21 March 1998
'Fuckin' brilliant idea Gimpo. Can I do it with you?'
That was about three months ago. Today is 21 March. I've just arrived at the agreed rendezvous point, South Mims Service Station, parked up my truck and I'm looking for Gimpo's white transit van. I'm late. But Gimpo is later. A van pulls up beside me. On the side is daubed, 'Gimpo's Non Stop, 25 hour, M25 Spin'.
'You're late. Get in,' shouts Gimpo.
This is Gimpo's plan. For the next 25 hours, a certain Mr Green and I are going to drive around the M25. For those that don't know, the M25 is an orbital motorway that circumnavigates the nation's capital. You have to drive 124.5 miles to get all the way round. Gimpo has a notion that if we keep driving for the allotted time, he will find out where the M25 leads. It is best not to rationalise Gimpo's notions. Gimpo loves the M25. Gimpo loves to drive. He loves to view the rest of the world through the windscreen and, when he is too far gone to drive, to take the film back home and watch it again and again and again.
We make it to the Queen Elizabeth Suspension Bridge by twelve noon, the official starting point and time. When you experience things like the Queen Elizabeth Suspension Bridge, you fall in love with the modern world all over again. All that engineering. All that wonder. All that height and breadth, and 'aren't we just like ants'. There's a high blue sky. The Thames shines, snakes up to London in the west and slides down into its estuary on the east. Below us are the pylons and power stations, industrial estates and entertainment complexes of the Essex wastelands. And I love that too. On a sunny spring day, you can love almost anything. Gimpo is already raging and we have only just begun. We are heading clockwise. Gimpo tells me to drive the first two laps, then we will fill the tank, have a slash and change drivers. Gimpo is in the back, checking his boxes of films, cleaning his lenses, packing and repacking his kit bag. It's Gimpo's army training. He was a gunner in the Falklands War. They taught him how to concentrate his mind on the details of packing and cleaning, repacking and polishing, taking to bits and putting back together, again and again and again. Now, more of Gimpo's orders are being barked down his mobile. His mobile is held together with Gaffa tape. Gimpo loves Gaffa. But not white Gaffa. He hates white Gaffa. It has to be black or silver. His mobile is almost permanently shoved up against his right ear, the less deaf of the two. Gimpo is a pit bull of energy, unfocused rage and terminal paranoia. The only thing that Gimpo can do to sooth his seething is unpack and pack, check and re-check, spit and polish. Gimpo is both a man of our time and a man of any time. The history of England has been built on men like Gimpo. He is the bulldog spirit, the 'never say die', the original Tommy. The only reason why Harold lost the Battle of Hastings was 'cause Gimpo was not there (he was fighting the rearguard action against the Vikings). But Gimpo was at Agincourt. He was with Oliver in his New Model Army. He was Napoleon's Waterloo. He survived the Somme. Was the toughest desert rat Monty never knew. He is the true embodiment of the nation. I'm just glad I'm not English.
Gimpo starts to reveal his vision. He wants this thing, this Gimpo M25 spin, to become an annual event. The closest Saturday night/Sunday morning to 21 March each year, to mark the opening of the rave/festival/drug-taking/banging/techno/hippie thing that Gimpo and his weird mates know all about. He wants loads of other people to join in, come out in their cars, vans, trucks, loaded up. A non-stop 25 hour party, road to nowhere sort of thing; car stereos cranked up, people screaming, pumping horns, blowing whistles. Hundreds, thousands, pouring out of Clacky services. Not a race, but a celebration of this broken down modern world, where the M25 would get clogged up, grind to a standstill, the authorities could do nothing - and Gimpo would be king.
Mr Green is an artist from Warrington. He keeps his counsel. This is not the place to tell you about his twisted, ego-driven visions. I'm sure in time he will let you know all about them himself.
