by Chris Clark
Dad loved that car. We were one of, if not the last, family on our estate to get one. I remember coming home from school one day and there, reverse parked, in the garage it sat. Chrome headlight rim and grill sparkled with the promise of summer days out. Polished bottle green with two gold stripes down each side, a tan leather interior, and the scent of traffic light air freshener; it was his pride and joy. Sunday was wash day; the car drowning under an avalanche of hot soapy Fairy liquid bubbles. I’d watch my reflection magically appear as Dad gently buffed the bodywork until it glistened. I’m sure my mum wished he paid the same amount of attention to her.
“When I push the clutch in, you pull that gearstick into second gear.”
My favourite was when it was just us two and I’d be allowed to sit beside him up front. I could just about see above the dashboard, there was nothing like car seats, booster seats then. Before long I could manage all four gears in time with Dad working the clutch. It was a car made for two. During the summer holidays when Mum was at work and he was home we would take off, just me and my Dad on our own adventure.
“Have we got everything, Private?” he’d command.
“Yes, Sergeant Major!” I’d shout back.
He would then reel off the list of supplies Mum had made for us with me shouting “Check” after each item. Then we were off, in the big green flying machine, with its endless bonnet and AM stereo. Me with my head out the window watching my face contort in the wing mirror, my dad, bolt straight, sunglasses on, right arm perched on the open window, tattooed left one steering us confidently to our destination.
We would always stop at the same place, at the same time, eat our supplies and I would listen in awe to the stories of being a soldier in the Army. He made it sound so important; I wanted him to be as proud of me as I was of him. I wanted to be a soldier like my dad. After we’d eaten our sandwiches we’d walk up the bridge and stand above the trains as they hurtled past beneath our feet. Dad peeled the skin from my apple, each turn exposing more delicate, innocent fleshy white fruit, as the shredded green skin snaked down from the blade of his enamel white handled knife.
He still has that car. It’s so old now it’s almost retro cool amongst the metallic aerodynamic stealth machines of today. He still takes a packed lunch and stands on the bridge watching the 12.15 to Glasgow rattle past underfoot. Only today he’s not the proud soldier I thought he once was.
He’s an old soldier who witnessed too many comrades fail to return.
An old husband who watched his wife walk away after one too many whiskey beatings.
An old father who buried a son. A son, who tried to become the man he wanted me to be, but found the 12:15 to Glasgow a less painful route.
Chris Clark blogs with the ‘continental collective’. He’s never had a Blue Peter Badge or a drawing exhibited in Tony Harts Gallery. He loves Clarks Desert boots, Vespa Scooters, wheat-beer, brick red coloured cups of tea, and his wife’s Sunday dinners.