Last year my daughter, Ellen Duncan, had a short story included in an anthology edited by Kate North and called “The C Word”. It was published by Cinnamon Press and launched at Waterstones. Needless to say I was very proud of her.
I asked Ellen to write an account of a recent trip I took with her to the north of Scotland to visit my sister, Jane, on the sad occasion of her husband’s death from cancer. Philip had lived with cancer as long as he was able and maintained, with Jane’s help at the end, a popular blog about his experiences (www.philiprogers.co.uk). Jane runs RichThinkers.
I asked that Ellen’s story focus on aspects of the visit other than that of the funeral.
Alastair Duncan 31/01/2012
A Jaguar Tale
The trip to Bristol Airport at three in the morning, was probably more round-about than necessary, a result of attempting to figure out how to use TomTom on my Dad’s new iPhone and not being entirely successful. Nevertheless, we arrived there in plenty of time and spent the next two hours drinking coffee and trying to decide whether it would be better to stay awake or doze until the flight. As it happens, even dozing is virtually impossible in a busy airport at five in the morning, regardless of whether you’ve slept earlier or not, and I hadn’t. So we stayed in a mostly silent daze until it was time to head to the departure lounge.
The flight itself passed in a haze of tiredness, broken by a spectacular sunrise somewhere around eight in the morning, and constantly underpinned by the gravelly whine of the engines. It was cold when we got off at Aberdeen Airport, a biting wind that even cut through my thick winter jacket, and we were both glad to reach the warmth of the arrivals lounge. Checked in with Europcar rental service, then got breakfast, and wow, what a queue of riggers! We were too warm by then, that’s always the way, but a full cooked English breakfast could actually be enjoyed, and then it was back to the Europcar desk. Another queue, more waiting.
I was hanging back, staring at nothing in particular, so it startled me a bit when Dad just spun around, grinning like a little kid, and said, ‘We’re getting a Jag!’
‘Awesome!’ Because, frankly, it was. Who’s going to be disappointed by that, especially when we were expecting a Ford Mondeo? So off we went, keys in hand, and suddenly looking forward to the two-hour drive to Forres rather more than anticipated. And there it was, gorgeous and shiny and black, absolutely stunning, with leather seats, and so comfortable . . . and Dad couldn’t figure out how to start it.
We worked it out, eventually; it was all electronic, automatic, but so smooth. We had fun playing with the digital display, tapping through the climate control (separate for each side of the car!) and figuring out the radio and sat nav. Hooking up the iPod was beyond us, so we travelled in the quiet – you could barely hear the tyres on the road, or the engine. I didn’t sleep. The sun was bright, the area was gorgeous and there was snow on the hills.
We were staying with my grandparents, opposite Jane, in her friend’s house. Lunch – thank heavens – was pretty much ready when we arrived, so after some admiring exclamations about the car, we settled down to eat, following which I passed out in bed for a couple of hours, catching up on some much-needed sleep while everyone else went out and got in the major shopping for the next few days.
And that, unfortunately, was when the problems began.
‘The boot won’t open.’
‘The boot won’t open. All the food’s in there.’
And try what we might none of us could get it open either. Dad ended up calling the rental service, Europcar, and they said they’d send someone out – but because it was snowy it might take a while. So we got on with things, and saw Jane, and cooked dinner, and poor Dad just had to hang around.
When they finally did arrive, late in the evening and while we were eating, Dad hung around outside while the mechanic tried to sort it out – but of course, things are never that easy, and even he couldn’t sort it out. Dejected, Dad came back in to finish his by-then cold pasta, looking harassed.
He had been explaining to the others about StillWalks, and since he had brought one of the DVDs up he decided to use it in a much-needed attempt to relax. It worked, too, for all of us, just sitting, watching and listening to them, going from a winter to a summer one, from coast to forest. Dad seemed pretty calm – right up until the point when Granny said, ‘I think you should call the car company again now, not in the morning!’ Quite a lot of the tension returned.
Next morning, while I was giving Jane a hand with some boxes of Philip’s books, poor Dad was still having to wait around, this time for the AA Jag specialist to arrive. As he had been hoping to use the time we were up there to produce a StillWalk of the area in memory of Philip, this was more than a little frustrating. When they finally did get there, still no luck. Whatever techniques they tried made no difference whatsoever, and on top of that it turned out the car wasn’t locking either. By this point we had all pretty much decided that a Jaguar, lovely though it might have been, was far more trouble than it was actually worth on this occasion.
Dad, in a last ditch attempt, tried calling Jaguar themselves, in the hope that they would have a solution. Considering the luck we had had so far, I don’t think any of us were surprised when they told him the only way to get in would be to cut through the steel and into the boot from the inside. By this time we decided just to give in, do the shop again, and apply to get the money back on the insurance.
That was how Dad and I ended up in Tesco, buying everything again – and it’s funny how it doesn’t matter where you are, Tesco is the same. At any rate, by the time we were finished, it was nearly dark, and sleeting along with it, making for a fairly miserable drive back while we tried to remember the route without a great deal of help from street signs. On our return my Uncle Simon joked that the boot would open only when we got back to the airport!
The next day, Dad took the morning to do the work for the StillWalk – by then, thankfully, the snow had more or less cleared. Granny had done the flower arrangements for the service that afternoon, so we drove there a little early. It was further than we had realized, and the roads were quite twisty, so I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised when a humpbacked hill came out of nowhere – it felt like the car almost took off.
That evening, I found myself keeping my little cousin, Isobel, entertained with just about the strangest game of Hide and Seek I’ve ever played – it involved her showing me where she was ‘hiding’ something, and then the pair of us wandering off to start ‘looking’ for it together.
Unfortunately for us, we were leaving in the early hours of the morning again, and had to be up at 2am, which I can’t say is a time I’m too fond of. Nevertheless, when it actually came to it, despite all the trouble we’d had, the Jaguar is a nice car to drive and be in, and the roads were silent and empty, so we arrived at Aberdeen Airport in plenty of time, and not quite as tired or stressed out as we might have been. We parked in the hire car area, which was more or less completely abandoned, and were just grabbing our things off the backseat when Dad decided to try the boot one last time.
It opened! After everything, all the trouble and time we had taken trying to get it sorted out, and right at the very end it just opened. Leaving us to abandon £130 worth of food and wine just as it was finally accessible again.
Ellen Duncan 31/01/2012
I wondered later if it was that ‘flight’ from the humpback bridge that unstuck the boot, but I guess I’ll never really know. And the car? Well I know from the texts I sent, just how frustrated and annoyed I was at the time – but when I look back, it is the pleasure I felt at driving a brand new Jaguar XJ that I remember first and foremost.
Alastair Duncan 31/01/2012
NB Anyone interested in Philip Rogers books should contact Rich Thinkers.