Haziran 12, 2020

Christmas Journey

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Christmas Journey
Christmas Journey
*************************************************

Copyright Oggbashan December 2011
The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

This is a work of fiction. The events described here are imaginary; the settings and characters are fictitious and are not intended to represent specific places or living persons.

It was the day before Christmas Eve in the mid 1960s. I was facing a boring Christmas sitting in my office in Devonport Dockyard waiting for something that probably wouldn’t happen. I was the most junior civil servant who could be Duty Officer over the Christmas period. If something actually did happen the senior staff would be at the end of a telephone line and would appear to claim any credit while I did the work. That is the way organisations work.

I was unmarried. It was only fair that the married officers should be on leave with their families over Christmas and the single ones should be on duty. I was the only single officer…

I was broke. I had spent all my spare money on presents for my family. The postage had been the hardest part. I didn’t mind spending money on presents for my parents and sisters but getting the presents there had cost nearly as much as the presents. The overtime I would get for working over Christmas would revive my finances. Until then I might be able to afford a pint or two of beer on the evening of Boxing Day. That would be my celebration.

I was clearing my desk, locking the important files away when my immediate superior rushed in.

“Geoff! You’re still here. Good.”

Of course I was still there. My period of normal duty didn’t end for at least another thirty seconds.

“I’ve just had a phone call from my wife. She’s stuck in Lincolnshire. The car’s broken down and she won’t be able to get it fixed until after Boxing Day. So…”

So? I thought. Surely he didn’t mean?

“So you don’t need to be here. I can be Duty Officer and you can go home to your parents. Isn’t that great?”

“But…”

“No buts. Go!”

“I need a travel warrant, Roger. I’m broke.”

“You’re entitled to three a year. Have you got one left?”

“Yes, but…”

“Pass the book over. I’ll do it now.”

He did. He made out the warrant for travel from Plymouth Station via London to my home station and return. He signed it with a flourish and gave it to me.

“Thank you, Roger,” I said.

“You don’t look as pleased as I thought you would be, Geoff. What’s wrong?”

“I said I’m broke. I meant it.”

I emptied my pocket on to the desk. Two half-crowns and a few other smaller coins.

“That’s it until pay day on the 31st. I’ll be fed at my lodgings and that’s paid by allotment. Otherwise…”

“I see. You can’t go home like that.”

He looked in his wallet.

“I’m going to the bank tomorrow. Have this.”

He gave me three one pound notes and a ten shilling note.

“It’s a Christmas gift. Not a loan.”

He knew I couldn’t afford to repay him.

“Thank you, Roger. That will be a great help. Can I ask why?”

“I’m celebrating. My wife was going to bring her mother for Christmas and we don’t get on. Mother-in-law would complain the whole time that my wife wasn’t doing Christmas properly. Now my mother-in-law can’t come. When my wife and c***dren do get back we can celebrate quietly and enjoy ourselves – if I’ve got the time off. By working through Christmas I can have leave around the New Year. I’ll have a wonderful time and I was facing a dreadful ordeal. So – Go!”

“Thank you, Roger. Enjoy your break, when you get it.”

I rushed off to my lodgings, packed a bag with the absolute minimum and rang my mother. She was delighted that I was coming and added the news that made my day even better. Cousin Clare would be staying. I liked Cousin Clare. She’s not a real cousin. Her mother was my mother’s best friend and chief bridesmaid but the families had lived close to each other all my life. I had called Clare’s mother ‘aunt’ so Clare became ‘Cousin Clare’. The idea of Christmas and Boxing Day with Clare seemed like heaven.

Even my landlady was pleased. She would have made Christmas Dinner for me with her family but I would have been an embarrassment. Now she could have her family to herself. She kissed me and pushed something into my pocket ‘For Christmas’. I had left a present for her under her Christmas tree. I left happily. I walked through the well lit streets ignoring the light drizzle.

My happiness lasted until I got to Plymouth’s North Road Station. There was a crowd of unhappy people milling around. A notice stated that all trains were cancelled until further notice because of a signal failure near Newton Abbot. I asked a harassed porter when trains would be running.

“I don’t reckon they will be this side of Christmas,” he replied mournfully. “The signal failure was caused by a freight train derailment that has ripped up half the signalling equipment around Newton. If you can get to Exeter, trains are running beyond there, but the last train northabout Dartmoor has gone. They started engineering works on that line this morning before the accident.”

