Tuesday, May 2, 2017


Here's a story of my own that has been on my mind to write. 

By Peter Clothier

My uncle Neil was the back sheep of the family. At least so I believed from conversations picked up from my parents when I was perhaps ten years old. He was my father’s youngest brother (there were three of them) and he had left England as a young man, emigrating to what was then the British colony of Rhodesia. He was, horrors, divorced—an unheard-of scandal in my family in the late 1940s. When he came back to his native country on a visit he brought with him a tan that we, pale Englishers, could only marvel at and envy.

He was, in the eyes of my sister and myself, an impossibly handsome stranger, impeccably dressed in the fashion of those days—always informal in a light suit, white shirt, and ascot. He radiated a kind of cheerful, devil-may-care energy that set him apart from all our other aunts and uncles and inspired in us a sense of wide-eyed, disbelieving awe. His visits in the post-war period, all too rare, were great events in the respectable tedium of our family life.

One of those visits happened during term-time, when I was away at boarding school. I was at first bitterly disappointed, thinking I would miss him; but then thrilled when I was told my uncle was going to stop by and “take me out.” These were momentous occasions for all of us boys during my early schooldays, when parents or relatives would descend for a day, sometimes a whole weekend, allowing us to abscond for a few blissful hours from the dreary prison life of school. 

It was, therefore, with a sense of tingling anticipation that I awaited his arrival. And you can barely imagine how chuffed I was, in front of all my school friends, when Uncle Neil arrived like a Hollywood movie star in a bright-colored, streamlined convertible. They watched with what I was sure was envy as I climbed proudly into the front seat beside him and we headed off down the long school driveway to the main road.

I remember little of the day I spent with Uncle Neil other than the drive. We must have had lunch. I suspect he indulged me with strawberries and cream, my favorite visiting-day treat. But the drive between the chalk cliffs and the green hillsides of the Sussex Downs in a convertible speedster… well, that was memorable!

It happened that not far from the school there was a stretch of “dual carriageway.” There was no such thing as a motorway in those days, and a dual carriageway, with its four lanes separated by a center divider, seemed the most miraculously advanced of modern highway engineering. Sensing its possibilities, my uncle put his foot down on the accelerator and the car shot forward.

The wind blasted into my face and took my hair. I watched the needle follow the arc of the speedometer on the dashboard… sixty, seventy, eighty miles an hour. I was exhilarated. I had never in my life been driven so fast. My uncle glanced over at me with a mischievous grin. Ninety… ninety miles an hour! With a final dip on the accelerator the needle edged up slowly to a hundred… a hundred miles and hour! What a tale to tell when I got back to school! A hundred miles an hour!

And finally Uncle Neil eased his foot back on the accelerator and the car slowed gradually to his normal high rate of speed. He leaned across and patted my knee in a gesture of shared conspiracy. “That was fun,” he said, “wasn’t it?”

It was. Those were the days, of course, before the niceties of seat belts, let alone protective air bags. But then, I knew my uncle was a man who liked to live dangerously and I loved him for it. Loved? No, idolized… Since that glorious drive I have driven a hundred miles an hour myself on more than one occasion, but never with the taste of danger that thrills me even today when I think back on it.  

Think of it, a hundred miles an hour!

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