Cars, Planes, WOMBATS
I once thought of writing the story of a relationship in terms of the vehicles in which and by which it is conducted, over several years. This seemed plausible to me even though I can't drive and have little idea what goes on under a car bonnet.
Clearly it was Nick I had in mind.
In 1985 he was still in his young executive slimline briefcase phase, although, in his own words, had just fucked his career at American Express.
He had gone to his bosses and demanded they remove him from a jetsetting job running training for Amex agents all over French-speaking Africa, to doing any available work in the massive Brighton offices that could be dropped like a hot brick at 3 each afternoon in order for him to pick Jess up from nursery. He then spent the next hours playing with her and getting her tea before dropping her back at her Mum’s at seven pm.
I think there had been some additional deal about him returning to the AmEx office for another few hours work after that, or at weekends, but I’m pretty sure it seldom occurred. But pick up and spend time with Jessica he did, every weekday.
The car was a Cavalier: a model much loved by advertising execs and sales fleet procurers. It was metallic looking – very popular in the 80s – and the very first car I’d ever been in where the music system played CDs instead of battered cassettes that got stuck and spewed loops of tape.
CDs! The very cherry on the Black Forest Gateau of 80s sophistication!
The sound quality was very good indeed: in fact there was a James Last CD in which Nick could make out a metallic little clink. After careful listening he concluded it was the sound of the flute knocking against the music stand.
In-car listening was not quite what you’d associate with Nick of later years: Eurythmics, Level 42, Simply Red, and bloody Dire bloody Straits, who were everywhere at the time. But also Dr Hook, whose surprisingly rude songs may well have influenced subsequent donkey-based humour, the delightful Roche sisters, for the Plum to sing along to from the Plumseat in the back, and Frank Zappa, Joe’s Garage, as soon as Nick knew I had been a Roman Catholic.
Blasting along between Birmingham and Leamington Spa, or from Brighton to Drusilla's, or through Southern England on the way to Glastonbury, we sang The Freaker's Ball, Ireland Soon, and many another.
Later came Vanessa, a VW camper van. I think there were at least two Vanessas, one with a popup top in which there was a little den for Jessica to sleep in at festivals.
The final Vanessa, in the mid 1990s, became a bit of a nuisance, which Nick decided to solve by arranging for it to be “stolen” and disposed of while he was away visiting me in Thailand.
He was outraged on his return to find the thing still gently rotting where he had left it. ‘Where can you find a thief you can trust these days?’
Finally there came a succession of vans and trucks, in various states of repair, many of them fitted out with ingenuity, often full of musical paraphernalia, old t-shirts, and even worse, musicians.
In one WOMBAT - Waste Of Money, Brains And Time - covered in rust and patches, he drove up to Norwich for August Bank Holiday 2003. We had both just returned to England from elsewhere – he from France, me from the United Arab Emirates.
The van pootled along fairly reliably once it got going, but starting was complicated. It involved pulling out the cover behind the steering wheel – revealing a spaghetti of different coloured wires - and Nick diving down into the footwell with a large pair of pliers while at the same time keeping a hand, or occasionally a foot, on the wheel. He could not see where he was going and get going at the same time, and the tangle of wires became ominously longer each time.
At one point as we potttered along the Norfolk lanes we passed a convoy of rather splendid glittering vintage cars coming the other way, out for what was probably their ‘once a year if the weather is right’ excursion away from the deep oil, bubble-wrap, and temperature-controlled garages in which they were usually preserved. The drivers were vintage too – some of them dressed appropriately in deerstalkers, capes, big hats and so on.
Nick fixed his eyes on the drivers, took both hands off the wheel and applauded wildly, nearly causing the leading driver to swallow his meerschaum pipe.
‘It’s nice of them to make all that effort just to entertain us,’ Nick said. "Think of all the trouble they’ve gone to so we can look at them.
And they have to look at us! "