“It’s no use trying the bus station,” one woman added. “They are fully booked and there are crowds waiting for a cancellation.”

I decided to aim for the A38 and perhaps hitch a lift. I turned and started walking.

“Where are you going, mate?”

It was a middle-aged man dressed in overalls.

“I thought I’d try hitching on the A38.”

“That might work. Hang on a mo. One of my mates lives out by Plympton. He might take us there. We’re on a building site just round the corner. It’ll only hold you up a couple of minutes and it’s worth a try.”

“Where have you got to get to?”

“Only to Ivybridge. If he can take me to Plympton I’m half way home.”

“OK. Thanks.”

“Save your thanks until we see if he’s still there.”

He was. He was standing by his ancient upright Ford Anglia.

“Hi Bert. I’m stuck. The car won’t start and…”

He looked at the steep slope leading out of the building site. Even with three of us we couldn’t attempt pushing the car up that hill.

“Why not try again, Jack?” Bert suggested.

It didn’t start. The starter motor turned sluggishly before stopping with a dull clunk.

“Have you got the starting handle?” I asked.

“Yes, Geoff. It’s under the bonnet.”

“OK. Turn the ignition off and back on when I lift my hand. OK?”

Jack nodded. I unclipped and lifted the side of the car’s bonnet. I left the side up as I extracted the starting handle and fitted it at the front of the engine. I raised my hand. Keeping my thumb well out of the way in case of a backfire I swung the handle. The Anglia spluttered into life. I withdrew the starting handle, clipped it back in its holder across the engine compartment, and closed the side of the bonnet. I climbed into the car.

“Let it run for a couple of minutes before pulling away,” I suggested, “and use sidelights until we are beyond the street lights. The battery’s cold and nearly flat.”

Jack nodded again. He watched the ammeter closely. It showed a bare charge.

“Have you got a battery charger?”

“Yes, Geoff.”

“Then charge the battery over Christmas. You’ve probably done too much driving in the dark. My father used to have a Ford like this. He charged the battery every Saturday night during the winter months.”

“Sounds like a good idea. It’s been getting more difficult to start every kaçak iddaa day for the past month.”

We sat for a couple of minutes before he engaged gear and we chugged slowly out of Plymouth. There were long queues at every bus stop. On sidelights the ammeter was just nudging the positive. Beyond the streetlights the car’s headlights barely pierced the darkness and the ammeter showed a significant discharge. The windscreen wipers struggled to keep the water off the screen. On every hill the Anglia slowed down and stopped completely until the accelerator was blipped. The wipers responded for a few seconds before stopping again.

After about five miles the ammeter crawled towards neutral even with the headlights on.

Despite the conditions Jack decided to press on to Ivybridge where he delivered us to Bert’s family house a few yards off the main road. His Ford Anglia turned back towards Plympton.

“Hang on a sec, Geoff, before setting off.”

I stood outside his house for a couple of minutes before he returned with a paper bag.

“This is from me and my missus as thanks for getting my mate’s car going and me home. Happy Christmas and best of luck.”

I walked back to the main road. I daren’t go beyond the street lights because no one would see me. I stood there in the increasing rain as the few cars sped past me. I was still there half an hour later when an ancient Austin wheezed to a stop beside me. The passenger door opened.

“Going far?” The driver asked.

“Exeter if possible, please?” I replied.

“Not going that far but I can take some of the way. Climb in.”

I wouldn’t have accepted but for the half hour I had already waited had been depressing. The car sounded as if it was on its last legs.

I looked at the driver in the last of the street lights as we left Ivybridge.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“Out on to the moor. I farm there. Missus wanted some last things from the shops and my son had taken the decent car. This old relic should have been on the scrap heap. My new car should be delivered on New Year’s Day. Then this one will be history.”

“It seems to run OK,” I lied.

“Seems! It doesn’t. It overheats when the sun comes out, leaks, as you may have noticed, when it rains, and lies down and dies when it’s important. The dealer wouldn’t take it as a trade-in. Tain’t worth more than half-a-crown.”

“I’d give half-a-crown…”

“You would? Ye’re daft!”

“I’m not. I need to get home for Christmas and there are no trains this side of Exeter. If I can get there…”

“And then what? You’d abandon the car and I’d get the blame.”

“No. I’d park it somewhere safe and collect it next week.”

