The Dark Side Of The Road: Gimpo’s M25 25hr Spin 24th-25th March 2018

I met Gimpo at the Vans For Bands depot at the back of Heathrow. We spent some time cross loading gear before locking up and heading out. I set the padlock code to 2525 before our departure. Gimpo’s M25 25hr Spin was about to begin. Sometimes I do things I don’t fully understand. I like to take my nonsense seriously.

Gimpo was in good spirits and had already started unpacking all sorts of paraphernalia in the back. We headed out and joined the M25 heading north at Junction 15. All I could hear was rustling, and Gimpo muttering to himself about HD Cards as he went.

The plan was to get to Thurrock Services for 11am and then top dead centre on the Queen Elizabeth II bridge for midday. Heavy traffic made the going slow. When we got nearer to Thurrock the traffic ground to a halt. There had been a spillage on the bridge and only two lanes were open. Safari time. I pulled the vehicle off the motorway and headed down some smaller backroads. By the time we got to Thurrock, Gimpo was thinking about shopping. We sneaked into Tesco’s car park at Lakeside and found a suitable place to leave the van.

Gimpo bought a lottery ticket, some HD cards for the onboard camera, and a few other items. I had to get some breakfast. The Holland and Barrett at Tesco’s lakeside is a strange place. I go there once a year and buy a flapjack for no other reason than to stay out of the main shop while Gimpo starts throwing stuff everywhere and ranting about the price of HD cards. The staff always seem to be shocked that they have a customer and overcompensate by following you around asking if they can help. I’m never sure if they suspect a shoplifter, or if they just have no one to talk to, ever.

This year, all the flapjacks were reduced to 49p. I bought three. Each of a different flavour, to represent the triune God, or the third degree, or the law of three. I don’t know what’s worse, three budget flapjacks or another cheese sandwich. But I bought the flapjacks, any belief system would do at a time like this.

Outside, Gimpo was waiting. “Hurry up, we’ve got work to do” he said. I opened the van up and Gimpo climbed about among the back seats.” “Take these” he said. Gimpo started passing magnetic signs to me. All of the signs. Until they piled up on the tarmac and I began to think about a quote I read once:

“Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.” — Victor Frankl.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, psychiatrist and neurologist Victor Frankl (1905–1997) wrote about his ordeal as a concentration camp inmate during the Second World War. He found that those who survived longest in concentration camps were not those who were physically strong, but those who retained a sense of control over their environment. Gimpo has a fantastic collection of signs, he jumped out and started positioning them around the van. If you are in search of meaning, there’s no better place than a van, with Gimpo, for 25 hours around the M25.

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms — to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances — to choose one’s own way.” Gimpo has his own way.

The van headed out onto the motorway and into a traffic jam. The bridge still had a lane closed and the traffic was moving slowly. “It’s only a spill, it will take them ages to clear that up. What time is it Mark?”

The spin began at 12.54pm, top dead centre on the Queen Elizabeth II bridge. We were late, but Gimpo explained you can’t be late on the spin, and anyway, we started out at 10am so by rights we were already on time. Gimpo logic.

The first lap went by quite easily. The sky was grey and Gimpo pointed out it was good weather for photographing pylons. At Junction 23 we took a driving break and the search for a missing HD card continued.

Gimpo pointed out there would still be bad traffic ahead due to the spillage on the bridge. He continued “I think there’s a secret tunnel to spin Island. I’ve seen an entrance. Travelling westbound, there’s a strange looking doorway. There must be a secret tunnel. Let’s go and find it.” Before I could even consider the possibilities, I was driving down St. Albans road, then left onto Dancers Hill Road and then left again onto Bakers Street. “Keep going until you get to the bridge, there’s a gate on the left, Park up. I want to see if I can find the entrance to the secret tunnel” Gimpo announced.

I sat at the wheel and waited. I’ve worked with many bands and many artists over the last 30 years. Sometimes you have to let them do their thing. You cannot reason, or ask of them why. You have to let them go. All the way. Gimpo is the artist here. There might be a secret tunnel to the only island on the M25. I decided to turn the vehicle round and keep the engine running. Gimpo climbed the gate and headed out across the field towards the motorway embankment. I was lucky he wasn’t carrying an Argentinian flag. Before long, Gimpo, in a high-vis jacket, had disappeared amongst some bushes on the far side of the field. I could see the trucks passing by above. About ten minutes passed and Gimpo appeared looking disappointed. “Its just a drainage tunnel” he shouted across the field. “I’m not climbing through there. Not in this weather. Lets get back on the road”

The van completed an uninterrupted lap and Gimpo took as many pictures as he could. There was a lot of shouting and jumping about in the back of the van. An artist at work. Each picture had to have a title or decsription, and each one was emailed to Todd who looks after

After two hours Gimpo realised he had been sending the pictures to the wrong email address. Todd has a new email address and Gimpo had been sending everything to the old one. He had to start again.