I'm driving as fast as I can, hogging the outside lane when the inner would do. Headlights flash me as I am forced to move over. One circumference is 125 miles. The second is only 124.5. Everything looks normal. I've seen it all before. The North Downs, the Surrey Woods, the Plains of Heathrow, up round the top M1 junctions, St Albans Cathedral in the distance, back down through Essex. All boringly familiar. But we know the further we go, the less familiar it will all become. We will begin to see things not seen before, discover new meaning in the signposts. The lie of the land. Lost tribes. The tank is almost empty. We pull in at Clacky Service Station, fill the tank, buy trash food, have a slash. Gimpo has a stop watch. The pit stop has taken us 9 minutes and thirty-seven seconds. He is not happy with this. Mr Green takes the wheel. We move back out into the flow. The eternal. The around and around. the headlights are coming on. The light is failing. The football results are coming through. End of the season is in sight and things are hotting up. And Mr Green is a dangerous driver. The weirdness is kicking in. It's a drug-free zone; even though Gimpo has invested heavily in all-night chemicals, Mr Green and I just say No. Mr Green cuts another artic. up, slams the brakes, ploughs through a dozen cones in the contraflow. Oncoming headlights blind, jumbo jets climb into the shepherd's delight sky. It's getting good. Gimpo is swimming in his hammock, mobile pressed to his ear, laughing and screaming at some London low-life friend.
'Yeah, it's me, Bill and Mr Green, 25-hour spin around the M25. Do you want to come and give us a wave? Bring us a cake? Toss us off?' It must be a woman. I hear, 'Look, wear that black leather miniskirt with no knickers. Stand on the bridge so we can look up as we go under'
Mr Green and I get talking about the Union Jack. How brilliant, the Labor Party move to use a Union Jack logo in their election campaign. Real carpet-pulling from under the Tories' feet. Such a loaded icon. It gives so many weird signals. Jimmy and I saw Damon Hill do his lap of honour at Silverstone, flying the flag and we thought, 'Far fuckin' out Damon. Let's liberate the flag for the common man.' You can't help but be jealous of the Yanks, who rally around the Stars and Stripes, from ghetto nigger to southern white trash from New York yid to mid-west WASP. To burn the Stars and Stripes is one powerful political statement, saved only for moments of national self-doubt. To burn the Union Jack is just a waste of a good tea towel. You don't agree with me? I don't know if I agree with myself.
Once, Jimmy and I had this idea we should reform The KLF. Massive campaign for the comeback single. Billboard posters, full-page ads, prime-time TV commercials, all with the words 'God Save the Queen' - The KLF'. Nobody would hear it until the moment of release. Everybody else would be thinking the track would be some postmodern update on the Pistol's classic, mashed with our national anthem, the Queen's Christmas speech, some monster beat and a pumping, sub-sonic bass riff. Wrong. It would be just a straight rendition of our national anthem, the one they used to play at the end of the main feature, and which when I was a kid you still stood up for. And the video would be the royal standard fluttering in the wind. For three and a half minutes, no edits. Thankfully, the idea remains unrealised. But as for Union Jacks, Jimmy and me, there is a job there yet to be done. And Marc Wellenger hasn't done it.
Of course, we try to keep to toll gate twenty-three on each lap. Some habits you can't break, like wanking and picking your nose. Gimpo hits me with a concept that he tries to convince me my mate and fellow literary arsehole Z has already agreed to. A 25-day non-stop M25 journey. Just me, Gimpo and Z, the idea being that Z and I could finish our journey-up-the-Congo book while we spin round the 25. I'm filled with dread at the idea and hope it doesn't become a reality.
Darkness. Gimpo lights candles in the back of the van. Lap five, and a buzz is tingling my body like some strange and untried chemical. Talking of which, Mr Green has put on a Chemical Brothers cassette. A live performance, where they bang into 'Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band', The Beatles' version with some added beats and noise. I'm out there. I'm hanging in the hammock. The candles flicker, the night shimmers ahead, my mind slips its moorings. For some reason, the three of us and this van are an old-fashioned tin-opener going around the equator, opening the world up, and the worms are getting out. the fact that Tony Blair is younger than me is somehow connected. No drink, no drugs, just the hypnotic effect of the sodium lights. I love it.
