IT IS a little after 7am and the radio is on. The news rolls out in a gloomy carousel.
This road has been travelled more times than I can remember, so the route is familiar. As the humdrum landmarks come and go, the BBC Today programme reports from Paris and London on the wave of attacks in the French capital.
I wonder about turning off or switching over. Perhaps it would be better to let the iPod shuffle through some tunes by way of random distraction. Instead I stick to the radio as the dreadful news from France loops round.
At the time the scale of the devastation is all too apparent, but the appalling human tally has yet to be computed. Later in the day it will emerge that as many as 129 people have been killed by the gunmen of Islamic State, with many more having been injured, nearly 100 very seriously. Those who died were killed without pause or mercy. The civil war in Syria and the war in Iraq will be said to have provided the warped reason for the murderous onslaught.
As the miles slip beneath the car, my understanding of what has happened or why slips away too. How can one human being do such a thing to another? Music might be better, I think again, but stick with the news. When truly appalling things happen, you want to know the details, even if they are too upsetting to comprehend, even if the unrolling news makes you want to cry.
Many of the victims were young. They died in the Bataclan concert hall, gunned down as they listened to a concert by a Californian band called Eagles of Death Metal. Later it will emerge that they were murdered by four gunmen of their own age, spraying the room with AK-47s. The gunmen will be said to have been be calm. They paused to reload, suggesting that they had been trained to do this terrible thing. One of them reportedly shouted Allahu Akbar (God is greatest) as he fired.
If God is anything he will be greatly angered and sorrowed that his name could be taken in vain for such evil purposes. If God exists at all, and sometimes even the devout must wonder.
Other victims died while eating and drinking in restaurants, doing nothing other than relaxing and enjoying themselves, living the life, meeting friends to share a drink and a meal – engaging in the things that make life worthwhile, lost in the ordinary pleasures of a Friday night.
The old car rolls on. There is that farmhouse that splits the M62, always a landmark of stubborn individualism (‘Build your motorway here if you like, but I’m not budging…’). Soon it will be time to branch off and take the motorway towards the airport and then on to Knutsford where my mother lives.
The radio keeps me company all the way, but there is no comfort in this companionship. Just sorrow and anger, confusion and a lack of comprehension – on my part and the part of everyone.
That is why we listen, why we read, and why we watch at such times. There is a sort of communion in feeling sad, angry and confused. Members of our race did this to other members of our race, so we are involved and shutting our eyes and ears won’t change that. I understand sometimes when people say they don’t watch the news because it is “too depressing”. And, yes, no news recently has been more morally miserable.
But we need to know, we are part of this – as fellow human beings, but also as westerners whose liberal ways and values are threatened.
These values are important and we must defend them: they define us and how we live – and sometimes how we die too, when liberalism comes up against the hard face of rank and unhinged intolerance. Yet you cannot beat intolerance by becoming more intolerant yourself – we can’t match their xenophobia with more of our own. Tolerance doesn’t work like that and tolerance is important.
These thoughts will arise later, but for now the rawness fills my mind. I have arrived and can switch the radio off – something I can’t do to my mind.