It was night in the cold northern foothills of Dartmoor. The country sky was scattered with stars but the moon was hiding behind a black veil. I had brought my car soundlessly to a halt by an old five-bar gate opening onto a misty field of shadows that stretched down into a dark silence. All was still and quiet; somehow the night-scene itself held its breath. A distant vixen shrieked. Then came a googly passive-aggressive female voice: ‘You have reached your destination’.
My destination should have been my hotel for the night in the centre of Okehampton. I had been just three miles from the hotel but the sudden misdirection had added forty minutes of geo-positional chaos with the tangled involvement of muddy cart tracks and high-hedged single lanes. Why was I in Devon again? It was to attend the funeral of my ex-boss and friend Andrew Brown in Launceston, Cornwall on the next day; and I was due to meet an ex-colleague, Sue, the only other attendee from the advertising sector, in Okehampton on the evening before. After spending the early evening suppering deliciously with my second cousin Anne and her husband Peter, who live in Tavistock on the southern edge of Dartmoor, I drove north and was on schedule before the peremptory command to take the small roads. Sue waited for over an hour before seeing me tumble into the bar with my hoary story of woe. In my defence, I was merely following the science.
The next day, we drove together to and from the funeral in Launceston, which was solemn, dignified and reverential. The Church was full of his friends, family, and neighbours. Andrew was at once intelligent, sensitive, and thoughtful (although from day one he called me ‘Lilo’). We spent some epic evenings talking together and with others. We were in occasional contact after his retirement to the profundity of Cornwall some years ago. On the way back to Exeter, Sue and I reminisced about Andrew and other people, moments, and issues from the UK advertising world in the 1990s. How very far away that decade seems now!
The previous week, my brother-in-law Anthony celebrated his 60th birthday in Broad Oaks with family and friends, in a surprise party organised by his niece, my daughter Jessie (who calls him “the most epic of uncles”). I had not then realised that an inflatable traditional English pub could be hired, installed and inflated, complete with bar, tables and chairs, in a garden in the pouring rain. That’s pretty epic. Good beer, wine, and bar food completed the picture that surprised Anthony as he rounded the terrace in the garden towards ‘the pub’, already rammed with many of his own ex-schoolfriends and relatives in open throat mode (see masthead photo). Of course, it rained all day but it didn’t matter. Anthony came back a few days later on a visit with his daughter Sophia. I went with them and Jessie for an oyster feast at the Urchin pub in Hove. It was a very cold evening and we were seated outside the bar, so after queuing some time, we swallowed a few oysters each then quickly found a warm restaurant elsewhere, the Kambis, to round up the meal. The month ended with a family celebration of Nanny’s 85th birthday. Jessie and I may have been victims of the oysters, as neither of us was well enough to attend.
Gwen returned to England late in the month from Thailand to a grand family welcome. We have all missed her enormously and were jealous of the amazing experiences she has had, which she happily recounted to us all as the “best two months of her life”. She will sofa-surf between Broad Oaks, Uckfield, and her sisters’ different homes for a while. Alli and I have been moving laboriously – carload by carload, then big lorry by little lorry by more carloads – into our new house. Our possessions, which had been in hermetic storage for four gloomy years and a day, were finally delivered and unloaded after Alli and I had painted the lounge and dining room. We also brought in a washing machine, dishwasher, fridge-freezer, and some old and new furniture, many with Nick’s valuable help.
Electrical repairs, significant insulation, and selected renovations still need to be done, and some of our larger pieces of furniture from France did not make the cut. The idea of down-sizing is a comfortable thought, but the reality is dispiriting. I brought back many of our sturdy memorials to be sold or given away. I have also been triaging my cavernormous trove of books to fit the small converted loft, better described as a garret with a view over Uckfield’s provincial rooftops. The prospective loss of so many books hurts me deeply but I shall save a few from the grim reader by taking them back to France, somehow. Our budget will also be down-sized, reflecting my inability to find regular employment in backward little britain since leaving the Cote d’Ivoire four years ago. However, I have gleaned plenty of source material for future comic fiction. One of my writing projects is even entitled “How not to get a job”. I hope that some revenue from writing and editing will add to the dubious bounty of a UK state pension, by far the meanest and lowest payment compared to its receipts throughout the developed world.
yours following the science,