We found ourselves back at J23 South Mimms Services in no time, and my mind was beginning to melt. Haven’t we been here before? Gimpo, The van and the M25 can all create ideal conditions for travelling into Parallel Realities and Time Loops, creating the feeling of Deja Vu.

Stephen Hawking once suggested that the absence of tourists from the future constitutes a strong argument against the existence of time travel. However, assuming that time travel cannot happen is also interesting to physicists because it opens up the question of why, and what physical laws exist to prevent time travel from occurring. Gimpo’s M25 Spin constitutes an attempt to test all theories concerning time travel and parrallel realities to the limit.

As darkness fell, things started to get weird. Light and darkness can influence your modes of thought, belief and behavior. It can play tricks on your eyesight and insight. Not only were we travelling back and forth in time across the Greenwich Meridian, we were also crossing from light into darkness, from one day into the next. Round and Round. We were eight or more hours in, things looked familiar everywhere you looked. Driving into the darkness of our own minds. Haven’t we been here before?

Gimpo fired up the live stream from my phone to record the journey across the Queen Elizabeth II bridge. The tolls are gone these days, but there is still a strict method for crossing the bridge. Get into the second lane, follow across the Bridge and from top dead centre, descend but make sure you drive beneath the overhead gantry that mentions M23. The lettering of 23 actually coincides with where the old Toll 23 used to be. You can stay in the lane all the way. That’s eactly what we did, with Gimpo providing clear instruction as we proceeded. We passed through the old Toll area, out onto the open road, and into the darkness. The section of M25 from Queen Elizabeth II Bridge to Clacket Lane Services is the dark side of the road. The lights go out, the trees close in and the road narrows. You cant help but feel the overwhelming darkness as the journey edges closer to midnight.

The darkside has a master. Colin is the Lantern holder. If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one there to witness it, does it make a sound? In the same way, if Gimpo does the M25 25hour Spin and theres no one there to witness it, did it happen? Colin is the master of the darkside, he is the lantern holder, and he’s going to wave a light from the bridge as we pass, to prove the spin exists.

Gimpo calls Colin: “Hello, we’ve just passed Junction 4, just passing the crest of the hill, past the sign saying M25 London Orbital….” We passed another sign and then two lights became visible in the darkness ahead. That’s Colin. A bridge loomed out of the darkness and we could see Colin waving two lights at us. I flashed the lights of the van as Gimpo shouted with excitement into his phone. “We can see you! Hey….Colin…..Fire party man! Go Colin Go! We love you Colin! See you next lap all right?…in about three hours….come and join us….we’ll stop at Clacket and take you round for a lap” I could hear Colin, with excitement, shouting back through the handset.

The van thundered on into the night, Gimpo sat back with satisfaction. Colin had proved our existence.

We had to go round again if we wanted to get Colin. There’s no turning back on the spin. The time passed, the lines blurred, and the lights flashed by outside. We completed a lap in record time. We set the controls for Clacket Lane. Gimpo wanted to stop for Colin. “Mark, I’m going to message Colin. I’ll tell you when to stop the van. Be ready” I was driving, I thought we were going to Clacket lane services but Gimpo had other plans. I had no time to consider arguing. I have to do what Gimpo tells me, he is the artist.

Junction 4 passed by outside, then the sign saying M25 London Orbital. We descended from the crest of the hill, into the valley of darkness, another sign passed by. The bridge loomed like an unearthly Colossus. I checked the wing mirrors. We were alone on the road, no traffic anywhere, just cats eyes flying past and blurred white lines. We passed beneath the bridge as the engine roared. A shiver ran down my spine. Stay on the road. Never get out of the van.

