On the 50th anniversary of the opening of the first section of the London to Leeds Motorway, more commonly known as the M1, I woke up at 4.45am to travel its length. I was on a job to the Marie Curie Hospice in Bradford and we had to be there by 11am with a large orange Big Brother style chair to conduct interviews and a photo shoot.
The moon was setting large and red as we joined the carriageway at Junction One, slowly sinking in front of us as the sky got lighter and lighter. It was apocalyptic and we were too sleepy to comment. We stopped for breakfast and when we pulled back onto the motorway ten miles from Derby, a clutch of large water cooling towers steamed into the morning air straight ahead of us, and the towns we passed adopted a rigid linear pattern of parallel lined terraces clinging to the hillsides. I know terraces and water cooling towers exist elsewhere in the UK, but somehow, these two sights heralded the fact that we were suddenly in the north.
We left the M1 at Leeds to veer left to Bradford. Driving downhill towards the city centre all of a sudden we could see the city spread out in front of us in the valley, smeering itself up onto the hills surrounding it. Mills and towers and row upon row of yellow stoned houses. To me, it was the evidence of such great pride and industry, a one-time powerhouse of British economy and trade.
‘Why did so many people come to live here?’ asked my colleague as we passed our umpteenth curry house. ‘To work in textiles,’ I replied. ‘Were textiles made here?’ he answered. Maybe it’s because I did the industrial revolution for GCSE history. Maybe it’s because I’m from the north. But I wondered how many people don’t know or have forgotten that it was manufacturing and trade with cities in the north and the midlands that made Britain wealthy enough to be a world power? (B would say this is evidence of my northern chip.)
And at the end of the day we drove back down the entire length of this motorway, sticking to a 50mph speed limit most of the way (was this speed limit chosen particularly today to honour the anniversary? I wondered) as the moon rose full into a clear early darkening sky. The second motorway I’ve driven the length of this year.
And so the moon set and the moon rose, a complete motorway. And it was good.