Ninety-five percent of the books left by travellers on the foisty shelves of warungs in Ubud fall into these categories:
yoga and meditation
books about Bali and Lonely Planets
Russian stuff (Spy shit? Who knows? Could be anything, frankly)
So, ‘Gridlock’ by Ben Elton, a 90’s comedy about a paraplegic embroiled in the corrupt motor industry, stood out like a set of fluffy dice in a Rover 800. Who brought this here? Which deadbeat decided that this particular piece of literature would be the perfect accompaniment to a post-massage coconut in the equatorial jungle? What a weird choice. I took it.
The book served as a little bridge. From the magic, mysterious, blessed and volcanic island of Bali, Gridlock drove me back to the traffic jams and corporate insanity of the UK. A stepping stone. Trotting bog-eyed off a jet propelled, winged, aluminium tube at Heathrow won’t be such a shock to the system when I’ve already been emotionally invested in London for the week prior.
Twenty pages from the end, just before my connecting flight in Kuala Lumpur, a passage from Gridlock makes it crystal clear why the book had presented itself. There’s always a reason that your next book finds you.
‘These poor dupes, suckled on a diet of motoring images of freedom and individual triumph, convinced by generations of car makers, oil men and politicians that the car is the ultimate symbol of individual liberty and self-expression, simply cannot believe that the car is also a terrible trap. A trap which, far from confirming the individuals splendid isolation and independence, condemns the individual to drone-like conformity of movement, or, as is increasingly the case, paralysis. Far from celebrating the freedom of the individual, more and more the private car is becoming the ultimate leveller, reducing us all to dull conformity – identically frustrated, identically furious, identically stuck.’
Always uncertain whether the choices you make are the right ones, this paragraph really stands as a reminder to the importance of escaping the rat race, if only temporarily. It can seem such an impossible step. There are bills to pay and things you’ve got to do. One thing is linked to the next in a chain of reasons why you have to remain safely inside the system, paying for the car you need to drive you to the job you need and so on. Adverts tell you that the flu-relief sachets at four-times the cost are better than the unbranded ones, but let’s be clear, you don’t need either. We don’t need a tenth of the things we habitually consume.
So stuff being stuck, bound by the expectations or the marketing ingenuity of other forces. Stuff putting what our collective society seems to value ahead of what you value inside. Close your eyes, get quiet, get clear and do whatever you think is the most important thing to do with the very limited and miraculous time you’ve got on this little blue dot. On your dying breath, you’ll never look back and wish you’d had a better car.