Flying high

Or, to use that less poetical word so beloved of politicians: aspiring. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it thus: aspire v. direct one’s hopes or ambitions towards achieving something.

Yes, that may be the accepted academic definition. But in our political leaders’ eyes it almost always means moving up the income scale, earning as much as possible, maximising salary and buying lots of stuff, ‘growing the economy’ ready for the next boom and then bust, at whatever cost in collateral damage (nasty generals’ euphemism) to the planet. Or whatever the widening divide between Haves and Have Nots. As far as environmental degradation goes, that’s certainly been the grim side-effect of uncontrolled industrialisation. Look at the Industrial Revolution of the past: exploitation of cheap labour, much of it child; black smoke-billowing chimneys causing ill health; the smog of London as recently as the nineteen-fifties and the smog of China today.

Of course I’m not saying that material living standards shouldn’t rise for the poorest people in the world, particularly in Africa. Everyone, everyone on earth should have the right, whether in the recession-hit West or in the poorest undeveloped country, to the dignity and self-sufficiency of decently paid employment. Everyone. And if that means the affluent of the developed world halting their selfish race to acquire ever more and more, way beyond their actual needs, and pausing to let the poor of Planet Earth catch up a bit, so be it.

If the material wealth of the world was shared around more equitably, both within and between countries, there would be sufficient for all. To quote Mahatma Ghandi’s philosophy, there would be enough. Nobody, nobody at all, whether banker, entertainer or (least of all) footballer, considering what little social good they actually do, should need to be persuaded with the promise of untold riches, more than they could ever possibly spend, to perform to their best.

Yes; I know, I know. I’m being idealistic, not pragmatic. This is just how the world works, we’re told. Greed is a powerful force in the human psyche. But if we’re talking about incentives to ‘aspire’ here, why not consider quality of life as least (if not more so) as much as quantity? Each of us can only actually consume so much in order to stay securely fed and sheltered. We need only so much to spend on reasonably sufficient social care (although I think we should spend more than we currently do not, as millionaire politicians think, less); so much on whatever health care system we live under. So much to enrich our lives with culture. Beyond that it’s simply extravagance and greed.

Why cannot the powers that rule us just occasionally say a little more about the thing that really matters once essential needs have been met: happiness? And its sub-categories like contentment, fulfilment, self–worth, finding joy in beauty, social interaction?

And love. As the greatest British pop music influencers of my generation, the Beatles, once sang, once you have the essentials, all you need is love.

Which is my somewhat preachy way of introducing the next instalment of Wishing for the Better. Fifty years ago I was caught up in the exciting prospect of self-betterment; all hope and ambition and striving. I never made it into the big time, the big money; ‘success.’ But I don’t care. I have all I need now.

Wishing for the Better/4

I was seventeen, and thoughts also turned, as most young men’s do, to cars. Tony had one, Martin at work had a Messerschmitt bubble car, and I wanted one. On my wages, still only around £3-10s a week, I couldn’t afford very much. It would have to be a ‘banger’. Tony said he’d look around for me. One evening, in the coffee bar, he told me there was just the ticket for sale at his garage. It was quite exotic, and therefore of course appealing: a 1938 drop-head (soft hood) Railton. A what? I hear you ask.

Railtons were really classy cars made in England between 1933 and 1940. They had hand-built bodies on American chasses. The engines were huge eight-cylinder jobs and the cars had tremendous sports car performance. The model produced in 1935 was reputed to be the fastest production car in the world. One was even fitted with a Napier aircraft engine and used by John Cobb to reach 143mph at Brooklands. However, the one at Tony’s garage wasn’t quite in this league: It was a so-called ‘Baby Railton’ based on a rather more prosaic Standard 10 and the asking price was £25. But it still exuded a certain worn glamour, like something out of Agatha Christie, with its faded blue upholstery, walnut dashboard and long hand-riveted bonnet. How could I possibly resist? I’d actually saved that much money. Money went an awfully long way in those days; as a single person living at home and not spending extravagantly, it wasn’t too difficult to do.