“If you would, it’s yours, for half a crown, when I get home. You’ll have to find your way back off the moors, though. Could you do that?”

“Of course,” I said confidently.

My confidence waned as he twisted and turned further and further down dark narrow lanes.

“You still sure you can get back?” He laughed.

“No.”

“Never mind. Once we get to the farm there’s a better road leading back towards Exeter. That’s easy to follow.”

We turned into the farm approach. I leapt out to open the gate. He swung away from the farmyard and swept under a portico of a considerable mansion.

“Home,” He announced. “A bit pretentious but comfortable. Come in and dry off and I’ll find the car’s paperwork.”

His wife greeted him with a kiss. She looked at me with a smile.

“Another stray you’ve found?” She asked her husband.

“This young man is trying to get to Exeter and then home to London,” He replied. “I’ve agreed to sell him the old car for half-a-crown.”

“You cheated him. It isn’t worth more than sixpence. Never mind. I’ll make a pot of tea while you sort yourselves out.”

I helped unload the car. The back seat was so full that ‘some last things’ must have emptied half a shop. I was puffing hard by the time the last of the goods were stacked in the hall.

“The car should run better without all that, Geoff,” he announced. “I’m obliged to you, young man, for carrying. I’ll agree with me wife. Sixpence and the car’s yours.”

I put my hand into my coat pocket. The envelope my landlady had given me fell on to the floor. I picked it up and scrabbled a threepenny bit and three pennies from my change.

“Done.” I said.

“OK.”

I opened the envelope while the farmer was getting the paperwork. Inside were a pound and a ten shilling note. I now had a whole five pounds.

In the kitchen his wife produced tea, scones, butter, jam and clotted cream while we filled out the paperwork to transfer the car. The scones were delicious. My enjoyment was obvious and she pressed more on me.

I looked at the clock. It was half past ten. Even if I left now I might not reach Exeter in time for the last train to London. I said so.

“You won’t need a train,” his wife said. “That car may be old but it’ll get you all the way there and back again, slowly mind, but steadily.”

“But it’ll need petrol and there aren’t any petrol stations open at night.”

“There’s an all-night one near Honiton,” he said, “but you’ll need a fill before then. Got another sixpence?”

I looked in my pocket. There was a sixpence among the pennies and halfpennies. I held it out. He took it.

“I’ll fill the petrol tank and check the oil. I’ll put some more petrol in the can in the boot just in case you run out. You shouldn’t if you drive carefully. A tankful should get you all the way home.”

“But that’s worth more than sixpence…” I protested.

“Maybe it is, but it’s nearly Christmas and you should be with your family, Geoff.”

“I don’t know how to thank you,” I said.

“Then don’t. Just repay me by being kind, when you can, to someone else who needs help.”

“I will. Thank you.”

He went off to fill the car. His wife found me some older maps that showed the route off Dartmoor and a 1950s road atlas.

“You’ll need a torch to see that. There’s an old one the k**s used to play with.”

She went out of the kitchen. I sipped my third cup of tea and cleared the few scone crumbs from my plate. She returned with an ex-army torch.

“The batteries are OK. It should do. Now. The toilet is out there. You go and freshen yourself up and we’ll soon have you on your way.”

When I returned she had a cardboard box on the kitchen table.

“I’ve put a few things in to keep you going if the car breaks down. It won’t but just in case…”

“Thank you.”

“Just get home safely to your parents, please Geoff.”

She kissed me.

They stood under the portico as I drove away. Without the heavy load in the back seat the car seemed much younger. Unlike the old Anglia the windscreen wipers worked constantly and the headlights made a reasonable try at lighting the road. The heater didn’t work and water dripped on to my left ankle but I felt cosseted compared to standing beside the road in the rain. I fluffed the gear changes a few times before I acquired the knack. At thirty or thirty-five miles an hour the car and I were happy. Any faster than that and the steering and brakes were unable to cope and I was nervous.

A few miles down the more major road I was rounding a bend when a man leapt out of the bushes in front of me. I braked hard and swerved. He came running up to the driver’s door.

“Guvnor, I‘ve had it!” he announced. “I give up. Take me in.”

“What are you blathering about?”

“I’m on the run and I’ve had enough. I surrender.”

“But…”

“Please perabet güvenilir mi take me to the nearest Police Station. I’m cold. I’m starving. I haven’t eaten for three days and I want to give myself up.”