“Steady, Steady…….Steady” Gimpo shouted over the music. I could hear him falling about in the back of the van. He was leaning over the front passenger seat and looking out of the window at the trees flashing by. “Here, I think I can see something, stop here!” he shouted. I couldn’t see anything ahead. I checked the mirrors but there was nothing but empty road and blackness. I indicated left and pulled the van onto the hard shoulder and pushed the brakes hard. Gimpo was shouting “I think I can see something in the bushes. There’s a shape. Stop here, I’ll get out and check”

I pulled the hand-brake and pushed the hazard lights. Everything started to flash with orange. What was Gimpo up to? Visions of a hairy, upright-walking, ape-like being who reportedly dwells in the wilderness and leaves behind large footprints sprung to mind. Gimpo pulled the door back and jumped out. A few moments later, a light appeared among the trees. It was Colin, dressed in black with a torch strapped to his head. The master of the darkside of was with us.

Gimpo and Colin climbed aboard and slammed the door shut. “Get going, I’ve got him” Gimpo shouted. I checked the mirrors and gunned the van into action. Gimpo and Colin were climbing about in the back, moving bags and coats and trying to find where Gimpo had hid his cans of beer. There was no traffic behind us, just a vacuum of sinister black foreboding. Within seconds we were back in the safety of the inside lane and returning to our cruising speed of 65mph.

Never get out of the van. The darkside of the M25 is a strange place late at night. “The clocks go forward in an hour, lets get to Junction 23 as fast as possible, I want to show Colin something” Gimpo shouted above the engine noise.

We arrived at Junction 23 with 15 minutes to spare. I needed a driving break and suggested we take an hour or two to rest and decompress. Gimpo insisted on taking a quick trip into the services and then announced that there was no time to waste, we were all going for a walk. It’s hard to describe what happened next. Neither Colin nor I could recount what happened. I had left my phone in the van, I left my sanity and any memory too. The clocks were about to go forward, we had been back and forth across the Greenwich Meridian that many times I had no idea what day I was in any more. I had this strange dream that Gimpo weas taking us into a parallel reality where all time stood still. It’s time to face your fears Mark. Into the cave we walked. I could hear Gimpo talking but he was no where to be seen. I dreamt that the motorway was closed. I dreamt that we were walking through muddy puddles at the back of the services, down a forgotten path, backwards in time. I could only see in black and white. All my fear presented itself. Gimpo said if you think hard enough you can go anywhere you want. I remember the dripping water from the trees and the light rain falling around us. Midnight to 4am is always the strangest time on the Spin. Reality melts. Clocks go backwards. Your mind is spinning, you feel like you are still in the van and you can hear the road thundering beneath you, but the rain falls. You have been everywhere at once, you have seen the lights, but you are nowhere. All time stands still. A dark dream passed through my mind. Somewhere I could see Gimpo climbing over a wooden fence, Colin was ahead. I was climbing up the grass on the embankment. I was unable to keep up with the others, they had already crossed the border to the other side. I found myself stood on the hard shoulder. Nothing but miles of motorway in one direction and miles in another. But there was no traffic. Only silence. And fear. I could only see in black and white. Colin and Gimpo were standing on the other side of the road. I don’t know how they got there. They were standing in among the trees. I tried to walk across the road but it became wider and wider as I crossed. I seemed to have been crossing the carriageway for what seemed an hour. Gimpo was laughing and telling me to hurry up. When I reached the other side Gimpo said “Welcome to spin island. This is my Island” I was unable to speak. I could hear and I could think but I was unable to make any sound with my voice. “The clocks have gone forward. We just time travelled to get here” Gimpo said. I could hear the silence around us and the gentle breeze through the trees. I looked back across the road and Gimpo was already climbing down the embankment after Colin. How did I get here? Which way did the others go? I tried to run back across the road but my feet were heavy and I felt like I was wading through treacle. I wanted to take a picture of the empty road but I couldn’t find my phone, I had left it on the dashboard of the van. The others had disappeared from view. I scrambled down the grass embankment and climbed back over the fence. I had lost the others. I could feel a light rain falling all around me. Silence. Where had the others got to? I lifted my head to find I was at Thurrock Services. I had fallen asleep at the table. Everything was closed until 7am. How did we all get here? Colin was missing and Gimpo was crawling on all fours under the tables in the restaurant. I didn’t have my phone with me so I had no idea what time it was. I looked around, everything was closed, not even a machine was working that I could get a cup of coffee from. Gimpo was on his feet and soon pushed his way through a set of double doors on the far side of the restaurant area that said “Staff Only.” I watched and waited. I was the only person sat in the services. It must have been gone 4am. I wondered how long it would take Gimpo to reappear. The fire alarms went off. The sound was deafening. How could this happen? I was sat at a table, minding my own business. Within 30 seconds or so the alarms switched off and a strange silence descended. I looked around, Gimpo was nowhere to be seen and I was still the only person in the services. Suddenly the main doors opened and several Police Officers appeared. They walked in and walked straight towards me. I counted eight of them. They walked in and stood all around me, their radios crackled with intermittent, clipped, distorted voices. One minute I was sitting quietly, the next Gimpo had disappeared, and now the fire alarms have gone off I’m surrounded by Police. One of the officers took a call on the radio. I’m glad he could understand what was being said as I couldn’t understand a word of it. They all started talking loudly among one another and then as quickly as they had appeared, they were gone. I looked across the restaurant just as the “staff only” doors opened slowly. Gimpo appeared with a grin on his face. “What have you been up to?” I asked.