So, the following Saturday afternoon, with Tony, I paid over the money and took possession of this fabulous prize. I’d just got my provisional licence but had not yet driven. Tony then drove us to a very quiet road just outside Stamford and I took the wheel. We went up and down the road repeatedly as I gradually mastered clutch control and then graduated to gear changing. It was a wonderful afternoon. Finally, Tony took over and drove me back home for tea. There was no going out that night. Not on your life. I spent the entire evening just sitting in my wonderful object. I dreamed about what I would do to it. Transform the shabby bodywork with a new paint job for a start. British Racing Green perhaps. Or sophisticated dark blue. Or elegant maroon red. A new hood when I could afford it. A thorough going-over with chrome cleaner. So the dreaming went on.

Then it began to get silly. I fantasized about a day when the car was restored to its original magnificence. Having passed my test by then, I would drive it to work. I would have kept it quiet that I was doing it up. I would dress up in my suit and wear sunspecs for anonymity. I would sweep grandly into the drive, and wait for faces to appear at the comp room windows. I would get out of the car carrying my briefcase bought for college, looking for all the world like a visiting executive. I would stride confidently inside, climb the stairs, nonchalantly enter the comp room, whip off my dark glasses, revealing myself, and watch their faces . . .
Yes, I know. But I was only seventeen.

The next day Tony called and we went to a disused airfield outside Stamford, so that I could do some driving at speed. It was exhilarating. I was delighted at how easily I was picking this driving thing up. It was a long, supremely happy afternoon. When it came to time for home though, I still didn’t feel confident enough to drive myself so Tony took the wheel again. Returning, we drove through Duddington village. We approached a sharp blind right-hand bend in the narrow street, with an open space with a stone wall at its far end, on the left. A car was parked very inconsiderately on the other side of the road, right on the bend. Suddenly, when we were close, an oncoming car appeared beside the parked one, on our side, heading straight at us.

Tony braked hard and, no doubt, the other car did too. But you can’t brake hard in a car made in the 1930s. We were going to collide head on. At the last moment Tony wrenched the steering wheel over and we slewed onto the open ground. And with an almighty bang, into the stone wall. The first sensation was of instant stopping, but not stopping, as momentum carried us on. Then a hailstorm of broken glass as the windscreen exploded over us. Then shock and silence. Tony had collided with the unpadded steering wheel. I had instinctively braced my hand on the dashboard and found myself, astonishingly, unharmed. Then there were frightened voices from outside. ‘Are you alright?’ The other car had stopped and people were peering anxiously in at us. We climbed shakily out. Tony was losing blood from his chin; I had nothing more than a painful knee.

The car, embedded in the wall, did not look good. The lovely big chrome headlights were now pointing up and off to each side, the elegant radiator was staved in, the long noble bonnet had heaved up and the windscreen was a jagged open mouth. I stared at it in horror. In spite of his bloody injury, Tony was all support: ‘Don’t worry John, we’ll fix it’, he reassured.

We agreed that it was no-one’s fault and the people in the other car left. Meanwhile the people from the corner house, where the offending car was parked, had phoned for an ambulance. We were taken to hospital where Tony was stitched up. Given a clean bill of health, I trudged disconsolately home to tell the sorry news. Later in the evening, Tony, an experienced car repairer mate of his, Dad and I returned to the accident scene and my beautiful broken car. Tony’s friend looked it over and shook his head. ‘Sorry’, he said, it’s a write-off’. I wandered away from the others, feeling detached from reality. It was unreal. It couldn’t be so. This morning I had a lovely thing, potentially a beautiful thing. Now it was gone. I’d had and then lost again in the space of twenty-four hours. I choked up. Dad came and stood beside me. I sensed he wanted to put a comforting hand on my shoulder, but he didn’t. We weren’t demonstrative like that in our family.
‘We’ll get you another one’, he said awkwardly.

