A few years back now, my father Julius and I were driving back from Dorset, having spent a couple of days selling fudge at a agricultural show, which is his business. It had been a hard weekend, with a seemingly endless downpour of rain meaning the amount of customers was as thin as the plastic walls of our tent, in which we slept each night.
So it was in a depressed atmosphere that we sat in the car to return back to Kent, around 150 miles away. The rain really had been relentless during our time in the West Country, and by the time we were packed up and on the road, the tarmac was already a few centimeters deep with water. As the sheets of fluid chucked down from the clouds above, darkness enveloped our car, with the violent misty vapour and unusually dim moonlight conspiring to make navigation home a tough task indeed.
Slowly but surely, my dad made his way onto the A4 amidst reports of heavy traffic across the country. We were no more than ten miles into that stage of the journey, somewhere outside Salisbury, when the other cars decelerated from their already agonising pace to an even slower one. Already in a bad mood, the pair of us despaired as we realised we wouldn’t be getting home until at least midnight. The prospect of a nice hot shower and a clean bed was all the more tempting for its ever-diminishing proximity.
Other drivers looked to be about to get out their cars and scan ahead, but the fierce winds and lashing rain meant just standing up would pose a serious challenge.
As I embraced the solemn depression, my dad instead took on an unusually angry demeanor, and began to weave in between the cars. The 5mph slug in and out between lanes was hugely embarrassing, as manyof the other drivers looked on with scorn, as my dad’s impatience grew to fever pitch. Meandering between the cars got us only so far, and so it is with shame that I report the his next plan was to cruise over to the hard shoulder and slam his foot down. I’m not sure if it was the poor show attendance, the bad weather, the lateness or just a combination of it all, but something had gripped him.
We must have bombed along for about fifty miles, and past at least ten thousand cars, before the hard shoulder began to tail off. The barely moving traffic was being whipped about by the rain, and each driver was near-invisible behind the protective glass of their windows. Here, the cars were packed a little less densely, and again my dad started weaving through the other cars. At least six hours had passed since we left the showground and we were still a great distance away from home. Once more we slowly progressed through the soaking metal gridlock, one car at a time, criss-crossing lanes by the minute.
Perhaps due to the woeful wait and cursed conditions, the drivers didn’t seem as bothered by my father’s antics as they were further back. In my bored state, I also began to notice that the other cars were somewhat uniform in style; there were no lorries or vans, or even any sports cars or estates. Every car appeared to be a Vectra or a Mondeo or something.
As we slithered our way along the A4, I think I became even more aware that the surrounding cars were lacking variety. It might have been because I was tired, or because it was almost impossible for me to see more than 10cm outside the window, but I swear every car was the same dark grey colour and looked nearly identical. I couldn’t make out which make or model they were, but they certainly all looked very similar.
My dad said he didn’t know anything about cars when I told him what I’d noticed, but he did say they were all unusually alike. And that’s when the strangest thing happened. Approaching a small crest in the natural gradient of the road, we were suddenly afforded a glance of the view ahead, albeit one severely obstructed by the ferocious weather outside. It appeared as though we were only around ten cars back from whatever was holding up this epic traffic jam. I excitedly asked my dad if he had seen what I’d seen, but he said there was no way I could have seen that far past the foreboding greyness. I insisted he carry on with his dodging and overtaking for a little longer.
We slid past the sinister charcoal vehicles, still unable to make out the drivers inside. I was nervously excited, about the anticipation of finally getting home, as it was 2am by this point. I hurriedly encouraged my dad to continue on, slithering our Zafira all the way to what seemed like a row of three cars, with no sign of another car in front. Even after I had suspected we had reached the front of the jam, I was still ecstatic to discover we had made it, and agreed with my dad that we should try and make a pass.
The confusing thing was that there wasn’t anything making the front three cars go so slowly. It certainly looked like these three cars were driving slowly along, blocking the way past and dictating the speed of the snaking cars behind, with no obvious reason to be doing so. Quite livid at this implication, in a rather dangerous maneuver, my dad squeezed the car in between two of the dark grey vehicles. Unable to wriggle beyond them entirely, I looked out the passenger window and into the front-seat of the car beside us. Who on earth would be driving so slow as to be holding up countless thousands of drivers?
I peered into the glass, trying to make out what was behind the rain-splattered veil. What I saw will stun you. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Sitting there, driving an anonymous dark grey saloon car was a human-sized mallard. Yep. A massive male duck, with big, black eyes and a large, smiling beak slotted behind the steering wheel. It was hard to tell if he had wings, or how he was controlling the vehicle, but I swear to you – it was a fucking mallard driving a reasonably-priced family car.
As I began to splutter out my discovery to dad, he turned to me from the other side and looked at me with wide-eyed horror. He had seen the same thing. Scared, he trie to accelerate, but was locked in position. Braking offered no escape either. I was so scared. There was no way out. We were surrounded by the ducks.
No sooner had I started to think about picking up my mobile, when the cars to the side of us immediately sped off in front. All around us, the dark grey cars shot forwards and drove off into the distance. We moved into second gear and tried to catch up with the rapidly accelerating cars around us. Slamming his foot on the pedal, my dad had reached 100mph a few moments later, but still the grey cars were zooming off past us. Within five minutes, the only cars around us were normal vehicles: red, white, blue; cars, vans, lorries; Fords, Vauxhalls, Fiats.
The traffic jam had eased off, and everyone was relieved to be finally on their way home. The weather cleared up almost instantly after the mallards left and we were left bewildered as to what the fuck just happened. I’ve never told anyone about this story until right now. Seriously, traffic jams are caused by mallards and shit.