“Nothing officer” Gimpo replied. He sneaked out, and through the tables and chairs, attempting to tip toe whilst knocking things over as he went. Gimpo said something about meeting his friend Nathan, then ran off outside. It was late. It was Early. The spin had scrambled all sense of awareness in my mind. It was time to go. I followed Gimpo back to the van. Colin was waiting, he was having a smoke and wondering where we were. Gimpo introduced his friend Nathan. Nathan had just driven half way round the M25 to meet us. We were about to drive him back to where he started. Nathan was based in Amersham. I helped him work out how to pay for parking so he could leave his car as long as necessary. Everyone climbed aboard and I fired up the engine.

Back at the wheel I made my way slowly from Thurrock Services and back onto the motorway. Madness can be distracting at a time like this. I was taking no chances. Gimpo wanted to show Nathan Queen Elizabeth II bridge. “Get in the second lane, don’t miss the 23 where the toll used to be” came the instruction. I wondered if Gimpo had remembered to register the van’s number plate to pay the toll automatically with each lap? It was too late to worry.

I was careful to navigate beneath the 23 on the overhead gantry before heading out onto the darkside of the road once more. The lights began to fade and the trees closed in. Nathan sat in the back while Gimpo jumped from side to side, pointing out things of interest and shouting.

Colin asked if we usually took that amount of time to do a lap? “What do you mean?” Gimpo asked. Colin explained that we had only taken two hours to do the previous lap but it had taken nearly 6 hours to do this last one. “What?” Gimpo exclaimed. Gimpo was climbing about in the back in an excitable manner, talking to himself. Nathan sat calmly, Colin seemed worried about the time. I asked Gimpo to do a time check. “What the? Where’s the time Gone?” Gimpo shouted. “I’ve lost at least four hours. I cant remember anything. How did Nathan get here. Where are we?”

The lights flashed by and the signs passed. Before long we were descending from the crest of the hill and Colin spotted the bridge ahead. “This’ll be me” Colin said, “It’s nearly 6am. I had better get back, I’ve got a long day tomorrow. Anywhere along here will do. Thanks for everything. See you all next time” or words to that effect.

I checked the mirrors and all the traffic had disappeared. Strange. I looked again, nothing in front of us, nothing behind us. The dawn was breaking and we were alone on the road. I pulled the van off the road and put the hazard lights on. I applied the handbrake and decided to check everything. The door opened and Colin jumped out, “Thanks for everything Gimpo, see you next year” he said. And Colin climbed into the bushes and vanished. Gimpo pulled the door shut and told me to get going. I switched the hazards off and checked the mirrors. Still no traffic, anywhere. I pulled the van back onto the road and we headed to Clacket Lane for a driving break. “Is that where Colin lives? In those trees?” Asked Nathan. “Yes” said Gimpo. No one dared question Gimpo’s reply.

As we approached Clacket Lane there was some fidgeting and rustling in the back. “I’ve lost five hours Mark!” Gimpo shouted. “I can’t remember anything.” I tried to remember what had happened. All I could remember was a petrol station and junction 23 and then I woke up at Thurrock Services with the fire alarms going, surrounded by Police. I couldn’t remember much else either. Where had the time gone? “That’s time travel” said Gimpo. “Have you seen my shoes? They’ve gone.”

“We’ll be at Clacket soon” I said. We’ll find your shoes then. Sit back and relax, all will be well” I said.

“Clacket Lane. Doggers delight!” came the reply from the back.

I pulled the van into Clacket Lane and found a suitably private parking spot, and rolled the side door back. Gimpo was half buried under bags and clothing and an assortment of cables. “I cant find my phone” he said. “Can you ring it?”