In writing this nearly fifty later, I looked up ‘Railton’ on the Internet as a matter of interest. There was a lot of information (the Web never ceases to amaze me) including a picture of a Baby Railton taken at an enthusiasts’ rally and clearly someone’s pride and joy, finished in immaculate maroon red. It seems that this particular model was not a big seller: presumably it was not sporty-engined enough to appeal to the wealthy, but too expensive (£300) to be affordable by the lower classes. So only thirty-seven of the soft-top version were ever made. Think of the rarity value, collectability and therefore monetary value of one of these cars today. And I actually, briefly, owned one!

True to his word, my kind Dad raised some money for another car. There was no insurance payout because I’d got third-party cover only. He took on a freelance decorating job one weekend, helped by me, which earned the necessary cash. I don’t think I fully realised at the time, with the insensitivity of youth, just what a kind act that was; bless him.

I looked around for another car to buy, this time under Dad’s guidance. We found a 1946 vehicle advertised; also a drop-head and also, ironically, a Standard, but this time the ordinary mass-produced one. Dad and I went to see it, in a village just outside Stamford. Having originally been an engineer, Dad claimed some knowledge about engines, although he’d never owned a car. He had a foolproof method of assessing the condition of an engine: you ran it, stationary, on tick-over, and watched the bonnet. If it visibly vibrated, the engine was no good. That was all very well, but Dad had never owned a car and was no judge of overall condition. Bodywise, the little car looked quite good. We asked the seller to start the engine, and Dad stood solemnly watching the bonnet. It looked fine to me. ‘That looks all right’, said Dad. Without further ado, without a test drive, I said I’d have it. The seller must have thought it was his birthday.

A couple of evenings later, having arranged insurance, we went to collect. Still on my provisional licence, I had had no more driving since the Railton calamity. Dad held an old-fashioned ‘general’ licence that allowed him to drive a motor bike or a car, even though he hadn’t passed a test to drive one (a car). So technically he could be the fully licensed supervising passenger, and I could drive the car home. I handed over the cash, received the documents and we drove away. Out on the road and accelerating, the steering seemed somewhat sloppy, but I quite quickly got the ‘feel’ of it. It was only a short drive along open road back to Stamford. Entering the town, we approached my first manoeuvre, a left hand turn at a right-angled junction. As we got close, for the first time on the journey I braked to slow down. Nothing happened. An experienced driver would have aborted the turn and carried on, slowing down and stopping as best they could, of course. But I panicked and tried to take the corner. With my horror-stricken dad frozen rigid beside me I sailed around the bend in much too wide an arc, straight into a car coming up to the junction.

There was an all-too-familiar-sounding bang, and again the world briefly stopped. We got out. The hapless driver of the other car got out. ‘You came round much too fast!’ Dad shouted at me furiously. ‘There were no brakes!’ I rejoined. ‘What about my car?’ the other driver asked, surprisingly politely. This time, as they had to be, the police were called. I explained what had happened. The Standard was extricated from the other car, an embarrassingly new and shiny Morris Oxford, and I was asked to sit in it with my foot on the brake. The policeman was able to push the car. He then asked me to pull the handbrake on. He could still push the car – and slightly uphill at that. I said that I’d only just bought the car. The policeman wanted to know who from, and made detailed notes. After arrangements had been made to recover both cars and profuse embarrassed apologies made to the other driver, I again walked home, a fuming parent at my side. ‘We’ll get that bugger (he meant the seller) for this’, he thundered.

And the police did. He was prosecuted for selling a vehicle in an unroadworthy condition – I was a prosecution witness – and fined heavily. But at least the car wasn’t a write-off this time. It had sustained damage mainly to the front offside wing. Beaten out and filled, the repair was reasonable. The headlamp was realigned from its upward-facing tilt, but it never again pointed truly in the proper direction. The unfortunate other driver, I later learned, suffered more: his Morris needed serious repairs to bodywork and steering. If only Tony had held my hand over this purchase too.

