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Friday, 26 September 2008

Which bloody pedal?

Adrian Jones was a revolutionary socialist. He later became a union official, a hotelier in Scotland hobnobbing with lairds, and now possesses a golden chain as Lord Mayor of Wallasey. He was always a gentleman, partial to hunting dogs, Barbour jackets and Welsh choirs. Despite a broad, rolling Monmouthshire accent which gave gravitas even when ordering ice-cream, Adrian came from Newport, which has never been famous for its gravitas, only a mole-screw wrench and a Transporter Bridge.
Adrian had a passion for argument, books and good beer. He was also an idealist in that he thought he’d be able to teach me to drive. The first and only lesson took place on Mumbles car-park, dangerously close to cliffs and sea.

Everything started well. The door opened as it should and the steering wheel was in the right place. Adrian’s voice was measured and calm as he took me step by step through preliminary maneuvers.

The trouble started when the car began to move…at about ten miles per hour – too fast for me. I froze as we headed straight for the cliff and disaster. I knew a pedal accelerated, and another one braked, but which bloody one? The cliff hurtled towards us at – I know – 10mph – so close now that a wrong choice in pedals would see us in casualty.

Adrian’s face, too, was frozen in disbelief. I imagined the obscenities racing through his head, but his voice remained calm. “Middle one …hard, Mike.”

We stopped just in time.

I never drove again. Ever. But we both retained a strong interest in politics and beer.

At a Swansea Young Socialist meeting we were discussing Marxist dialectics; I attempted to explain ‘thesis, antithesis and synthesis’, and the limited role of individual choice in the historical process. I used the analogy of two caterpillars looking up at the sky as a shadow passed over them. It is a butterfly. One caterpillar turns to the other and mutters: ‘You’ll never catch me up in one of those things.’ It got a laugh. Only later did I realise that a person of faith could have used the same analogy, and may have got an even bigger laugh.

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