I called Gimpo’s phone and he found it in a pocket of a jacket across the back seat. Gimpo was wearing a pair of socks. His shoes were missing. “Where are your boots?” I asked. Gimpo looked at me.

“I don’t know, I think I must have taken them off. Maybe someone else took them off. Maybe they came off by themselves” he said.

“How could your shoes come off by themselves?” I asked.

“They do sometimes. It’s Time Travel” Gimpo said.

“Lets go into the services and wait for breakfast. Everything opens at 7am, we’ve only got 15 minutes to wait.” I said.

Gimpo refused to move. “You’ll have to carry me. I can’t walk in with just my socks on.” He said.

I spent ten minutes tearing the back of the van apart looking for Gimpo’s shoes. I couldn’t find them anywhere. He really had lost them.

Once inside the services we sat down and waited for 7am. “Maybe someone will find them?” Nathan suggested.

“They’re Dead Mans boots” Gimpo replied. No one will want them. Gimpo recounted memories of Sir Galahad in 1982 getting hit and set on fire. I was shocked back to reality.

“I’ll get the coffee, what does everyone want?” I asked.

When I returned to the table Gimpo was walking around in his socks looking quite happy and excited again. “Shall we take these to the van?” he said.

Before I had time to take more than a sip, Gimpo was striding across the tarmac towards the van. No time to lose. I tried not to think about how Gimpo could lose his boots. I remember reading about Sir Galahad in the newspaper all those years ago, I was 10 years old at the time. I just climbed into the drivers seat and turned the ignition. Sometimes you have to shut up and drive. Don’t overthink it, Stay on the road. Gimpo is the artist here.

The van completed another lap. All eyes were on the side of the road. Maybe we would spot Gimpo’s boots? We returned Nathan safely to Thurrock, but not without retracing our steps and scouring every inch of tarmac and pathway. Nathan had a load out to get to so we bid him farewell and he was gone.

The sun came out. Most people were going about their business on a typical Sunday morning. Gimpo’s socks were starting to look filthy. I decided we should complete a final lap and return to Lakeside at the back of Thurrock Services and find Gimpo a new pair of shoes. I was starting to feel insane. Tesco’s on a sunday morning with just a couple of hours left of the spin is an interesting place. It’s like a time warp where everything moves too fast, or too slow. The lights are too bright and you can hear everything too loudly. We started the final run to the endpoint. Gimpo was happy with his new shoes and continued to jump about in the back, taking more photo’s to send to Todd for the website.

The endpoint of the spin this year was Cobham Services. Gimpo wanted a stop to get a coffee. I had probably drunk far too much coffee already. I queued up at consumer whore. They always ask you what name to write on the cup. I couldn’t decide what to say: “Artist” or “Gimpo?” I went for “Gimpo” and “Dave” in the end. I just couldn’t think of anything clever with a brain like jelly at this hour. As I handed the coffee to Gimpo he announced the end of the spin. “We’ve done the 25 hours. Lets put one of my stickers up, fuel up and go home” he said. That sounded good to me. I think we had done enough for this year.

Gimpo offered careful instruction on where to put the sticker. “Mind the CCTV camera, watch out for the cars. That sign there. Next to where it says M25. I want the sticker on that one” he said.

I took a picture of Gimpo with the van before we left Cobham. M25 25hr Spin number 22 was complete. Gimpo seemed pleased with his new shoes too.

The van was returned to the depot behind Heathrow airport, and the cross load began again, this time in reverse. I can’t describe how much gear Gimpo had brought with him. I cleared my stuff out and removed all the rubbish in just a few minutes. Gimpo was still at it ten minutes later. I wanted to leave the van in a clean and tidy state, no cutting corners or dodging responsibilities at this hour. But, no sign of the boots. Just planes flying overhead, skimming the treetops, deafening. Maybe someone will find Gimpo’s Boots one day.

I checked the emails from Todd on my phone while I waited for Gimpo to finish up. We were both in trouble. Todd had sent a list of requests for pictures for the website. Including a picture of Gimpo next to a blue M25 London Orbital sign. We hadn’t done any of the things he had asked us to do. Todd had wanted a picture of the back of the sign which reads “I am Gimpo, this is my sign.” Maybe another time. Maybe next year. Perhaps Gimpo should update the sign to read “I am Gimpo, have you seen my boots?”

Some things can never be explained. Man’s search for meaning, The odyssey that was Gimpo’s M25 25 Hour Spin 2018, was complete. Stay on the road. Stay in your boots.