We had come to the end of our training and when Dad picked me up I had the same feeling that I’d had when I had driven through the gates of Keele University for the last time, having spent three glorious years enjoying myself, discovering English Literature and listening to Molière’s plays on a long-playing record, in a small room, presided over by my somnolent French tutor.
With my exquisitely educated brain I had two thoughts: I wish I’d done a degree in astro-physics and now the shit is really going to hit the fan! I had delayed the inevitable moment when I would actually have to earn a living, but now the time had come when I would be put to the test.
Dad took me up to the Long Mynd for the weekend. I didn’t resist. Carol went off to spend some time with Dave and wander round some fields talking to pigs and cows. It would be a moment of calm, a chance to reflect and to look forward to putting what I had learned into practice. It would be a time to go for long walks and evoke fond memories of Rick and I hiding in the forest while glider pilots circled over us taking notes. Dad didn’t want to talk much, so we listened to the Mike Sam Singers. The least bad tune, as I remember, was ‘Trains and Boats and Planes’. I watched my dad as he drove round the winding country roads lightly drumming the steering wheel with his fingers and smiling to himself. He looked happy and kind of slow, as though he were contemplating something of very little importance or of great philosophical enlightenment. Then he told me again to take care when I drove round narrow lanes that there were not walkers on a blind bend. My father was a mystery to me all my life and now, when I say some of the same things to my own children, I wish he could hear me.
Gladys and Vera were in the kitchen, cackling away at some private joke. They made sure I was welcome and dosed me with tea and homemade fruit cake, asking me whether I was still ‘chasing after that poor young boy’.
‘It was nothing serious. Just a bit of fun,’ I said. ‘Anyway, I already have a boyfriend.’
This, apparently, was a hilarious thing to say.
Next morning the weather on the mountain was good, with a clear sky and a favourable wind direction, so that launches would be possible. Everyone looked forward to a good day’s flying. After lunch I went over to the airfield and Dad took me up in his two-seater. The sound when you are inside a glider is eerie. The wind makes a soft, whistling noise that seems to wrap around you, as though you are giving the air a shape and a voice. I felt safe up in the sky in an aeroplane made of fibreglass, with no engine and only a few thermals to hold it up. I felt safe because I was with my dad and he was doing the thing he loved most in the world. He told me that there had been an accident at one of the other clubs and that it had said in the newspaper that the plane had crashed and burst into flames. Luckily I realised that this was impossible and could join in with the irony of it all.
I liked being in the sky with my dad. He was quiet most of the time, and when he spoke he did nothing to disturb the peace. He taught me some of the things that I treasure most: about being consumed by an interest and, on dark nights out on the mountain, about the stars. He knew their names and showed me the constellations, just as I do now, when I can get my children to take any notice.
That night there was a phone call for me on the clubhouse payphone, which was in the draughty and very public entrance hall. Dad said that it was Rick. He assumed, as I did, that it was Rick, and not Rick.
‘Hello,’ said a voice I didn’t recognise.
‘Hello,’ I answered.
‘It’s Rick,’ the voice continued.
And, just as I was about to say, ‘No, it’s not!’ I realised that it was in fact Rick.
‘Hello Rick.’ I had one of those moments where my brain lags slightly behind my mouth and I couldn’t think of what to say next.
‘How are you?’ he asked. He was very young and very well educated.
‘Freezing, actually. What are you up to?’ I was not curious, but I thought I should ask.
‘Thinking about you,’ he said.
‘How sweet,’ I replied.
I liked the boy, but there was no future in it. Bugger and damnation I was cold. Anyway, it turned out that Rick wanted to play something on the piano to me. It was ‘A song for Guy’ or something like that. Elton John, I think. He was rather good, but the heartfelt notes resonated relentlessly and generally went on a bit. By this time my extremities were turning blue and I was sniffing.
‘That was lovely,’ I said.
‘Would you like me to play another?’ He offered, sweetly, obviously mistaking my snuffling for heart-broken emotion.
My mind raced. ‘I have to do some reading.’ It was a poor excuse.
‘Oh, okay. Can I call again?’
‘Sure. I mean, yes.’
He didn’t and I was disappointed. Everyone likes to be adored, after all.
The rest of the weekend was pleasant, apart from when I found an enormous spider in the shower and had to listen to spider stories for the rest of the evening, sitting round the clubhouse bar. I played billiards and lost some money to the one-armed bandit before walking out to my caravan in the dark, windswept night. I looked up at the sky and suddenly felt that I belonged on the mountain and not behind a blackjack table on Edgware Road. My bed was ever so slightly damp, which was normal, and I snuggled into my duvet and thought about the next day. Carol would be there and she would have the keys to our new flat in Willesden Green. It would be fun and, after all, it would not be forever. As I closed my eyes and smiled to myself at the thought of the night sky above me and all around, and pictured the glowing lights of the scattered houses in the valley below, I thought of Rick playing his piano.
Find out about Bev and Carol at Playboy - click on the link above and download 'Bunny on a Bike' for a fun read.