My shift. Midnight to 4 a.m. Me and Gimpo up front. 'Sailing By' brings the closedown of Radio Four. Somewhere up near the St Albans turn-off, we can see a huge bonfire and a daisychain of people silhouetted against the flames, dancing around and around. The rain is falling but they keep going. I explain to Gimpo that like us they are celebrating the equinox, but with a Beltane fire. A bunch of hippies in a dark, wet field and us on a miserable motorway, each going round and round. The rites of spring. Pagan roots. Nailed to the cross and risen on the third day. My biblical leanings grasp at a walls-of-Jericho analogy. Round and round we go, and the walls will crumble. On Monday morning, 2,300 points will have been wiped by the Footsie 11, and nobody will know why except for us. The mother of Parliament's bastard son will have burned down the palace, raped Harry in the tower and taken a shit in your girlfriend's handbag.
Stop stop stop.
Calm down Bill.
Hale Bopp streaks the northern sky. The World Service informs us that Buddhist monks are rampaging on the road to Mandalay. Kinshasa is falling and Mobutu is on the run. Channels are changed. Melody FM. Abba's 'Fernando' - mariachi trumpets, a tale of war, death, love and loss. Sodium lights like a ten-mile serpent, heading for the estuary. Downriver like Iain Sinclair. What would Sinclair make of the psychogeographical possibilities of this, our mindless journey? I am hoping to uncover some psychogeographical facts about both the ancient and modern roads and routes that radiate out of the unseen metropolis, around which we are winding and tightening our strange spell. I may be sliding in and out of reality, but Gimpo's intensity is scaling to new heights. He is still raging into his mobile. It seems the support team have not once been at the right place at the right time to capture on video this transit van hurtling by. I'm thinking, how long is this new girlfriend going to take Gimpo on full throttle? The novelty value of the man soon wears thin. Added to this is the fact that two cameras in the van keep jamming. As far as Gimpo is concerned, the whole thing is a disaster. He was planning on having a complete 25 hour film, every cat's eye of the way. Not a moment missed. Real time to the max. But it is not to be. He bangs out some more numbers on his mobile and takes it out on whoever answers. The film of this journey (I think) is to be a follow up to his first major movie, Watch The K Foundation Burn a Million Quid. I can't stress strongly enough how important this 25 hours is for the man. He has talked of nothing else since first revealing his plan to me back in Cardiff three months ago. Mr Green is saying very little as the hours skid by. He observes. I try to ask him, why Mr Green and not just Dave? People will think it's some sort of corny reference to Reservoir Dogs. Then he tells me if I write up anything about this journey, he just wants to be known as Dave. But the contrary side of my nature gets the best of me, and Mr Green it is, Tarantino or not.
Gimpo is at the wheel. Light is streaking the eastern sky ... and all that descriptive stuff about breaking dawns. Lap eight. Through toll-gate twenty-three and back up into ancient Kent. The waking Weald. The garden of England. Cockney hop-pickers, the turning for Canterbury. Gimpo's Tale - now that would be good. The Carpenters' 'For All We Know' is cranking through the three-inch speakers, compressed to fuck and sounding like one of the best records ever made. A green hill covered by a sprawling car boot sale. Above, the clouds break and massive sun beams shaft down, illuminating the hill, already crawling with Sunday morning seekers one bargain away from happiness. It's like a neo-classical canvas depicting the smallness of man in all his little ways, and the power and glory of the Almighty as he looks down on his wayward creation.