My caring dad had not yet finished helping out. To keep repair costs down he offered to do a repainting job (many years earlier, back in the village, he’d acquired an old bike and renovated it to virtual newness for me), and one evening brought home some blue paint he’d mixed up at work for my approval. We spent the next Saturday transforming the Standard, and this became one of the incidents in my life of which I’m ashamed: part way through I left him to finish by himself so that I could go and see my mates. How ungrateful is that?

The car certainly looked nice to me, but when Sooty the minister saw it he was decidedly unimpressed. Sooty knew a lot about cars. He was often to be seen hurtling around Stamford at terrifying speed in his big Ford van with excited kids on board. That was part of his attraction. He thought that my Standard was, mechanically, a load of rubbish, and spent a couple of days outside our house with his head under its bonnet doing the best he could to coax a bit more life out of its geriatric engine.

In my Standard 8. Derek in the front passenger seat; Mum behind him with Olive, one of her many sisters.

In my Standard 8. Derek in the front passenger seat; Mum behind him with Olive, one of her many sisters.

Meanwhile, I’d started taking proper driving lessons, in a proper modern car, a Vauxhall Viva. That was a revelation in itself, as all my experience so far had been with bangers. At the second attempt I passed my driving test, and now the world was my oyster. Now I could drive to work like Martin, while the other men still came on bikes. More importantly, I was now mobile in social life. Now I could really attract girls. Or so I thought.

It didn’t really prove to be so though. Still painfully shy, I had to be pursued myself for any sort of beautiful friendship to start. Afraid of rejection if I took the initiative, I took refuge in a dream world of imagined, idealised girlfriends, which didn’t help very much later when relationships with flesh-and-blood partners began. I was really a bit of an old fogey, having been brought up on my dad’s records of the American musicals. Most kids reject their parents’ taste in music, but I embraced it. I loved Rodgers and Hammerstein: Oklahoma!, Carousel and all those. I admired the cleverness and (as I saw it) the poetry of the lyrics, and devoured the glorious melodies, particularly the love songs. My taste in music was always for the sloppily romantic (like the Everly Brothers’ Dream or Roy Orbison’s Crying) rather than the heavier rock n’ roll. Three years later I was in the Beatles camp (particularly their slow sensitive stuff) but the Rolling Stones left me cold.

I was also developing a taste for classical music, influenced again by Dad who considered himself a bit highbrow (as long as it was fairly ‘light’). Again, though, it was the melodic stuff that did it for me. Beethoven I thought magnificent, but earlier composers like Mozart didn’t appeal. I loved Tchaikovsky for his intense romanticism, emotionalism and great tunes. I discovered my favourite musical instruments: the cello, with its wonderful rich melancholy, and the deliciously smoochy saxophone.

And so a few months of car-enhanced social life passed. On the spiritual side, always exploring those realms, I started going to the YMCA. It had recently been taken over by a new leader whose name I forget, but he was another larger than life character. Rumour had it that he’d trained for the Church but had mysteriously failed the grade, and fetched up in youth work. Sooty, for some reason, was a bit hostile to him. Whilst he didn’t try to religiously influence us, he did introduce those who were interested (including me of course) to the mysteries of meditation. Every Friday evening he would set aside an hour for those of us who wanted to, to sit undisturbed in a cocoon of quiet. I suppose it must have been similar to a Quaker meeting (although the secretary was C of E). These sessions were amazingly peaceful and oddly therapeutic. On evening I had an incredible experience. The session had for some reason been particularly calming. It’s difficult to describe: something like being wrapped in a balm of infinitely soft cotton wool. Or perhaps how I imagine sedation, or a mind-altering drug (I’ve never tried one) to be. At the end of the meditation the secretary, as always, broke the silence by reciting the Lord’s Prayer. We joined in, and half way through something extraordinary happened. Feeling strangely light-headed, I suddenly seemed to be rising out of my body, until I reached the ceiling and looked down on the top of my own head. I remember panicking, instinctively, and frantically mentally grasping for my body, and after a moment I sank again to rejoin it. Then the spell was broken. The prayer came to an end. I sat there stunned. The only slightly similar experience I’d had was during a chapel service when I’d been particularly moved and afterwards felt distinctly odd. An elderly lady had patted my arm kindly and told me I’d had a religious experience.