“OK. If that’s what you want. Get in.”

He went round to the passenger door and sat down. Under the car’s interior light I could see that he was telling the truth. His prison clothes were soaked and torn. He was shivering. Even if he hadn’t been I don’t think he could have been a threat to me. He was slightly built and not in good condition. I thought of the presents I had been given. I took the torch and looked in the back seat of the car.

The first thing I found was an old tartan car blanket. I passed it to him. He wrapped it around himself. I opened the paper bag I had been given at Plympton. There was a large Cornish pasty and some small cakes. I gave him the whole bag. He mumbled his thanks and started eating slowly.

I started the car again.

“Where is the nearest Police Station?” I asked.

“How do I know?” he spluttered. “I was lost. I don’t know Devon. It wasn’t my idea to escape.”

He continued slowly eating the pasty as we passed through Bovey Tracey with no sign of an open Police Station. I could believe he was hungry. He was savouring every mouthful. I saw a signpost for Newton Abbot. There should be a Police Station there. There was. I pulled up in the forecourt with a squeal of brakes and a sk**. I had to help him out of the car and up the steps, still wrapped in the blanket. The Sergeant on duty seemed unsurprised to see the escapee.

“Hello, Fingers,” he said. “We expected you before this. Dartmoor in winter isn’t like your usual haunts, is it?”

“It was The Bloke’s idea, not mine…” the prisoner mumbled.

“We know. We caught him trying to steal a car. He wouldn’t tell where he’d abandoned you.”

“I had to go with him. He’d have snuffed me if I hadn’t.”

“Tell that to the Governor. He’ll probably believe you. Meanwhile we have a nice dry cell for you and a cup of tea.”

“Thanks Sarge. And thanks to you too, young fella. That pasty was great.”

He was led away.

“And now, Sir, I should take a few details, but I’d rather not. It’s nearly Christmas. You don’t want to spend it in Newton Abbot, do you?”

I shook my head.

“Then we shall assume that Fingers walked in here by himself, shall we? That way I won’t have to take your name and address, Mr. Owen, nor your car registration details, nor examine your car that from here might appear unroadworthy…”

“Thank you, Sergeant. I’m on my way.”

“Just steer clear of Police Stations. Next time, if there is a next time, park around the corner and let Fingers walk the last few yards. Happy Christmas!”

I drove away from Newton Abbot as quietly as I could.

After I had passed Exeter I pulled into a lay-by to plot my route. I was feeling hungry and tired. Finger’s enjoyment of that pasty was a reminder of what I had given away. There was the box the farmer’s wife had given me…

Inside were several packages wrapped in greaseproof paper. I opened one at random. There were six Scotch Eggs. I ate two while I explored further. At the bottom of the box were three bottles cradled in corrugated cardboard. Two were labelled ‘Alcoholic’. The other was labelled ‘Apple Juice’. I opened the apple juice. After a few mouthfuls I decided to drive on while the roads were clear. A heavy truck pulled into the lay-by ahead of me. The driver came running back.

“Could you give me a lift to the next phone box? I’ve got a puncture and I can’t fix it.”

“OK,” I said. “Why not? Hop in.”

The nearest phone box was about five miles down the road. I couldn’t leave him there at night so I waited to drive him back to his truck.

“They’ll be out first thing in the morning. I can sleep in the cab but… have you got anything to eat or drink?”

I gave him the rest of the Scotch Eggs and the apple juice before driving away.

About dawn I was still on the A30 near the Wallops, Nether, Middle and Over. A car was pulled in to the side of the road. The driver, a young man about my age, flagged me down.

“My wife’s in labour and the car’s bust. Can you…”

“Of course. Where to?”

“Stockbridge maternity hospital. It isn’t far.”

I made the old car go almost as fast as I dared. His wife was having contractions every two or three minutes. Every time she groaned I pressed the accelerator. We were doing almost forty-five miles an hour when we reached Stockbridge. At the maternity hospital his wife was surrounded by staff. Her husband and I sat smoking in the waiting room for at least a couple of hours. I didn’t think I could leave him alone. He was so nervous.

A nurse poked her head around the door to tell him he had a son, their first c***d. He rushed off to see his wife and new son, asking me to wait a few minutes. It was a quarter of an hour before he was back. In the meantime one of the nurses had given me a welcome cup of tea.