The turning for Brand's Hatch, and my mind turns from the biblical to Damon's bad career move in signing to Arrows. For me and Gimpo, Johnny Herbert is our man. No glamour, no chance, born loser, but at times, for some unknown reason, gets to the chequered flag before the others. A small clump of primroses brings morning gold. Will they spread like they do down the Devon stretch of the M5? Or like the wild lupins on the M6 as it cuts through Birmingham? Gimpo's rage at the universe has found a new avenue as he hurls his beloved mobile phone out the window. I momentarily hear a female voice plead 'but Gimpo' before it smashes into the side of a passing artic. Gimpo then turns the video camera on himself. It's set up on the dashboard. I'm in the hammock. Mr Green's asleep on the passenger seat. Gimpo's voice is shot through, but he starts to bark, scream, glare at the unblinking lens. His madness, his psychosis, his vanity, his vulgarity pour from his scarred soul as he tries to explain this journey of his. His inarticulate genius. His excuse for living. His sordid reality. (For those interested in such facts, I've heard from various reliable sources that Gimpo can fuck harder, faster and for longer than any other man in London.) He starts to get maudlin, he starts to apologise to the camera for being a cunt to his girlfriend. It's like I'm eavesdropping on some last confession before Mme Guillotine drops. He must assume I'm asleep. Some of the stuff he is coming out with is pretty embarrassing, and I won't embarrass my mate by documenting it here. He falls silent, and my paranoia tells me that this whole M25 thing is some sort of elaborate suicide plot.
I drift into sleep for a while. I dream a dream where Gimpo tells me that in the future the crusties, the ravers without hope, the ferel underclasses, will live on the M25 in broken down buses, discarded containers, packing cases and anything else that can be procured for nowt and provide shelter against the rains. The M25 will be taken over, clogged up, no longer used as a thoroughfare to nowhere. It will be like one of those forgotten canals behind backstreets in Brum, stagnant and dank, fit only for dead cats and stolen shopping trolleys, until it is ripe for future heritage culturalists to proclaim its worth as a site of historic interest. It will be a place where Gimpo will be king. The dream shifts, and I see Gimpo robed in purple trimmed with ermine held shoulder-high by a pack of Swampy's wayward grandchildren. They are carrying him to a throne built from a distant forklift truck and broken pallets, decorated with hub caps and liberated crown jewels.
'Last lap,' Gimpo shouts, and I awake from my dreams of his coronation. I clamber into the front. The three of us peer out the truck screen at our fellow Sunday travelers. Mr Green seems disappointed; he was hoping for something to happen, something to be revealed, for some sort of breakthrough. Gimpo says, 'It might yet happen.' I say, 'Maybe it already has. we just don't know it yet. These things take some time.' We are passing by Heathrow pylons, J.G. Ballard Crashlands. M40 westbound. Blackthorn blossom, catkins and gorse gold. Wild cherry, hovering kestrel. Not one dead fox, dead badger, dead rabbit, even dead hedgehog, but lots of dead pheasants. I notice these things. So does Gimpo, and he notices so much more, but I'll wait till the Congo book is written before revealing the true essence of Gimpo and the awfulness of his vision of our land.
Back into Herts, St Albans cathedral on the horizon. Two minutes to one. The pips. Gimpo goes berserk. The job has been done. We pull up on the hard shoulder. Trucks plough by. Gimpo is out. Down the embankment. Hammering in a wooden stake with a huge wooden mallet that I gave him as a wedding present. Mr Green has prepared a Wedgewood-blue plaque. These are the words printed on it:
|On March 22nd/23rd 1997 Dave Green, Bill Drummond and Gimpo drove around the M25 for 25 hours non-stop. This plaque marks the point where the journey was finished.|
This is nailed to the stake. Mr Green has also got a camera. He takes our pictures. We smile. A job well done.
Postscript: The Truth Will Out
If you are the type to remember such things as when Halley's Comet last visited our corner of the Solar System, you may have reckoned that my 'Gimpo's 25' story to be mis-dated by at least 365 days. Well if you did, your reckoning would have been right. The story was written a month or so before I made it to my forty-fifth year, but because I wanted it included I lied about the date and added a year on to it.