But this didn’t seem to be a response to great emotion. What had happened? I told the secretary about it. He seemed quite unsurprised. ‘You’ve experienced abandonment’, he said, as if that explained everything. I learned later that it was an ‘out of body’ experience. In writing about it now, I did a Google search and found a lot of information. Some of it was fanciful to say the least; in pretty much the same vein as astrology. But some of the more sensible, scientific websites had interesting things to say. It seems that probably as much as ten per cent of people have reported them – some sites putting it as high as twenty. These states of apparent body-abandonment are found in all religions, not just eastern ones, and are associated with states of trance or deep relaxation, as I had been in. Mine happened spontaneously, but they can be deliberately encouraged with relaxation techniques. They can also be caused by mind-altering drugs. And they can be induced by stimulating an area near the back of the brain called the temporoparietal junction, which is concerned with how the brain perceives the body within space. If this is interfered with, by physical stimulation, drugs or just very deep relaxation, with or without religious overtones, the brain can – in effect – fool itself. Anyway, my experience was a one-off, never to be repeated.

My time owning a pale blue drop-head Standard 8 was short. Sooty had been right. I soon found that the car was using an awful lot of oil and progressively losing power. After barely a year it was clapped out. Then temptation reared its seductive head again. A lad at Leicester College came one day in an impressive-looking red sports car. It was actually built from a DIY kit. He’d bought a kit of body parts, made from flimsy fibreglass, like a Reliant Robin, and assembled them onto an ordinary engine and chassis. What you then did, apparently, was tune the engine up in various ways so that you had a fairly high-performance sports car at a fraction of the cost of a proper one. Such a car was called a ‘special’. It sounded good to me.

With awful inevitability, an ancient 1934 Austin 7, a tiny little car like a bathtub on wire-spoked wheels had been donated to the YMCA for the youth to dismantle and play with. It was brought actually into the building (it was that small) and rapidly taken apart by the kids, who then just as quickly lost interest in it. With parts of it strewn all over the floor of the entrance hall, it quickly became a nuisance and the secretary wanted it out. But what to do with it? I had the answer. I’d take it off the YMCA’s hands and make it into a ‘special’. I didn’t know the first thing about car mechanics of course, much less about coachwork building. But I found there was no kit you could buy suitable for basing on an Austin 7. Never mind, I’d build a wood frame, like the Railton, and make my own body. Reckless crazy daydreams again.

So the wheels were put back on the car, the steering reconnected and the engine put inside (as opposed to under the bonnet) and we pushed it through the streets of Stamford to a lock-up garage owned by the father of a friend, there to be transformed. When I told Sooty of these plans; when he’d picked himself up off the floor from laughing; he quickly disabused me of the silly idea. Apart from lacking the skills to do it, a home-made contraption like that would never be allowed on the road. (In fact, I believe that kits like this were banned from sale on safety grounds a few years later). So there I was, shot down in flames, stuck with a car reduced to its component parts. What to do? Never mind: I’d just put it back together as it was. And I did, with my friend David, a machine-minder from work. Amazingly, it wasn’t too difficult, with the help of the appropriate workshop manual. We even put new piston rings (they could still be got) in the simple seven horsepower side-valve engine, which was so small and light it could be lifted bodily onto its mountings and bolted down. Friend Tony didn’t want to be involved in any of this: he probably thought I was quite mad. Dad likewise. I suppose he felt he’d done his bit: I was making my own bed now so I could lie in it.

I painted this one myself; a smart two-colour paint job: grey bonnet, wings and doors and maroon door pillars and roof. The Standard now disposed of (well, given away actually), I insured the Austin for the road, my insurance broker cringing visibly when I honoured him with my custom again. It was quite fun to drive in a veteran-car-sort-of-way, I suppose. For such a little car it cruised along at a decent lick, provided you gave it half an hour or so to wind itself up to speed. Downhill, with a following wind, it could reach a terrifying sixty mph, shaking and vibrating violently and the steering gradually losing feel as the column loosened where it joined the floor. I had to retighten it every time I took the car out. It didn’t manage going uphill so well though. Once I went with three other lads on a trip out. On the way back, going up a long hill, it gradually lost speed as I changed down to third gear, and then second, and then first, and still threatened to stall. The others had to get out and follow me as I drove at walking pace up the hill.

