You're in your car. You're not moving. You haven't moved, in fact, for a good 20 minutes. You're getting a bit tired of it now. Restless. Uncomfortable. Longing for a take-away coffee to put in your cup-holder. It's starting to get dark, too. You've already missed Coronation Street and now it looks like you're going to miss Top Gear as well. You're trapped in your reasonably-priced car, and it looks like you'll still be there to see the stars.
Welcome to Portstewart, a well-known Northern Irish seaside town. The average speed for your journey has gone from 40, to 30, to 25, and is now reaching a humiliating seven miles per hour. You could have done it faster in a Massey Ferguson. Scanning radio stations for something to ease the boredom, you can find only Daniel O'Donnell or the latest plastic boyband. You fantasise about taking an on-board, folding Segway out of the boot for speedy, efficient onward travel. Reality intrudes, and you begin to think about abandoning your car and walking home.
As you inch towards the mini roundabout, you identify the problem. A long queue of small cars is holding up the coast-bound traffic - coming up the prom, turning at the roundabout, and going back down the prom again. Your realisation is gradual, but leaves no room for doubt. You are in the presence of a ritual which any naturalist documentary-maker would be proud to observe: the ritual of Sunday Night Cruising.
The first element of this mating ritual is the car. The dominant species present is the small hatchback. The Alpha-male hatchback presides. The Corsa SRi, now definable as a "classic", may still be seen, alongside its younger, trendier brother the Corsa SXi VVT and their flash cousin Ampera. The Fiat 500, the Clio, the C2, the 106, the 206, the Ibiza, the Polo, the Fiesta, the Yaris, the Mini - they're all there. You'll spot others too: the odd incongrous metallic pink Micra or pearlescent grey Fiat Panda, driven by people who've borrowed granny's car. An occasional alloyed, side-skirted Scenic, Touran or Zafira, driven by the young at heart with several kids in the back. One or two off-roaders, all spotlights, safari lamps and elevated driving position, and the very occasional Porsche or Ferrari - stared at and slavered over by every driver cruising in their vicinity.
Many of these cars have been accessorised to within an inch of their proud owners' bank balances. Alloys are de rigeur. Side-skirts and lowered suspension, low-profile tyres, darkened windows, neon-underlighting, extra-large spoilers of varying degrees of elevation, prestige plates, debadging and rebadging, at the very least a set of go-faster stripes. You are what you drive - and no-one wants to be the standard model.
The second element of the mating ritual is the driver. The dominant species present is the small hatchback driver. Young. Male. Probably single, definitely on the lookout for what he terms "talent". He'll have spent most of the day getting ready. The car has been polished - dust hoovered out of the speakers, upholstery gleaming, chassis chamoised and alloy wheels polished. A brand new Magic Tree is hanging from the rear-view mirror.
He'll have done much the same for himself. His face shining with Clean and Clear, he'll have applied his favourite brand of hair-gel and not just the division two brand which does the job on weekdays. He'll be going for the Lynx effect with quite a bit of aftershave for good measure. The Superdry shirt which took one hour, thirty minutes to iron is left studiously untucked from the carefully distressed Wranglers. Cat or Converse trainers and some suitably masculine silverware provide the finishing touches - topped off by sports socks of a pristine white seldom seen outside the All England Lawn Tennis Club. His pose is studied. Left hand on the gear-stick, right hand on the steering wheel, right elbow on the edge of the open window. Eyes right. Eyes left. Eyes straight ahead. He misses nothing in his quest for the ultimate accessory: a decorative passenger.
The soundtrack thumps from a hundred lowered windows. Whatever's in the charts or on the dancefloors, basically, lent extra impact by the four-speaker bass subwoofer system - interrupted only by the odd whistle or shout towards the eternally passing stream of prey - the mini-skirt clad girls walking along the prom, or grouped around the benches outside the ice-cream parlour.
If you ever join the ritual of the Sunday cruise, remember: drive up the Prom survey the 'talent' on offer, then turn at the end with maximum flourish. Repeat as desired, or until darkness falls and the girls go home.
Then peace descends once more; the traffic jam clears; the only sounds remaining are the splash of tide on shingle and the calls of seagulls.
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