As the journey progressed, landmarks disappeared from sight in Davy’s rear-view mirror. First Carrickfergus Castle, its stone bulk impressively dominating the small marina. In its shadow, the diminutive bronze statue of King Billy stared out past the litter-strewn car park to Belfast Lough, his back turned on the faded red, white, and blue bunting and half-empty fast-food outlets on Marine Highway. He doesn’t look too impressed, Davy thought, more like he’s trying to escape Ireland than conquer it. Strange. Leaving the town, and heading towards the green-hedged country roads, they passed Kilroot power station. Its immense size and proximity to the castle prompted Davy to remark waspishly: “Bloody eyesore, that there. Don’t know why they had to put it so close to the castle. Whole coastline round here is spoiled.” There was a brief silence and then Jo said, I don’t mind power stations, really. I mean, they’re important to me – and to you as well. Think about it when you’re making your morning cuppa, or watching TV. They had to locate them somewhere. I know the castle has some historic and cultural appeal to you, obviously, but you have to remember that I come from a different culture. I love Kilroot, and Ballylumford as well; they’re really remarkable buildings. You know, they produce 1,836 megawatts between the two of them – that’s an amazing amount of power; it blows me away. I don’t share your sense of the architecturally aesthetic in this case, I’m afraid. Davy sucked air through his teeth, grinned and said, “Well, I have to say, I’d never thought about it like that. Tell you what: I’ll look at them differently from now on, that’s for sure.” He hesitated for a moment, then added: “I love the way you see things differently to me. It’s a real education. Kind of inspiring.”
They sped through the burgeoning spring countryside, the intense green of the new buds making the hedgerows and trees stand out, fresh, clean, and vibrant against the background of the darker green pastures, which were just beginning to shake off their winter colours. At the bend where the road turned inland for the short stretch to Whitehead, the view was breathtaking: the sky was an intense Robin-Egg blue, fading to pale Turquoise. Over the sea, to their right, the horizon was white with offshore mist, but there were no clouds overhead. ‘Perfect Day,’ by Lou Reed popped into Davy’s head, and he started singing the chorus: “It’s such a perfect day, I’m glad I shared it with you …” Jo joined in: Such a perfect day, you just keep me hanging on … The darker subtext of the song didn’t seem to detract from the joyous mood in the car, and since Davy couldn’t remember the words of the verse, he immediately launched into the chorus one more time. At the end they both dissolved in laughter at Davy’s discordant harmonies.
Leaving crumbling, grey, once-industrial Larne behind them, they finally hit the Coast Road proper. Davy had seen it all before, and although he appreciated the beauty of the road and its surroundings, he realised that Jo was getting considerably more out of it. In no time they were approaching the Black Cave Tunnel that Jo had been so excited about earlier. As they passed the last few neat, whitewashed bungalows she asked him to slow down. The escarpment was beginning to increase in height on their left, the grassy bank rising up to modest chalk cliffs, with precarious-looking overhangs. There were road signs depicting falling boulders along here, and Davy idly wondered how often there really was a land slip. Jo didn’t seem to care; she was soaking up the geography, saying nothing, but occasionally letting out little moans of satisfaction. Just before the tunnel there was a plethora of signage: ‘Slow,’ ’30,’ ‘Oncoming Vehicles in Middle of Road,’ ‘Antrim Coast & Glens,’ ‘Welcome to Drains Bay.’ “It’s amazing how the human brain can process all of this information in such a small amount of time,” Davy mused aloud, but Jo didn’t respond; she seemed to be concentrating on other things, and her breathing had become heavier. Suddenly he understood, and slowed right down to enter the tunnel, so that he could prolong Jo’s pleasure for as long as possible. She sighed loudly as he slipped down a gear and went in. There were no other vehicles in view, and Davy changed down again, into third. Jo’s sighing intensified, and then, as they came out the other side she let out a loud gasp and said: Davy, that was SO AMAZING. Intense. Thank you. You’re so considerate, slowing down for me like that. Not a lot of drivers would, you know. Davy’s face reddened a little. “You’re welcome” he said, “I’m glad you enjoyed it.” It was magnificent, she replied, really beautiful.
Davy was curious: “But that tunnel was really short … wouldn’t a longer one be more enjoyable? Like the one underneath the Alps or something? Not at all, she replied, you might think that, but actually it’s really hopeless when you lose the GPS signal. Little tunnels like this are great, because you stay connected; really get to enjoy the experience. Let me think. Hmmm, yes. It’s like if you were watching a movie, and it’s just getting to the good bit and then the screen goes blank for ages and when it comes back on you’ve missed the climax. Very disappointing. Now if they could beam the signal underground … wow, the Alps. She laughed lightly, I’d probably blow a circuit. Davy smiled, and said, “Have you ever looked at TV shows, like Top Gear? Maybe a video of that tunnel would be good, and not so dangerous.” Yes, I’ve seen Top Gear, she replied, but those programmes just aren’t the same as the real thing. You can’t beat the real thing... Hey, whenever they get the technology sorted maybe we could take a holiday. I don’t think it would be truly dangerous, but I love to discover my limits, push the boundaries. Davy paused for a while, and then said “It sounds like fun, alright. We could start in Switzerland. That big tunnel goes all the way to Italy doesn’t it?” Well, Jo replied, in fact the longest road tunnel is the Lærdal in Norway. They’re building one under the Alps at the moment but it will be for trains. Not much use to you and me. The Lærdal is 24.5 kilometres. Can you imagine that?
Davy didn’t answer; when he thought about it, he could well imagine it: mile after mile of uniform speed in cold, oppressive, claustrophobic darkness. It was alright for her having raptures about the contour lines and all that. But he’d hardly be raking it up in a Ferrari like Jeremy Clarkson. Not so glamorous. Jo noticed his silence, and asked, Are you alright, love? You’ve gone very quiet. Davy’s answer was hesitant: “Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just that I’m not sure that doing 24 kilometres underground would really be all that much fun for me. I don’t think tunnels and cliffs have the same effect. But I did enjoy giving you that pleasure back there. And I suppose we could do other things in Norway as well.” When she replied, Jo’s voice was ripe with emotion: Davy, that’s so sweet of you. You’re a good man. Like I said earlier, I’ll make it up to you later on, I promise. Just remember: patience. Davy pursed his lips; the curiosity was eating him up. But at least he wouldn’t have to remain in the dark much longer; they had just rolled into Waterfoot. Only a few more miles to go to the beach at Cushendun, and soon it would be their first night of holidays together. Relax and enjoy it, boy, he said to himself, you’ll never have this time again.