The YMCA had given me two events in my life: the out-of-body-experience and the third – and last – car of my teenage years. Now it would give me another. At nineteen, I was still hopelessly inexperienced in affairs of the heart. Still no lengthy relationship to put on my CV of romance. But then, finally, it happened. One evening there was a group of girls in one of the recreation rooms. One of them was looking at me in a more than casual way. Or was it wishful thinking? She was quite pretty, if perhaps a little young.

But I was hopeless at divining more-than-friendliness signs with complete certainty then (and in later life it never got any easier). It took another of the girls to tip me off that she was interested in me, thus allowing some shy and awkward chatting up to begin. At the end of the evening I walked home with her (we lived on the same council estate) and outside her house actually got as far as a goodnight kiss. After that, the ice broken, it was easy: we were a pair. We were both such innocents. Laura was fifteen, just leaving school and me her first ever boyfriend; I at nineteen could count just three fleeting, totally virginal liaisons. Mind you, our relationship was pure in that sense too. Although it was a learning experience for both of us about bodies of the other gender, we never progressed to full sex. Although I was fizzing with hormones, there were always stronger inhibitions at work: her young age and my religiosity. I was still thinking that sex for decent conventional people – certainly decent conventional girls – was something reserved for marriage, to be excitingly discovered on your wedding night.

I was conscious of her comparative youth (as if I was such an adult) and encouraged her to look older by wearing makeup (nowadays eleven-year-olds need no encouragement to do that) and dressing in a ladylike way. I blush to recall it now, but I really was quite domineering. Our social life consisted mainly of parading around Stamford dressed up to the nines; she made-up, with a lacquered hair-do and always a skirt, stockings (yes, stockings), high heels and handbag (handbag!); me in my latest suit, white shirt and tie. For Goodness sake! We looked more like a throwback thirty-something couple from the 1950s than representatives of the emergent youth culture of 1962. Pop groups were still wearing suits in the early sixties though, so I suppose we were really just conforming. Sometimes we’d do the pictures, occasionally further- afield in Peterborough or Leicester. For these trips we often had the use of her dad’s Vauxhall Cresta, an enormous American-styled monster in which we felt very cool, like characters from an American high school movie, or something. I was always slightly amazed that her father trusted me, a callow youth, with it. But then perhaps he wasn’t confident of his daughter’s safety in my Austin 7.

And so the relationship continued, like young-fogies rehearsing for marriage, through the third year of my college course. In the July of 1963, as the academic year was ending, another, very exciting possibility suddenly sprang into view.
I’d enjoyed all aspects of my day-release, but what I liked most of all was the design component. I seemed to have some aptitude for it. The tutors must have thought so too, for I was summoned to an audience with the head of the Printing Department. He suggested that I consider a full time course in design as I clearly had some flair in that direction. I pointed out that I still had another year to go with my apprenticeship: I wasn’t free. Don’t worry, he said, he’d write to my employer, explain the situation and ask if he would release me.

What a thrilling, out-of-the-blue prospect! That night I hardly slept a wink. If Mike’s suggestion about college three years earlier had been life changing, this was a positive quantum-leap. But surely, the boss would never agree to let me go. After all, why should he? A contract was a contract, and he’d allowed me time off on full pay to do day-release. There’d be nothing in it for him if he now let me just walk away. But, amazingly, after the college’s letter he called me into the inner sanctum and told me I was free to go. He didn’t sound tremendously encouraging about it and made the point that he was losing by it as his workforce was supplied mainly through apprentices. But he would release me. With a distinct feeling of déjà vu I thanked him very much.

