My first lesson is with S, a nice man in his late twenties or early thirties. His partner recommended me; I think she is keener than he is to get him on the road. The first time I saw S was around three months ago. Despite telling him many times that he needed to bring his licence on the first lesson, he doesn't have it with him. We go on a wild goose chase to various addresses but still no licence. Fast forward a month or two; I get a message to say he has replaced his lost licence. We make another appointment. I turn up, he isn't there. When I call him, he is on the motorway returning home from work: "Did I book the lesson for tonight?"
Repeat the last appointment (seriously), then eventually I do see him, with licence. He can drive very well, just needs to pass the test. I try to encourage him to do his theory test, and at the end of the hour he wants to make a booking - for this morning. When I turn up, he apologises and explains that his partner (a very organised person with good judgement in most things) has gone out, and left no money to pay for the lesson (what he needs is a secretary... or a kick up the bum). I say it's up to him, he can owe me, or I will go back home... I go back home. It must be wonderful to live life only in the present, without having to look ahead and plan anything :)
The rest of the day is fine, K manages a whole lesson where I don't have to stop him pulling out in front of someone, Liesha has a drive in the dark with full commentary ("I'm ****ing scared Richard, I can't see anything!" - "You're ****ing scared ? ! ? ! ? ! ?"), and I drop off the Harry Hill tickets we can't use (Newbury, next week, sad to miss it but for a very good reason) to Carol. I return home quite late to Tina.
This email dropped into my inbox the other day:
"My Great Granddaughter has decided not to be a Pop Star and have someone drive her about; but will be a Hair Stylist instead and drive her self about. I promised her driving lessons for her eighteenth birthday, so it is now time to let her loose on the populace of Basingstoke, so here is the plan. I will pay upfront for fifteen lessons.
Have you got space for her and if so how do you want to be paid, I can transfer the cash direct, by cheque, Paypal, anyway you like as long as it does not involve going to a bank, at eighty five it takes me two hours to get out of bed and as I live in Chichester I can't appear with the dosh.
I emailed two other Schools in Basingstoke and never got a reply, I guess they are so busy they don't need the work, I built and sold two businesses and followed my Grandfathers advice "No matter what time of day, if there's a chance to earn a shilling; take it". Obviously they don't need the money."
People of his generation know how to express themselves in writing, don't they? I saw his great granddaughter today for her first lesson, and it went very well, I'm happy to say.
The last appointment is with Natalie, her final Pass Plus (post test) drive, which was mainly focussed on driving at night. We found a road where she had to adjust her headlights from dipped beam to main beam and back again around every three seconds, which was fun. Natalie sings in a band, their latest video is below:
Carl Sagan said this in 1995:
"In fact, the thickness of the Earth's atmosphere, compared with the size of the Earth, is in about the same ratio as the thickness of a coat of shellac on a schoolroom globe is to the diameter of the globe. That's the air that nurtures us and almost all other life on Earth, that protects us from deadly ultraviolet light from the sun, that through the greenhouse effect brings the surface temperature above the freezing point. (Without the greenhouse effect, the entire Earth would plunge below the freezing point of water and we'd all be dead.) Now that atmosphere, so thin and fragile, is under assault by our technology. We are pumping all kinds of stuff into it. You know about the concern that chlorofluorocarbons are depleting the ozone layer; and that carbon dioxide and methane and other greenhouse gases are producing global warming, a steady trend amidst fluctuations produced by volcanic eruptions and other sources. Who knows what other challenges we are posing to this vulnerable layer of air that we haven't been wise enough to foresee?"
He puts it so much better than I could. I always like to think of our atmosphere as an onion skin. And yet I still go out in my car every day, turn the heating up at home because I'm a bit chilly, jump on aeroplanes to holiday in warmer and sunnier climes, and eat things which take huge numbers of food miles to get to me. That's probably just the tip of the iceberg. What to do? God knows ;)
This morning I fix the leak in our shower fitting. I would like to curse the installer's shoddy workmanship, but realise it's me.
In the early afternoon we go for a walk at Greywell with T'Lockes, taking in lots of woods, meadows, streams, the Basingstoke Canal, and a delightful church. It's good to get some photos and the day is perfect: clear blue skies, low sun, autumn leaves and reluctant models.
In the evening we chat to Les and Jim on the phone, then watch the first episode of the new series of "The Big Bang Theory." Guilty pleasures.
Run - good. Tina goes out on her bike to meet with friends in Oakley, and Ken comes round before twelve to whisk me off to the station. He has two tickets for Dweezil Zappa, tonight at London's Roundhouse, and one of them is for me!
In London, we visit the World Press Photo 2012 exhibition at the Festival Hall (we were passing and wandered in), cross the Thames to Covent Garden, eat lunch, and visit the TinTin store (very good). Later, we head for Camden on foot, via Regent's Park and the Regent Canal. We meet up with Jim, and find a pub. It's great to see him, as always. The three of us sit on a roof terrace, chatting, until we decide it's too chilly, and retreat indoors. Jim has a busy evening, with at least two social engagements, so as Ken and I walk the few yards from the pub to the Roundhouse, Jim departs to the nearest tube station.
