The final strains of Ever Fallen In Love by Buzzcocks resonated from the recently installed Bose speakers at the back of my 1969, pale green Vauxhall Viva, as I exited the M5 motorway at Bristol to pick up the A37 down to Weymouth. It was a hot summer’s day, early July, 1979. I’d just completed my second year at university and had been home at my parent’s house in Worcestershire for only a matter of days when they issued me my mission instructions.
My parents came into a substantial sum of money some five years ago and decided to invest their windfall in a holiday home. After numerous viewings up and down the country, and much deliberation, they set their hearts on a run-down cottage situated in a sleepy village on the outskirts of Weymouth. My father, a solicitor by profession, was also an accomplished property renovator. I spent many a year growing up in a work-in-progress for a home; as we moved from house to house, each became a more challenging project than the last. Our home in Worcestershire was thankfully the last of the projects I’d had to endure. It was a luxury to have a bedroom I could finally call my own for more than a couple of months. Up until now, I’d been used to inhabiting a room ultimately designated as a dining room or study, while my parents put their renovation ideas into practice. They thought nothing of shifting their belongings from one room to another, working their way around them as they constructed their latest dream abode; and they were more than happy to do the same with my sister and me.
When my parents bought the cottage for a song in 1974, it was in a pretty decrepit state, but they had a vision and spent the next five years renovating it on a part-time basis. I’d visited the place on a couple of occasions during this period and if I was honest, I was not in the least bit interested. Dorset was not a part of the country I knew very well, nor did I have any desire to get to know it. Nevertheless, the cottage was officially declared operational in the spring of this year and the family spent a memorable Easter celebrating its completion. The property was perched high on a hill overlooking the port, with magnificent views across the English Channel. Add to that a local pub at the end of the lane, what else could one wish for, assuming all one aspired from life was to get away from it all?
It was always my parents’ intention to rent out their rural retreat during the summer season, not because they needed the money, more that they thought it would be nice to have it occupied every once in a while. My parents were also incredibly proud people, especially my father, and it was true, they wanted others to come and stay in their creation and admire their workmanship. A simple advert in a national magazine, together with a couple of enticing photographs, and the cottage was booked for the entire summer within a matter of days, commencing this weekend; tomorrow to be exact.
And so to my mission, it was pretty straightforward really; get myself down to Weymouth the night before, give everything the once over, check meter readings, air the rooms, turn on the hot water and wait for the guests to arrive the following lunchtime. Meet and greet, make pleasantries, hand over the key and bid them farewell. And twenty pounds in my pocket to pass onto the landlord of The Plough And Harrow as needs must. A mission I liked the sound of!
In The City by The Jam pulsated from the car’s stereo as I headed down the A37 towards Weymouth, via the likes of Shepton Mallet, Yeovil and Dorchester. The new wave compilation I’d made on a TDK C90 cassette tape was already well-worn after only a few weeks. I knew the order of the songs off by heart now, as if it were an album in its own right. I pondered whether later in life I would recall the order of these songs. I tried to imagine approaching my senior years and hearing Hanging Around by The Stranglers for the first time in decades. Would I still anticipate White Riot by The Clash to follow it immediately afterwards? A shudder ran down my spine; the thought of growing old.
It was nice to leave the motorway; I found the high speed bustle of fast moving traffic a little unnerving. I’d passed my driving test some two years earlier and frequently used the motorway to get to and from university. However, as a relatively new driver, I still enjoyed driving for pleasure. It was still an adventure for me, not solely a means of getting from A to B. Very quickly the landscape around me became much greener. I wound down the windows and let the wind cause havoc inside the car, turning up the stereo at the same time to compensate for the increased noise level. It felt good to be alive.
Almost instantly I thought of Carrie, like an inbuilt mechanism that cut in to remind me of the hurt I still felt. I’d met Carrie during the summer holidays a couple of years ago, just as we were about to start different universities. We subsequently became an item, despite being apart, surviving on a diet of letters, telephone calls and weekend visits twice a month. With hindsight, it had been a disaster waiting to happen, we both should have known better. Well, at least that’s what Carrie had told me a couple of weeks ago.
“There’s plenty more fish, plenty more fish, plenty more fish! Cow! Tart! Bitch!” I screamed at the top of my voice.
That felt better.
I pulled into a service station, filled up with petrol and bought a couple of Mars bars to keep me going for the remainder of the journey. Mother had packed a handful of teabags and half a loaf of bread for the morning, and had rather sensibly told me to buy fresh milk and butter along the way, but for now I resisted. I wasn’t sure I totally agreed with her, but who was I to argue? It was all part of the mission instructions.
Re-joining the A37 en-route to Ilchester, I came upon a series of mini roundabouts, less than a quarter of a mile apart. I negotiated the first, treating it like a chicane, pulling down hard left on the steering wheel, then hard right, then left again, accelerating once past it. As I approached the second, I caught sight of a figure on the grass verge by the side of the road. It was a girl, carrying a large rucksack strapped across her shoulders, walking down the A37 with an outstretched arm and thumb raised. I saw her too late to react, I was already upon the roundabout at speed and had little choice but to pull hard left, then right and then left again, clipping the grass verge in the process, before accelerating once more. I glanced behind me in the rear view mirror, fearing I might have knocked her to the ground. The girl had stopped walking and had placed her hands on her hips, watching me as I drove away. What on Earth was she thinking, I wondered? Who was that wanker, most likely? I hesitated as I approached a third roundabout; should I go back and pick her up? No, best drive on, I thought, remembering the wise words of my parents; never give lifts to strangers. However, on this occasion there wasn’t anything in the mission instructions to say that I shouldn’t. I slowed at the next roundabout, tossed an imaginary coin in my head and called tails as it spiralled through the air. As luck would have it I called correctly; with trepidation, I turned full circle at the roundabout and travelled back up the A37 towards her.