On a chilly Sunday, we went out to celebrate a birthday, all three generations of us. We chose a restaurant in the remains of a Jacobean gatehouse set in a wide lawn with space for children to play. We parked near the large gnarled trunk of an ancient tree, like a fist of contorted roots pushing its fingers into the hard earth, leaving many tantalising nooks and crevices for all the elves and fairies a five-year-old could wish for. They could shelter there from the wind, I suggested to explain why she couldn’t see them.
‘I wish it would snow,’ said her ten-year-old brother. No chance, I thought, what with climate change. Muggy drizzle instead, with its own dispiriting chill. We had booked, paying an extra amount, for a room of our own and a wholesome meal served by a cheerful young woman catering for the event uniting three generations. However, the manager sneaked in two extra couples who politely restrained their irritation with two children running around the room. I don’t recall any shouting, but then I become tactfully deaf on any such occasion. They aren’t ill-behaved, though having fun can be noisy. I promised ice cream for dessert followed by a ghost hunt, and that bestowed on them impeccable table manners.
The building was perfect for a ghost hunt. We climbed a staircase with chunky bannisters to arrive at an unexpected gallery – for minstrels? – overlooking the magisterial original entrance door, now defiantly shut. Forbidden areas behind closed doors – probably only guest bedrooms – became the nursery and bedrooms for the children who used to live in the house. Outside, I told them, there would have been a secret garden enclosed in brick walls to shelter the plants and fruit trees from the winds, with doors where the centre of a whorl in the ancient wood often fell out to give a peephole into something secret that I must, I need, I want to know…
So the conflicting meanings of ‘want’ are shuttled between head and heart, with a shiver of fear in one’s guts – the essential ingredients of adventure.
Instead of novelty and surprise, changeovers can cause trepidation. Only a condescending £250 pounds sterling was offered by a scrapyard for my beloved 15-year old red Citroen. It had to go. We were being given an equally old diesel BMW with less rust. Soon it will be illegal to drive it in London but it can pollute the countryside for another five years, it seems. Never look a gift horse in the mouth, the old saying goes. When I had my own steeds, I learned how to do it by estimating their age from the number and state of their teeth. I did start looking at the BMW’s equivalent teeth, and was slightly disconcerted. It is grey, one of the two colours – green and grey – my mother told me to avoid in cars because they either can, she was convinced, be confused with a hedge, or unseen in a mist or on a tarmac road. Fifteen years means, well, a likelihood of rust and, with my bad back, I prefer a high driver’s seat, not one almost scraping the road as in the BMW.
But a gift is a gift and I really like driving this car.
The wheel has turned full cycle. We started driving with petrol. Then came the pollution argument in favour of diesel, which has turned out to be more polluting than petrol. Now all the talk is of ‘clean’ electricity, irrespective, it seems, of how this fuel is produced. Maybe the future lies in the ‘horsepower’ that once defined the relative power of petrol vehicles – who knows?