Our seats for the evening's entertainment overlook the main space. Last time we were here, also to see Dweezil, we were standing downstairs. It's easier to see the fascinating structure of the building from our higher viewpoint - and on balance I prefer to sit. The performance is very good, with a real mix of Frank Zappa's material. I'm not as familaiar as Ken is with all of FZ's work, so I don't know a few of the numbers, but enjoy the whole thing immensely. One point of interest: the last time we saw this show, for a couple of songs, Frank was featured on a big screen with the band onstage playing along with him. Tonight, although it's all his material, Frank doesn't seem to get such high billing. Ken and I wonder how long Dweezil can continue before he becomes just another tribute band.
On the tube back to Waterloo, Ken engages in conversation with another concert goer. His new friend wears a very interesting suit - a lovely burnt orange colour. He is with his wife and another couple, and, like us, appears to have made good use of the bar at the Roundhouse. Ken is sitting opposite me, his friend is standing, and the carriage is packed, so I only get snippets of the conversation:
"Yes, really good.... not sure about all the songs selected... Peaches... very good... early stuff... 70's..."
"Basingstoke... yes, BASINGSTOKE... yes, tonight.... no, we're getting a train...yes, they do have trains to Basingstoke!.... yes, a train... from Waterloo!!"
"Family... Burlesque... Roger Chapman hitting himself on the head with a tambourine... he can't keep that up..."
"Barnstable... staying with friends up here... driving back tomorrow... the M3... yes, ok, twelve o'clock tomorrow... a silver Seat?... we'll stand on the bridge at Dummer...OK, we'll be waving... and spitting..."
The woman who is not Ken's new friend's wife confides in me: "He's staying with us!" and sounds both horrified and delighted at the same time. They leave the train with effusive goodbyes and we get off later to double back on ourselves one stop to get to Waterloo. As we sit waiting for the doors to close two young men get on and enquire if this is the right train for the Edgeware Road. It seems to be. The man who sits next to Ken and opposite me is very handsome and extremely youthful, and American, judging by his accent. It is his birthday, which explains the bottle of Hennessy cognac, a quarter full, which he grasps and occasionally swigs from. Of course, Ken engages him in conversation, and gets to take a mouthful of brandy when it's offered. He doesn't pass it across to me! I shall never forgive him.
We manage to get the midnight train home from Waterloo, and throughout the journey have one of those intense drunken conversations which make so much sense at the time. Tonight we throw the full force of our combined intellects at the topic of evolution. Despite a complete lack of knowledge and understanding of Darwins's great theory, we have a very satisfying debate. Taking opposing positions, we try to conduct our argument in hushed whispers, as the train is very full.
As we get off at Basingstoke, Ken unveils the final, crowning piece of reasoning which will render me mute: "Anyway, in evolutionary terms, a giraffe is just a fish!!" At this, a fellow passenger, also leaving the train, emits a snort of suppressed laughter. "What!" says Ken. "Thank you so much!" she exclaims, and repeats Ken's pearl of wisdom, several times. It appears that hushed whispers were not what our fellow passengers heard. As we walk along the platform, the woman says she is going to have to write down the main points of Ken's evolutionary treatise. Ken is desperately trying to remember a fact which will prove his point, especially about the fish, but fails (he remembered, about twelve hours too late). His fan walks off, giggling, and we head homeward, to our houses and loved ones. Happy days...
Stu has a lesson at 9:15 and when I arrive, Ken opens the door. It's good to see him skiving off work. He is dressed in shorts and t shirt and claims he is going for run. I do recognise bedroom attire when I see it...
As well as Stu I see Liesha and Joe. Liesha had a birthday yesterday and plans to go to Reading tomorrow night with a minibus full of friends for a big night out. I tell her I will keep an eye on the local news to see how her evening went. Joe's drive is good, we chat a bit about the rapid changes in the world - for example how countries like Mexico are suddenly becoming major players.
The afternoon is spent catching up on emails and website work. In the evening I start playing poker expecting to be knocked out of the tournament early. When "Have I Got News for You" comes on to the TV, I am still playing. There are around 470 entrants, I need to get to the top 60 to get paid. After about three and a half hours (sorry, Tina) I am in the last ninety when I get two jacks. I know I should fold when a larger stack than me bets, but can't resist the chance to double up my chips. He shows ace and queen, and hits the ace on the river - the last card of the hand dealt. Oh bugger... Still, play the hand you're dealt - a good metaphor for life :) I will have to ask Jimmy what he would have done.
On my car stereo today: "It's getting better" - Cass Elliot at her very best. This song is so elemental - the tune and lyrics stripped down to the bare essentials. I can listen again and again - and do.
This morning I run then do three lessons - an ideal day :)
Busy day :(
But there is a new Rubber Bandits video in my inbox :)
Actually I'm not sure that the unsmiley face is warranted. Everyone I see today drives well, has a good attitude, and tries hard - what more can I ask?
