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Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Life in the Fast Lane



I'm on the left. Tony is pulling a gargoyle face. It was a hobby we had.

Our car was a small black Austin with leather seats, foot-boards below the passenger doors and small yellow indicators that flicked out like dead canaries when the car was about to turn left or right. Whilst our dad was at sea, it was kept in a garage - one of four converted stables - opposite Melling Avenue, and was only brought out when he came home.

Our dad, a seaman with an innate distrust of anything faster than a ship, drove a sedate 30 mph. and we ignored with some disdain those who overtook us at a reckless 40, turned away from the curious stares.

All that was after we got the car started.

Starting ‘Biggleswoop’ - (the name of the car. Don’t ask me why) - involved cranking the engine. A thick metal rod with an angular handle was inserted into the front of the car and then turned. For most of my childhood, I just assumed he was winding the car up like some great mechanical clock and that in itself was the reason for our cautious speed. Go any faster and the car might run down, leaving us stranded somewhere in the country. My mechanical knowledge remains much the same. We sat in the back praying the sun wouldn’t go in before the car started. Finally, after a bit of a cough, would come the first apologetic murmur and the car would shudder and then grumble into life.

Sometimes I wonder where I got the 30mph stuff. Ainsdale beach - a common destination - was only ten miles away, but it seemed like it took an hour to get there. Whatever the speed the landmarks remained the same: to our left a Crisps factory, (Smiths) Vernon’s Pools, the Race Course Garage; to our right Aintree Racecourse and in the far distance the great towers of our local chemical works. At the Old Roan, we turned left along the A569 and for the first time smelt country, in reality a small garden cemetery, then a few houses and finally Ince woods.
Sometimes we stopped there and walked around a small pond, wondering what our mum and dad found so much to talk about. We ate small cheese sandwiches and then we went home.

Sometimes we parked next to a mound of gravel that we’d climb up and hide behind, until the novelty wore off. We ate small cheese sandwiches and then we went home.
And on good days we’d go to Woodvale. This was a small airport. It’s only claim to fame was the fact that Charles De Gaulle once landed there, and it had a windsock which was only important to us. When we saw that we knew were only ten minutes away from the beach. Opposite the airport was a large stretch of common, and beyond that woodland. That was heaven. Our mum in her red coat, our dad in his grey gabardine would walk slowly, hand in hand and allow us to tear off like dogs unleashed. They always caught up with us because at the far end of the common was a thin strand of trees, bushes and a ditch. Beyond, a garden forbidden to us, though sometimes we strayed.

The woods began across the road and it was easy to get lost in them. Memory is a strange and wonderful thing. Powerful too, though not always useful. Where is the use in regretting something past? What is so magical about a great mound of bramble? A narrow tunnel wove through to its centre. It was dark and green and thorns tore through elbows and knees, but at its very centre was a secret glade humming with bees and full of butterflies. I’d lie on my back for hours (5 minutes is an hour or two for a small boy) knowing that until I felt the need for a small cheese sandwich, no one need ever see me again.

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