He rushed back in.

“Geoff, do you mind if we give him your name as a second Christian name?”

“Of course not, but…”

He rushed out again. When he came back he invited me to see his new son.

“This is John Geoffrey,” he said, “and this is the proud mother Eileen. I’m Michael.”

“Pleased to meet you, especially John,” I said.

Eileen pulled my head down to kiss me.

“Thank you, Geoff. I don’t know what we would have done without you. It was cold waiting for someone to pass. I was afraid, not that I’d have the baby in the car, but that he wouldn’t survive long after the birth.”

I stammered expostulations that anyone would have stopped…

“There’s one more thing we would like you to do,” Eileen said, “The registry office is open this morning and then closed until after Christmas. Could you take Michael there to register John’s birth? He can make his own way back but he needs to be there within the hour.”

“Of course,” I said.

I drove Michael to the Registry Office. We had to wait a few minutes before the paperwork could be completed. Michael shook my hand and left the Registry Office to contact a cousin who might be able to help recover their car. I walked towards the old Austin. I was nearly there when a man rushed out of the Registry Office.

“Can you spare a few minutes of your time, please,” he wheezed. “I’ve run out of options. I’m getting married now and the family and witnesses haven’t arrived. If I don’t get married in the next half-hour we’ll have to rebook. The Church wedding is this afternoon and everyone will be there, but the marriage won’t be legal…”

“Of course,” I said, “lead on…”

I was a witness at the marriage of Alan and Marion Smith of Stockbridge. One of the Registry clerks was the other witness. By the time I had kissed the bride it was nearly noon.

Back on the road I followed the A272 to Winchester and then the A31 towards Guildford. I stopped at a lay-by on the Hog’s Back to eat some lunch. Sitting in the car, I idly watched two young women hikers struggling up the slope towards the road. They seemed fit and active but tired and weighed down by their rucksacks. I got out to shake the crumbs off my trousers and despite the light drizzle I stood there as the two women reached the lay-by.

They walked directly towards me. I knew what was coming.

“Are you going towards Guildford?” She paused, “Or tipobet giriş Reigate?”

I looked at both of them for a second.

“Yes, and yes.”

“Could you…?”

“Give you a lift? Of course. The car isn’t much but it should get there.”

“Thank you. We’ve got to be back home tonight and we hadn’t appreciated how steep the hills are around here. We’re tired out.”

I opened the back door of the car.

“Ladies, your carriage awaits.”

They piled their rucksacks against the far door and climbed in. They were fairly crowded but their rucksacks wouldn’t have fitted in the boot. I started the car and pulled away. There was still very little traffic even through Guildford and on the A25. As we drove along my companions introduced themselves as Mary and Janis, sisters from Reigate. They had been Youth Hostelling for a week but the bad weather had slowed them down. They had to dry their clothes each day and hadn’t covered as many miles as they had intended. They had phoned their parents from the last Youth Hostel and had expected to catch a bus to Guildford and then a train home. The bus service had stopped running two years ago so they had to walk.

On the outskirts of Reigate I had to stop and wake them up to ask directions. I delivered them to the drive of their parents’ house, a substantial villa in its own grounds. The younger sister, Janis, turned back to give me a wave as I drove off. Mary seemed barely able to walk the length of the drive. I followed the A25 to the edge of Redhill and joined the A23 towards Croydon. Half an hour after reaching Croydon I braked the car to a stop outside my family home.

I was stiff and tired. I might be the returning prodigal son but I wasn’t bringing any gifts. I had sent them earlier. I opened the boot and took out the cardboard box that the farmer’s wife had given me with the car. I carried it up the front path and rang the doorbell with an awkward finger. My father opened the door, looked at me, lifted the box out of my arms and said:

“You need a cup of tea, lad.”

I did. I stepped inside the hall to be nearly knocked flat by an excited Cousin Clare. She hugged and kissed me before dragging me into the kitchen. I had expected her to welcome me, but this was much more than I had dared dream. She made the tea while I sat at the kitchen table and told the story of my journey.

“Geoff,” Clare said diffidently, “do you always wear that?”

She pointed at my chest. I looked down. My official dockyard pass was still obvious on my jacket pocket, complete with photograph, my name, my department’s address and my rank.

