In practice, my life began at the age of five, when my family moved from Scotland to Wales. The memories before the move are like a dream you can barely recall the next day: crossing a road, a tricycle, a policeman, my mother picking me up from nursery.
Distinct and clear, the move shook me into existence. My mother drove my sister in the family car, whilst my father drove myself and my brother in a hired lorry along with all of our possessions. I can still remember how it felt like an adventure, my brother and I bundled up under a duvet as we drove all night.
We made a handful of trips back north to visit my half-brother Scott. Travelling again with my brother and father, we would leave after school on a Friday and not arrive until late that night.
To my mind, the journeys were endless, and wonderfully so: strings of motorway lights marking our way, my father’s house music thrumming the car windows as single songs lasted for what felt like hours. My father drove lorries around the country for a time and he knew where all the best motorway services were—always, coincidentally, the ones with the best arcade machines. Each trip was a holiday, was a whole world.
When I was young it felt terribly important to maintain lists of the things I liked. Until the world became too complicated for such categorisation, it was essential that I knew the order of my favourite films, songs, jumpers and places to sit, for how else would I know the appropriate amount to enjoy them? I can say with some certainty, therefore, that the best moment of my youth took place in a service station.
The memory that lingers was the first trip to visit Scott. It was the first time I’d returned north since we’d moved, and my time in Wales had been made difficult by shyness and an impenetrably thick Scottish accent. In the middle of the night, we stopped at a motorway services to fill up on petrol. Thus, the best moment of my childhood was spent half-asleep in the back of my father’s car, as he passed out rolls wrapped in tin foil. The options were cheese or ham. I chose ham, and Stupid Girl by Garbage played on the radio as I ate my roll. As my father opened the door to get out and fill up the car, I felt the coldness of the night, and understood that it was warm inside the car. The song ended, he paid for the petrol, and we drove off again. That’s it, the whole thing.
When I think back now to my childhood I can think of lots of experiences that seem as special as that one and certainly more notable, but that moment in the petrol station is the one I consistently upheld as being the best, remaining vivid in my mind for years after. In a life filled with good and terrible things, triumphs and filling out forms, it would be foolish to claim it was the best moment of my life. But it was perfect and unencumbered: the back seat of my father’s car, a ham roll, and then moving again, waves of orange light flooding us for just a moment, over and over again.