Dream machine

Everybody has, at some time, a fantasy car. I don’t care if you are an ultra environmentally conscious, muesli eating, zero carbon footprint person today. At some point in your life you were a little boy who dreamt of owning a classic car. For most it would be a high performance sports or racing car, something from the Porsche, Ferrari, Lotus, Lamborghini or Aston Martin catalogues perhaps. And yes, I do dreamt of such vehicles. As a little boy, it was as much about the sound and smell of these cars as their actual performance. Although inevitably I can remember the details of any car throughout the 1960s and recite, like a rosary, the key points: 422 big block, bored out to 436, KG5 ram supercharger, five-speed Hackett gearbox delivering 392 bhp on the road. Crabbe JT 74 shocks, Delta B28 wishbone with SideArm KL4 springs, 18 inch Zep 68 steel braced low-profile radials and a Hurst “big boy” manifold extender.

Actually, I made all of that up. I have no idea whether these things even exist but, if they didn’t, something else that was similar sounding did. Don’t forget, these were the days before Pokémon cards and so on. In my day it was cigarette cards which meant forcing one’s parents into smoking near lethal numbers of cigarettes in order to finish one’s collections with that 1949 Lamborghini. Or whatever.

I was different from most boys. And before your mind heads off tangentially, that’s not what I mean. What I do mean is that whereas Jack Colley, Rob Smiley and Kit Mollison exchanged details of high-end Ferraris, Aston Martin and Porsches, their chatter left me cold and peripheral. For me, cars were not about pace so much as grace. My godfather, a rural GP from generations of “old” money, drove a 1938 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith. At weekends he would take us children around the Oxfordshire lanes in the back, along with Susie, a gigantic wolfhound. He would slide the glass courtesy screen up and smoke his pipe while he drove us around. A wonderful man, of astonishing largesse. He was, to a 10 year old boy, everything a godfather should be, discreetly handing me fivers and tenners, while holding up a conspiratorial hushing don’t-let-on-to-your-father finger to his mouth. This was in the late 60s when a fiver was an unimaginably large sum of money. Especially for a 10-year-old. Regular beatings by the bully boys in the playground swiftly taught me that the details of such received patrimony should not be disclosed especially in front of the Martin twins, brutal thugs in the Crabbe and Goyle mould, always happy to divest you of your lunch money.

So I saw cars differently. For me, the smell of oil and brake fluid was infinitely less appealing than the scent of lavender leather polish and the beeswax rubbed in to those acres of maple and burr walnut that comprised the trim of the Roller. Even at 64, I still delude myself into thinking that one day I will own, perhaps not a Rolls-Royce but a large limousine. A car that spans postcodes, a car that harks of pre-climate aware motoring. So here’s a bit of fun – if you have read this far, tell me what car you think I would most enjoy and perhaps what car you think I should drive.

Two old farts

During my long relationship with Parkinson’s, that malevolent little toad of a syndrome, I have had many conversations with many people coming at the condition from very different angles.

Last night, around 2:30 I found myself wide awake and unable to sleep. The great thing about the PD community as a whole is that somebody somewhere is always awake and often happy to talk.

Last night was no different. I looked down the list of Messenger contacts, noting those with their green dot visible and thus at least alive and potentially available. After a few cautious pre-flight checks (it’s always worth checking their time zone before pressing the call button. When Randy Schekman was told he had won the 2013 Nobel Prize for medicine, the call from Stockholm, made at 10 AM local time in Sweden, was received by Prof Schekman in a state of sartorial disarray. It was 5 AM in New York.

I don’t think I shall ever properly forget the sight of Prof Schekman, wild-eyed, and discombobulated in his Y fronts and string vest. I think it’s fair to say that some images should never be shared. Captain Underpants he may be but the display of his various underclothing elements (of which there were few) to the wider academic and patient communities cannot have been a positive incentivisation of youngsters towards science.

Anyway, enough said. My chosen interlocutor last night was Wayne Gilbert, English professor, poet, and gentleman. Despite our similarities in thinking on so many issues, we had rarely previously talked and certainly not one-to-one, mano a mano so to speak. There is a particular joy when talking to a man of similar age, complementary experience and outlook. We both adore the English language and its almost infinite capacity for nuance and subtlety. The pressing twilight of our years also bathes our thinking – we talk in realities and possibilities, not fantasies and hyperbole.

I’m not going to expand our thoughts here until we have crystallised them a little more clearly into their final form or at least a step further in the progression. We are oiling arthritic cogwheels first.

It’s time to tackle some taboos. Not in a brush-it-under-the-carpet route to invisibility but in an adult (i.e. grown-up) way of avoiding knee-jerk thinking. Anyway I hope I’ve whetted your appetite. We will be back with some ideas in due course.

We also both agreed that we detested metaphors such as ‘wars’ (yes I know I come close) and ‘journeys’ for the individual and collective Parkinson’s syndrome. Let’s find better.

Two hours of chat – lots of new and useful ideas.

Not bad for two old farts!

Rosie Burdock

Some books mark you. Such a book is Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee, a paean to the Gloucestershire countryside around Slad. It is a book of almost undefinable beauty, a countryman’s book. You can smell the heat of summer, heady with blossoms and hormones. The end, if you will, of an age of innocence. Of different times and places. That painful, industrial even, transition into post-World War II Britain.

For myself, living mostly in the cradle of Harold Wilson’s of British industry, its white heat fuelled by coal, the black gold of Yorkshire, the West Country of Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire was full of magic. I, like my sister, was sent to boarding school at 13 in the earnest belief that it would turn us into gentleman and lady respectively. It taught neither the necessary skills. To this day I forget to hold doors open for ladies, to doff my hat in their presence, and so on. I was, by their standards something of a disappointment.

But growing up in the West Country taught me to distinguish the seasons, to mark their passing, their transition in buds, leaves, and the opening of flowers. It taught me their scents, nights hot with hibiscus and night scented stock. To this day, some perfumes transport me backward to those days, late summer evenings, the rusty gate squeaks of crickets in the fields.

I met my girl in the long hot summer of ’74 and I see her still, silhouetted against the sunset, beckoning me to her with curling finger. She was called – well, you didn’t really think I would give away her name did you. For me, she was Rosie Burdock, the eponymous beauty of Lee’s book, whose cider-hot kisses beneath the hay wain lyrically defined his book.

Savernake Forest, in June 1974. Lying on trampled bracken, light filtered through beech leaves, rustling in the wind. Her raven hair, hazel eyes and pale freckles, bows, buttons and fancy complicated clips and zips. As clear today as they were some nearly 50 years ago. Our lips, tingling with cider, close enough to kiss or to withdraw. Pupils dilated, black pools of lust. Time stood still.

We carved our initials inside a heart in the bark of a large beech with my penknife and held hands, swaying with the cider.

When I finished reading Laurie Lee’s book, I was inexplicably saddened. So many books give so much yet, in a way, this book took from us. It described a passage into adulthood, a path through the hedgerows and bracken. But it also closed that door behind us. Innocence lost can never be recovered.

Rosie married, but not me. Still lives in Gloucestershire I believe. We exchange Christmas cards. You can still see those initials carved in the tree in Savernake Forest. If you know where to look.