“No,” I said, “I normally take it off as soon as I’m outside the dockyard. I’ve been telling everyone who I am. No wonder complete strangers called me ‘Geoff’…”

“And named a baby after you…” My mother said. “I’m proud of you. But were you right to accept the car?”

“It would have been scrapped next week.”

“Did you insure it?”

“Insure?”

“You didn’t drive it all this way with no insurance?”

I nodded.

“Right lad. Get your jacket on. We’re going down to the High Street now. The insurance can be a Christmas present.”

We found that the farmer had already added me as a named driver until the 31st, although whether that was valid since I now owned the Austin was doubtful. The insurance cost much more than the car. We guessed its value as twenty-five pounds. It was already taxed until March. My father insisted on including Clare as a named driver. I didn’t know why but he was paying.

My Christmas was wonderful. Clare kissed me under the mistletoe at least six times. I wondered why until she told me that he boyfriend had dumped for another last week. I had always liked Clare. Now it seemed that she liked me too.

She talked to me while I tried to improve the car. Fixing the leaks with fibreglass was easy. Clare suggested that I try to bleed air out of the heater. She crawled under the dashboard to press the bleed valve while I revved the engine. After a few attempts the heater became warm then hot. The demister hoses needed repair with tape. Clare’s slim hands reached into places I’d find almost inaccessible.

Dave, one of father’s ex-service friends, called on Boxing Day. Within minutes he was under the bonnet of my car. He found and fixed an air leak on the inlet manifold, adjusted the timing, took out the play on the steering box and made the brakes work properly. I gave him a bottle of the alcoholic drink I’d been given. He and my father had to try it. Clare and I went for a short drive to see what difference the repairs had made.

We were dry, warm and the car steered and stopped. It also reached a speed of sixty-five miles an hour. Most of all it felt safe to drive. Clare drove for a while. She liked the car now it was repaired.

When we returned Dave and Dad were merry.

“Where did you get this drink?” Dave asked.

“On Dartmoor, near Bovey Tracey,” I replied.

“It’s great but i*****l,” Dave said. “It’s distilled, probably from g****s, and has a great taste. Are you driving any more today?”

I shook my head.

“Then have a taste. You too, Clare.”

Dave poured the amber liquid into shot glasses. I sniffed and then sipped cautiously. Clare tossed hers down and spluttered. It had a wonderful taste and a kick like a mule. We left Dave and my father sipping their drinks. In the kitchen Clare asked my mother if she needed help. Mother shook her head.

“No thanks, Clare, but could you two get the living room fire going? It’s laid and just needs a match and some coaxing.”

I lit the fire. Clare and I sat on the settee and watched as the fire struggled into life. I had to add some more kindling before it finally decided to burn properly. We sat back on the settee. Clare snuggled against my side. I eased an arm around her shoulder. Her head rested against me.

“Why are you here, Clare?” I asked. “I like having you here but why aren’t you with your parents at Christmas?”

“They’ve gone to visit my brother and his wife. They’re expecting a baby any day now.”

“And you didn’t want to go?”

Clare snuggled even closer to me.

“No. There isn’t room and I thought I might see you…”

“But I wasn’t going to be here…”

“I know. But you would be here sometime. I’m staying for a week or so and then…”

“Then what?”

“I’ve got a new job starting in the first week of January. I hoped that you would be home before then so that you could help me.”

“Help you? How?”

“Help me move. The new job’s in Plymouth.”

“It is!”

“Yes. Do you mind?”

Did I mind? The only response I could think of was to kiss Clare. The kiss lasted a long time. When it ended Clare was sitting on my lap with her arms around my neck.

“I assume that means you like the idea, Geoff?”

We kissed again. We seemed to spend the next few days kissing. Clare and I went around hand in hand or wrapped around each other. My parents seemed amused and pleased.

My five pounds paid for spares for the car, the petrol and a couple of meals on our return to Plymouth in a reliable car, loaded with Clare’s immediate needs. She stayed at my lodgings for a few days while she was flat hunting before we decided that looking for a flat to share between us would be cheaper.

We were told that Plymouth landlords wouldn’t let a flat to two single people of opposite sexes. I proposed to Clare. She accepted. As an engaged couple we were acceptable tenants, even if we had to wait a few weeks before we could actually marry. We invited the people I had met on my journey home, and all except Fingers came.

Now we’re sharing more than a flat but the old Austin, now more reliable, is still our favourite possession.

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