Some of the most heartfelt partings are not with old friends, or step-daughters you may not see again for years, but with people you have gradually built up a commercial relationship with. Such people can move on, often quite suddenly and without warning, and leave you feeling sad and bereft.
So it was yesterday. Over the last two and a half years, Caffyns of Portslade have been the Volvo dealer for my area. When I narrowed my new-car choice down to a Volvo XC60 and the nearest equivalent from Audi, I went to Caffyns for a test drive, and was given a sporty version of the XC60. This was back in January 2010, when I had been on hormones for only ten months, and my voice wasn't great. But they took me seriously, were very courteous, and I heard no chortles behind the scenes. They let me put the car through its paces for two hours. I was impressed. It wasn't quite the top-of-the-range SE Lux Premium version I was actually considering - that would be slightly more luxurious - but the snappy R-Design variant they gave me had the same D5 Auto engine, and roughly the same handling characteristics. It was close enough to base a proper decision on. After a gorgeous two hours (the large and powerful XC60 was a revelation to drive, after my 1999-vintage Honda CR-V) I took it back, spent time discussing my already-prepared option choices and costs, and then placed my order. Thus Fiona was conceived and eventually born.
I was impressed with Caffyns' customer service. Of course, a cynic might say that they were selling upmarket cars, and would be as polite and friendly as it took to achieve a sale, even to an obvious tranny. But then the courtesy and helpfulness didn't relax afterwards. I got to know the servicing reception staff one by one, a mixture of men and women. Both treated me very well.
Fiona has proved pretty trouble-free, with only three faults so far in nearly 39,000 miles, none of them the sort to stop me in my tracks: a spurious faulty-airbag warning; a squeaky drivebelt tensioner; and - at the moment - a suspected faulty outside-temperature sensor. But there have been how-to questions to ask, services, new tyres; and for a while I suffered repeated freak damage to both my door mirrors, needing special visits.
All these have meant that every now and then I'd drop in to Caffyns to discuss the latest thing. It was convenient to do so, and the reception was always very friendly. Remember, this was part of the Motor Trade, which for a long time had an evil reputation for chicanery and condescension to women. I expected trans people to be treated even worse. But it became clear that Caffyns was a decent outfit with a professional attitude, and they really did value my custom. More than that, I got the distinct impression that they enjoyed my visits. I went out of my way to be businesslike but very pleasant, and made a friend first with Eugenie, then Vicky. I'm sure it paid dividends. They got to know the car well (the semi-distinctive registration, SC10 CUR helped), remembered its history, and remembered me. I wanted to be treated as an individual, and they readily obliged.
It was something like the relationship you build up with your hair stylist: you both chat, you both share some of your life, and you do it because there's a rapport. The business connection - the car, the hair - is what brings you into contact, and money is the real thing at stake, but nevertheless it's a small but valuable part of your social life.
I was sad when Eugenie left, to take up a better-paid job in a different field. We'd got on so well.
And yesterday, Vicky explained that she too was moving on.
I'd popped in, because the outside temperature sensor on Fiona was giving me some strange readings. It might be faulty, or there could be a dodgy electrical connection, or a software glitch - something that needed investigation anyway, and it was best done asap, in any case before the winter frosts. She came out to look at the car and decided to book me in on 10 August, almost the earliest date Caffyns were presently taking bookings. Oh, I asked, why was that? Then she told me that the whole Volvo setup there at Portslade was being taken over by another firm. Most of the staff, whether technicians or reception and sales people, were joining the new firm and remaining at Portslade. But she had decided to stay with Caffyns, who traded at several locations, and before the end of the same week would be working in their VW dealership at Haywards Heath. Same job, just a different location and different cars.
I said I'd miss her: she'd been very good to me. And I'm sure a lot of customers must have said the same, for there was a hint of wetness in her eyes. I didn't push it, not wanting to upset her. Nor did I say anything about the challenges of joining a new team in a new workplace. She wouldn't welcome this kind of change, and hadn't asked for it, I'm sure. I guessed that this had come suddenly, and that she'd had to make a quick choice between a new contract with the firm taking over, or staying with Caffyns. With her marriage looming, and not wanting to chance her luck with the new firm, she may have had no real choice at all. I might have asked her about this, but another customer had come in, and was waiting. So I just wished her well.
But once gone from Caffyns, I felt curiously heavy-hearted. A bit of me felt that I'd just lost a friend. I'm feeling upset about it right now, as I write this. I must be a very odd person, to miss a commercial acquaintance so much.
It just shows how life is built on the little connections we make with other people, and how much one relies on continuity.