In the evening, Tina and I catch up with the excellent "Getting On" - it's what televisions were made for.
Today's song on my car stereo - Kraftwerk's Autobahn - 22 minutes and 43 seconds of wonderful "Krautrock."
Shadreck has his test today, at lunch time. The drive before the test is a bit edgy, it's funny how a big man like him in his mid forties can get so nervous about a driving test. He asks me to sit in the back, so I get to see how lenient Mr White (the examiner, who is quite new and whose first name I don't know) is with him. Although Shadreck does drive well, and the route is very straight forward, there are a couple of errors which are a bit borderline. Still, no problem, Shadreck has the all important pass certificate in his hand, and looks very happy. As I drive him home, he delights in telling me that I didn't check my blind spot for a lane change. I explain that I am so skilled at driving, most normal people wouldn't spot my observations as they are so subtle. We both chuckle, which is nice...
Around the time of Shadreck's test, Jim texts about tennis - do I want to accompany him to see Andy Murray tomorrow in London at the ATP tournament? I have a very busy day booked, and can't cancel all the appointments, so I reluctantly decline :(
I see K at 3:15. He is a lovely man from Pakistan. I am concerned about his progress, he doesn't seem to be able to visualise the road ahead, especially the junctions and the timing required to fit in with other road users. We keep plugging away, week after week, there is improvement but very slow.
After seing Tina at home, I have a six o'clock appointment with A, whose Dad (M) made the booking. I don't want to work this late but I have taught three of M's children and lots of relatives and friends. M was keen for me to see A and I am too soft to refuse. A lives in Alton and is getting a lift into Basingstoke to meet me for the lesson at his Dad's house. I have mentioned several times to M that I need to see both parts of A's licence. When I arrive at M's, he tells me that A is en route and very close. He says he did tell A to bring his licence. When A gets to us - no licence. How difficult can it be :)
So the lesson starts with me driving A back to his house in Alton where he has just come from, picking up and checking the licence, then A driving back to Basingstoke. A can drive really well, he has had a lot of (dodgy) practice, which is why I agreed to see him, as hopefully he won't need lots of lessons.
"Wir fahr'n fahr'n fahr'n auf der Autobahn...."
Guy Fawkes day - or rather, night! A much better thing to celebrate than Halloween, I think.
I see Shadreck at 10:30, he has his test tomorrow. The lesson goes well, then I collect Natalie for a motorway lesson. Another good drive, I'm starting to wonder if it really is Monday. We drive past Heathrow airport, turn round, stop at the infamous Heston services for coffee, then home.
In the afternoon I visit the doctors for a flu jab. In the waiting room a woman with a young baby in a pram is accompanied by Alfie, a young lad around two or three. Alfie happily sits near me on a childs seat, and occasionally waves whatever is to hand in my direction. I smile and nod approvingly, which is what Alfie seems to want. He then decides to explore outside the waiting room. A voice like thunder eminates from his Mum - "Alfie - GET BACK IN HERE!" Alfie ignores her, so her next tactic is to threaten a unilateral withdrawal of sweets. Eventually, Alfie returns to his mum, and sweets, setting a pattern for life where he knows that bad behavior will be rewarded. I resist the temptation to suggest to Mum that she engages in some conversation with Alfie, or perhaps even a game of some sort. She's a lot bigger than me... As my Mum always said - there's nothing easier than bringing up other people's children.
Joe has a lesson at 5:30. He finds it hard driving in busy traffic in the dark. I find it hard sitting next to him in busy traffic in the dark. We survive the trials of the Reading Road roundabout, and look forward to the next lesson - lunchtime on Wednesday in wonderful daylight.
At home I get a late pass from Tina, and set off to collect Ken to watch Saints away to West Brom at "The Old House at Home" in Overton - the least offensive pub I can think of which is screening the footie. There are a few locals watching, all Saints fans, and at the back of the pub, a quiz is in progress. The sound on the TV is turned down, and the quiz sounds a more enticing proposition than the game, unfortunately. Mid way through the second half we're two nil down, and Ken and I retire to the adjoining room in disgust for a game of pool. Ken is very poor at anything requiring basic co-ordination, so to avoid embarrassing him I let him win the first two games. I win the third (potting the black which Ken left over the pocket for some reason), just to show him how it's done...
All together now:
"Oh when the Saints,
"Oh when the Saints,
"Oh when the Saints go marching down...."
It has rained hard overnight, but stopped this morning. Joyce visits for lunch, and Jim and Les get trains home at around three. I am sad to see them go, but looking forward to some time together again in a couple of weeks.
In the evening, Tina and I talk to Jackie and Paul in Canada. They are both tired - working too hard - and making the most of their Sunday away from work. We peer at each other on our phone screens, with only a few thousand miles of the Atlantic Ocean separating us. Apparently it's very cold there - 2 degrees - brrrrr.