It wasn’t the best place to blow out a tyre: just off the A11, in one of Norfolk’s most notorious dogging spots. We veered off just before the wheel buckled, with traffic flying past, and swung down the crescent-shaped road that runs through a small section of Thetford Forest at Roudham Heath Toilets. It is famous.
It was dark, and starting to rain heavily. The Land Rover’s wheel was old and stiff and my brother’s small jack was useless. We needed to call the AA: but as we watched, the last bars of reception on our phones flickered and were gone.
Over in the trees, the toilets were twinkling and I could faintly make out a maintenance van. I found a woman mopping the floors there. She stiffened when she first saw me, but then relaxed. “My phone doesn’t work either,” she said. “Try over there, where the trees thin out. But don’t go too far, because there’s some nasty stuff goes on in the woods.”
At Roudham Heath, people come together who would probably never otherwise meet in life. Commuters, couriers, straight-acting truckers, bikers, and soldiers from RAF Lakenheath nearby – (should you want an American GI, you can identify them by their left-hand-drive cars). Out among the trees, though it’s hard to imagine on a wintery night, many wordless adventures ensue. Online reviews warn of “prickly bushes” and of the army police turning up to check on their boys’ behaviour – but praise the area’s abundance of deciduous trees, evergreen conifers and ferns.
Back in the Land Rover, doors locked, we watched the action begin. Every five minutes, someone would pull in behind us, crawl past slowly, then turn off their engine and all their lights and sit there among the trees, waiting.
The problem was that nothing else seemed to be happening. We didn’t realise, as we climbed around our car looking for phone reception, our hazard lights flashing, that we were upsetting the delicate dogging ecosystem of Roudham Heath. Driver after driver, unsettled by us, would move off forlornly and rejoin the motorway. They never got to meet the person about to arrive behind them. It was a stream of small, dark ships passing in an even darker night.
We saw mostly male hands on steering wheels. But in car number 12 was a young woman, with tortoiseshell spectacles and the look of an old-fashioned typist or librarian. Had she come off the road in an emergency? Was she drunk? Was she in trouble?
She pulled up right beside our car, turned off her engine and all her lights. And sat there, in the dark, waiting for us.
We switched on our interior light to show ourselves. She turned her key in the ignition and crawled away, just like the rest. Two hours later the AA arrived. We left, and business at Roudham Heath was able to resume.
This article appears in the 16 Nov 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Trump world