Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Three anniversaries

For me, May is rich in important anniversaries. Three of them come together - two today, the 25th May, and one tomorrow, the 26th.

Today is a sad-happy set of anniversaries. This was the day that Dad died in 2009. It was also, exactly one year later in 2010, the day that I took delivery of my car, Fiona. Here's Dad, in one of my very last photos of him, having lunch with me at a pub in Fernhurst, near Haslemere:

That was how he was, just two weeks before he died. As you can see, he was (at eighty-eight) still up for a pint. I thought we would be driving out to country pubs for years ahead. There were strings attached to that, a growing role as carer just one of them, but I loved my father and was ready to look after him. It was a shock that it didn't happen.

One year later, my four-month wait for Fiona to emerge from the Volvo factory and reach the dealer was over. I drove over there in a state of high excitement, though that was tempered by the trade-in of my Honda CR-V, which had given me eight years of good service. Here it is, looking rather forlorn. It was going to be scrapped under the government's Scrappage Scheme then in force. It wasn't going to live on in somebody else's hands. It was going to be crushed. I think it knew that.

It was a perfectly good car. It was tired, but it wasn't ready to die. It seemed like an awful waste. But I had to close my mind to it. And that was easy, once the thrill of taking possession of Fiona, the first new car I'd ever had in all my life, took over. One hour later I was driving her away. Here I am, back home, looking very pleased indeed with Fiona gracing my drive:

She looks exactly the same now, six years later. I've looked after her. Yes, if you examine her very carefully, there are the expected small battle-scars - from 89,000 miles of motoring - but they don't show in a casual glance.

That first evening of ownership, on 25th May 2010, I took Fiona down to Bosham on Chichester Harbour. I left her on the water's edge. I couldn't leave her there for too long, because the tide was coming in, and within an hour the water would be lapping gently at her wheels. But for now there was something I wanted to do. I bought two drinks at the bar of the Anchor Bleu pub, and set them down facing each other at a table that overlooked the Harbour, and also overlooked Fiona parked below.

That's my Prada bag and bowl of chips. The pint was for Dad. I said a soft 'Cheers, Dad,' with a lump in my throat and tears welling up. But I kept control. I left his drink there, untouched. It was my small gesture.

Fiona was quite a big car, and seemed especially so when parked next to smaller cars! Here she was in one of the following days, at Haywards Heath station:

I soon revisited Bosham. Fiona had presence and got noticed. Here a boy is doing a double-take:

And of course she became a regular visitor at the Cottage in Piddinghoe - still unsold, and on my hands:

But her forte (and her 'official job') was as my towcar, as in this scene from November 2010:

Fiona has been through many adventures with me since. She isn't young any more, and may be enjoying the break while I recover from my torn shoulder muscle, which of course makes driving rather painful.

And tomorrow's anniversary? Eleven years ago it was my last day at the office before officially retiring on 31st May 2005. No more of this view as I arrived early-morning on the sixth floor of the Revenue's high-rise building in Croydon:

It won't look like that now!

It was a morning of final things. The last phone calls, the last letters and penalty notices signed. The last Prêt-à-Manger sandwich:

I had been a fire warden for my floor. Time to hand in the armband and ear-defenders:

And then the gathering to say an official farewell to the six of us on that floor who were leaving that day, in the presence of senior bods from London Region:

Then it was the pub. And after that, a strange, fey journey back to my local station on the train. I wasn't tipsy or anything. I simply felt free, as never since the day I walked away from school, when not quite eighteen. That evening, a meal out with Mum, Dad and M---. I felt like someone who had pulled off an amazing coup against the odds. 2005 felt like a golden year. Surely all years to come would be golden too? Mum caught my mood:

I should have known better! Yes, for a while M--- and I enjoyed an orgy of caravanning. Yes, we made it to New Zealand, and toured there for two months - an unforgettable experience. But we also incurred the wrath of the gods. We fatefully invested in the Cottage. We lost our way, and a twenty-year friendship was destroyed.

Still, life goes on, and anniversaries come round, and in the fullness of time you get used to how things have turned out. And indeed you make the very best of it.

Jo has just texted me, offering a tasty home-cooked Shepherd's Pie, and will even pick me up. I'm still achy if I sit up at a table - as opposed to lolling back on cushions - and I won't be any good for cards afterwards, because I won't be able to hold the cards in my hands for long without discomfort. But I haven't said no. 'Make my mind up for me!' I've texted back. I wonder what she will say in reply? Ah, she's driving over to pick me up.

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