight. Keep away from Bridgeford if you can help it.â€™
â€˜Ugh,â€™ Tracey tried to say, but nothing came out. â€˜Wish I could.â€™ She cleared her throat. â€˜But thanks . . . â€™
She slumped back against the car seat and clutched at her hair. Sheâ€™d already put up with a bog-standard, run-of-the-mill, utterly dehumanisingly normal day at ONS Systems â€“ emails, contracts, emails about contracts â€“ sitting alone, sit-offishly, in the corner. She coughed again â€“ her vocal cords were in serious danger of atrophy. There had been a â€˜Bless youâ€™ to a sneezing junior and a twenty- second sing-song for a birthday â€“ it being the office and there being the law of averages, it was bound to be somebodyâ€™s birthday â€“ but apart from that, nothing. She needed â€“ she really, properly needed â€“ tohearthesoundofherownvoice.Somethingshouty,thatwaswhat she wanted tonight â€“ straightforward and shouty. She found just the disc, flicked it out of its cover and into the machine and waited. The driver of the car ahead stopped to take on a couple more passengers; windows opened, hands stuck out, fingers waved. Someone called, another laughed; Tracey growled. At last, it was her turn. She passed through the barrier, back into the world and pressed Play. â€˜Meat Loaf,â€™ she announced, â€˜you may escort me home.â€™
. . . paradise by the dashboard light
Tracey emerged and scanned the dark sky. It throbbed with the rhythmic blue of the emergency lights but was giving no sign of what sort of day she had missed. Tracey, as usual, had no clue. They didnâ€™t really go in for weather at ONS: it didnâ€™t bother them, so they didnâ€™t bother with it. The enormous metal-box structure had its own climate, permanently set to â€˜very pleasantâ€™; a little patch of northern California, just handy for the M4. Still, the roads were sodden, it was the middle of England in the depths of winter: it could only have been grim.
She took to the slip-road, thumping on the steering wheel, singing â€“ bellowing â€“ along until she came out to the roundabout and a sudden stop. Craning her neck to look ahead, Tracey saw
ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼straight up and into the van in the next lane. Three young blokes, all lined up on the front seat, still in their overalls, were laughing away at her. So she shouted a bit louder. Not what they expected from a woman in her forties dressed in her sensible office clothes? Didnâ€™t they like it from someone old enough to be their mum? Just because she didnâ€™t look like a rocker, didnâ€™t mean she wasnâ€™t a rocker. She stuck out her tongue, showing them her stud, pressed it to the window and pulled her Ozzy Osbourne face. She might even have mooned them, but then they inched forward and her sport was over.
â€˜Oh, come on.â€™
Nearly twenty years she had been doing this commute, and it generally pulled some sort of trick on her at least once a week. It had caused her no end of trouble in the past â€“ especially when Billy was little â€“ and yet she had never been tempted to look for some sort of job on her own doorstep. Living in Bridgeford was dismal enough; she couldnâ€™t possibly work there, too. It might not be exactly excit- ing coming out here every day but it did at least throw in another dimension to her existence, increase her imprint upon the earth, just a bit. Tracey tried to imagine her days and years without it and felt a shiver â€“ her whole life would seem such a little thing. She leaned forward, switched off Meat Loaf and fiddled with the tuner.
Officially, Tracey never listened to Dave at Drivetime â€“ soft pop and local radio being, obviously, landmarks in the Valley of Musical Death. Unofficially, though, she had to tune in quite often for the traffic updates, so she always made sure to keep her guard up. For the more vulnerable listeners, the traffic update could just be a dan- gerous beginning, like a gateway drug. Tracey worried about them, innocently tuning in to hear about a pile-up on the A-whatever and suddenly find themselves filling their brains with all that other stuff: humming along to Maroon 5, smiling dopily to a bit of Michael BublÃ© . . . She shook her head in sorrow. Of course, that could never happen to her, but still, even as she waited her own brain was being filled with â€˜News from Your Neighbourhoodâ€™. â€˜Ugh, please, spare us,â€™ she muttered, drumming her fingers on the gearstick.
ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼ï¿¼â€˜ . . . the demonstration tomorrow night at the proposed site of the new superstore planned on the London Roadâ€¦’
That reminded her: she needed to stock up the fridge yet again. The sooner they built a superstore the better, and London Road would be very convenient. She would be able to swoop in on the way home without battling into town, so let them get on with it. Honestly, of all the things to protest about. Third World hunger all sorted then, was it? World peace in the bag? People round here could do with some real problems.
An air ambulance clattered into the sky and one by one the cars ahead of her started to move.
â€˜ . . . recruitment drive. Yes, the Community Choir has announced that they are going BACK to the County Championships this year after a few quiet seasons. And this time they are in it to win it for your town. But they really need some new voices. So come on, you
Tracey hooted as, at last, she shifted up into second gear. â€˜Belters of Bridgeford!â€™ There was an image. She must remember to tell Billy when she got home. They would have a right laugh at that one.
She crawled on to the motorway – past the wreckage piled on thehard shoulder, the flashing lights, the police in high-vis jackets – and pulled out into the middle lane.
You can buy All Together Now from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.