At college the following week I learned about the course. It was a three-year diploma course in typographic design. Back in those days degrees were only handed out in academic subjects taught at university. My institution was lower down the scale, a mere art college sharing a building with a college of technology. Leicester then was a big centre for printing, and the art college ran two parallel, slightly different design courses. The first, typographic design, was printing-biased, involving the design of any sort of printed matter. The emphasis was on typography – the skilled use of type – together with use of pictures and photographs without necessarily being able to produce those things yourself Graduates might expect to find jobs in book design or general printing design. The other course, graphic design, was broader and more biased towards illustrative work, in areas not necessarily in printing. Because the typographic design course was run within the printing department, and I’d just done three years day-release with a printing background, it was logical for me to progress to that. (The graphic design course was not part of the printing department at all). Nowadays this subtle distinction between graphic and typographic has disappeared, and most designers are simply called graphic designers. And nowadays, all courses are degree level, although whether the actual ability level is any higher is perhaps a moot point.

The other great difference between then and now is that then, further education (at colleges anyway) was fully grant-funded, both fees and maintenance. The only exception made was for students from more affluent backgrounds: in their cases their parents would be expected to stump up some, or all, of the cost. So there was no student debt. Students reading this today would be very envious.

So that was the prospect: a complete change from my mapped- out, presumed working life in a trade, as an artisan. I would escape my roots and become Middle Class. I quite thought Dad would be pleased that I was being so aspirational, that, as Mum would say, I was trying to ‘get on’.

But no. It was a B(C?)M. (Remember? Bold (Crazy?) Move).

And this time the Crazy? applied. Dad thought I was mad to give up a steady trade for a leap into the unknown. Not really having any clear idea of what my job, the day-release or the full time course involved, he wasn’t to know that my aspiration wasn’t that crazy: it was really a natural progression; a few rungs higher up the career ladder. He tried all sorts of ways of dissuasion. He couldn’t afford to support me. I said it would be self-supporting. Mum would lose my contribution to the household finances. I said she wouldn’t have the cost of supporting me if I was away from home. During the week, anyway. Who would support my dog, Yogi (who I’d been unable to resist as a fluffy little black-and-tan pup a couple of years earlier in a pet shop window in Leicester)? Crossly, I said I’d continue to buy his food. Finally, Dad gave up. Clearly I wasn’t going to be talked out of it. Of course there were issues with Laura too. She wasn’t too keen on the prospect of my being away during the week. I promised that, like the Beatles song, I’d write home every day. Great, I thought, it’s nice to have all this support. But finally she relented.

And so, in September 1963 I became what I couldn’t have imagined five years earlier: an art school student.


About wordsfromjohn

Once a printer, graphic designer, house renovator and landscape gardener, I'm now retired and a writer of books with a passion.
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3 Responses to Flying high

  1. Gwen Kallie says:

    This made me think back to when I first learned to drive. I ran up onto someone’s lawn! Didn’t get hurt, but left a few ruts in the grass. But, I must say, you guys beat that several times over and only walked away with a few scratches. Amazing! As usual, wonderful writing and interesting reading. I’m ready for the next installment!

  2. John Needham says:

    You’re very welcome!

  3. mijwoodward says:

    This was so much fun, John, reading about your first two cars and the two accidents, one after another. You Dad was a prince. Gotta’ tell you–I did not recognize the names of ANY of your cars. I suppose Tor will recognize them when I show him. It’s a guy thing. I once borrowed my daughter-in-law’s car and then on the ferry, could not remember where it was located so had to ask a ferry crewman for help. He asked me what kind of a car it was, so he could radio some other crewmen. “Well, it’s dark blue,” I said. That’s the only description I could tell him. He and the other crewmen exchanged humorous expressions with each other. Apparently, “dark blue” is not a make of a car.

    Also, in high school, we were all required to take driver’s ed. When it was my turn to be at the wheel, our teacher, sitting beside me, would start to sing the hymn, “Nearer my God to Thee,” and point to the speedometer.

    Great fun, this morning, John. Looking forward to the next installment.

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