P is for Parallel Parking

The Lovely Wife and I are in alignment with many things but there is one thing that we differ in considerable terms and that is cars and driving them. It is a source of huge amusement to me that the one of us that has a sports car that is ‘fun’ to drive is her. For me, the solid workhorse does perfectly fine thank you. It needs to get us from A to B as comfortably as possible; I ask no more of it.

I have never been keen on driving and long years of commuting on the M25 has not endeared me to it any more. When treated to the offer ‘would you like me to drive?’ the answer is almost always a firm ‘yes, thank you’.

I have never been that fussed when it came to cars, and came to driving late. This is partly due to the disaster that was my first driving lesson, where my father, in a fit of enthusiasm that his newly turned seventeen-year-old son wanted to learn to drive, took me for a lesson in his beige Ford Cortina estate in an empty car park in the Team Valley in Gateshead. It did not go well. I did not actually hit anything but my natural lack of coordination combined with the fact that – faced with the reality – my Dad could not cope with anyone else behind the wheel of his car, meant that patience was quickly worn thin and that was the end of any attempt to teach me. Since my mother had never learned to drive and we could not afford driving lessons that put paid to any attempt to learning in my teens. Then university came along, and the last thing you want in Oxford is a car, so it had to wait until I had started work for me to finally work up the enthusiasm to learn. So, for many months that followed I would have lessons at lunchtime, picked up at work. Needless to say, I had many, many lessons with two different driving instructors – although I deny any responsibility for the retirement of the first one. I just was a bit of a slow learner.

My first test was a failure because I was too hesitant. The second test, on a swelteringly hot day, I failed because I overcompensated and was too aggressive. I have seen in my life what I like to refer to as Goldilocks syndrome, and driving tests were no exception so, thankfully, as with my relationship history, third time was just right.

At the time that I was learning to drive the skill of parallel parking was being introduced as one of the manoeuvres that you might be called upon to perform. I was, and still am, awful at parallel parking. It was my main weak spot and I was dreading it coming up in my test and I was sure that if it did it would be the cause of failure. As it turned out I did not need it to come up to fail, but in none of my three tests was the skill tested. In retrospect, I need not have worried. No one is particularly comfortable with change or the introduction of something new, and that includes the test examiners as well as those taking the test. Or maybe they just saw the fear in my eyes and took pity on me. I don’t care, I was just glad to finally pass. Although I think unleashing me onto the roads of Britain was a mixed blessing. Certainly, a friend of mine saw his life flash before him as a passenger as my little white mini careered onto my first dual carriageway. But I was lucky and I have enough miles under my belt know to decree myself vaguely competent. But I don’t have to enjoy it, so if you offer me a lift I’ll accept, with honest gratitude.

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O is for Order

One of the main disruptions for the Lovely Wife and I at this time is the lack of any real ability to plan. There are many, some of my very best friends among them, who are quite happy to ‘wing it’ a lot of the time and see what happens. I am not one of those people. I like to know what I am doing, when I am doing it and whether I am doing it right (and not in retrospect, I like to know before so I don’t make a massive fool of myself).  I see double booking myself as a major gaffe on my part and one to be avoided at all costs. So even though there is only two of us to manage, one of the most important documents in our household is The Schedule.

The Schedule is king. It is a simple, day to day account of what we are doing each day, in the day and in the evening. For the next few years. Yes, there are entries that are several years ahead, where things are set in stone and/or are important enough to secure the dates this far in advance. It even is colour coded so I can see if the entry is to do with personal or work commitments.

This is all well and good if we are able to control events. Normally this is the case, even with work trips to some extent. But with my Dad’s situation dominating pretty much everything we do at the moment I am suffering Schedule crash. Things booked six months ago, when life seemed a bit different, are now having to be managed in a way I never foresaw. Do we abandon them, chalked down to the fact that this situation will never really happen again for us? Do we come up with a Plan B, inevitably involving travel and expense and a nagging sense of completely inappropriate guilt that we might want to take a few days off visiting duty, at least while he is stable and able to entertain himself with TV, DVDs and now internet… Order has been lost and now I have to ‘wing it’. It also means that things which form a set of touchstones that are regular in the schedule – platelet donations, my volunteering at Wrest Park, attendance at church and our favourite pub (although to be fair, the latter two are happening, just it is now my old church I went to as a child, and the massively improved Newfield Inn, Newfield rather than The Mermaid, St Albans) – all are more or less on hold, and that is surprisingly annoying.

However, however… It is not that simple, is it? A new order has been put into place, one that involves stopping at Pelton COOP to pick up a copy of the Evening Chronicle on the way to the nursing home. Sitting for a couple of hours with some light conversation as CBS Action burbles on in the background – NCIS: Los Angeles if we are lucky, interminable repeats of Bonanza if we are not (i.e. at the weekend).  Drawing his curtains before wandering back to a bungalow which is so familiar – the first 18 years of my life – but also strange because my parents are not there, nor will my Dad ever be there again. Maybe a short walk to the Inn for a pint of Double Maxim (it’s rather good) for the miraculous price of £2.75 a pint. A short term order, to be realistic, but one that is also comforting in a way while it lasts. And actually, I have found I am rather good at executing Plan B’s.