The lane to their house is downhill all the way; rutted and pot-holed – the very essence of an unmade road that, at the top of the incline, bisects a sixth hole – a rather pleasing, fairly straightforward, par four with a very slight dog-leg to the left measuring just three hundred and twenty four yards from tee to pin.
A none-too-challenging hole within which PG Woodhouse’s plus-fours would have felt very much at home; heather and gorse intermingle among the fairway bunkers, ready to snag that wayward mashie-niblick or heartily-hooked and totally miscued drive.
Beware, golf-balls is just one sign among many; private – keep out seems to be the common denominator; no dogs allowed to poo anywhere (well, it doesn’t actually say that) – it just shows a picture of a small dog contentedly crapping with a dirty great red cross across it; golf buggies this way; dogs only on a lead that way etc etc constitute this sign writer’s paradise happily informing everyone everything they cannot do – the saggingly-sorry juncture of leafy suburbia and the countryside.
Other signs obligingly advertise the imaginatively thought-out names of the generously proportioned houses either side of the rutted, bumpy lane – The Firs, Two Pines, The Clock House, The Oaks (though I’ll be bxxxxxd if I’ve ever spotted any), The Red House; Three Pines, Great House Cottage – just a small six bed-roomed place which, presumably means that the Great House itself is… pretty big, Garden Lodge and… you get the picture – this is where size matters and not a lane upon which any house is numerically challenged.
Outside each and every one stand the recently-shampooed and blow-dried obvious; some seriously heavy metal – top of the range 4x4’s with smokestack-blacked-out windows vie with each other as second cars. Just about good enough for Mum (or the Nanny if Mum’s not awake in time) to take the kids on the daily back and forth school-run with their obligatory SatNav as well as television screens built into the back of the front seats switched on for good measure. Mum / Nanny won’t get lost; the kids won’t get bored or miss any of their favourite tv shows or DVDs.
Sunday morning, ten past ten – the thwack of a club hitting the small white ball, propelling it straight down the straight and narrow, echoes in amongst the pine trees as I pause beside a huge Rhododendron bush that provides an evergreen barricade between the course and the gravelly lane – eager to empty myself of the considerable volumes of coffee I’ve partaken of earlier. Time to adopt position Y and… pee like a German.
Moments later and steam has started to rise in a most satisfying manner just as another thwack, accompanied by a vehement curse, rents the morning air; followed hard on its heels by the unmistakable sound of a small white ball cannoning off one pine tree after another.
The ball that evidently didn’t hurtle forward in quite the manner in which it was intended to, lands in the midst of the Rhododendron only to roll forward and halt in the midst of the slowly vapourising puddle I’ve Teutonically created.
There are some friends upon which one can simply ‘drop-in’ and there are others when its far wiser to make what more or less constitutes an appointment.
These two and their two teenage children only really understand category #1 and, while one answers the door, the other will invariably be already switching the kettle on in the background or brandishing a bottle-opener – obviously dependant on the time of one’s arrival.
I’m on the flat part of the lane now, the golfer who’s party got whacked well out of bounds is but a small shape in the rear-view mirror and… oh shit, there are cars parked up and… drat they’ve got visitors. Wait a moment though… that’s… their two cars and… why is that huge removal lorry parked there and… what on earth is my all-round-gastronaut-fine-wine-loving-friend who I forgave many years back for his undying affection for Arsenal FC doing… heaving a bookcase into it?
Wind the window down as I sashay to a scrunching, pot-hole-enhanced bouncy-castle halt and offer a breezy Hello.
Ahhhhhhhhhhh… Neil, my good man comes a familiar voice… what a lovely surprise. How the devil are you?
I’m fine…. I was just passing (which is true since daughter the youngest was out and about – I knew I should have called ahead) and… Ummm… it rather looks like you’re moving … Frankly, I can’t think of anything else to say; its not as if they’re the kind of parents to throw their young out of the nest even though their son has just appeared from the back of the truck. Bit short notice… you didn’t say..?
Ahhhhhhh yes… we’ve been… repossessed.
You’ve been whaaaaaaat? I gasp.
Yes… ‘fraid so. It all happened rather quickly.
But… I splutter… we spoke what… ten days ago… remember, the day you couldn’t get to the meeting in London and…
I know… remember I’d said something had cropped up?
Something, indeed, had cropped up and over the course of the next twenty minutes, all is revealed. It would be entirely wrong and completely impolitic to reveal certain elements – I’ve always believed that some matters remain entirely private.
Suffice to say, these are two who’ve certainly had their financial ups – days when only the very finest champagne would suffice – have also known the downs.
And yet, for the past four or five years have happily weathered the small financial storm that overtook them about five years ago. Bills have been met, their children privately educated, arrangements with banks properly fulfilled, successful businesses – ie plural – have been and continue to be run from their home, taxes are paid – they are, basically, thoroughly decent, law-abiding citizens.
And yet, over the course of the last however long, their bank has decided to act tougher than tough, not just by calling in at very short notice previously-made arrangements (because they can) but – and I quote here – changed the goalposts every single day without the courtesy of allowing us to talk to the people who were making all these decisions; we’d satisfied their demands and the pressure was off – that all happened on the morning I was meant to be in London with you – and then… forty-eight hours later, it just got worse and worse, they started asking for the impossible and…
He shrugs… his distraught wife – who, in over twenty-five years, I’ve never once seen shed a tear other than of happiness on their wedding day stands weeping and forlorn – looking over the fence at what was their family’s home. Don’t worry… he puts his arm around her… its just bricks and mortar. We’ll be fine.
The Dunkirk spirit.
I drive on – the kettle’s already been packed away in a box, destination their new, rented accommodation on the South Coast.
For some, anonymous bully to take away someone’s home is extreme… and, I can understand how that can occur if (say) one runs up vast bills, can’t (won’t) pay back the overdraft, have credit card debts in the multi-thousands, can’t (won’t) pay the poll tax and other similar charges while living the life of Riley. In other words – if you’re really a bad person., a threat to society and the overall banking system
These two (and their two) aren’t… and, whatever the(ir) crime, the punishment meted out… of losing their home… does NOT apply.
As I drive on toward my appointment with a bacon sandwich chez son and hugely hung-over heir, thoughts turn to something else I’d been told in the last hour… in the queue trying to deal with / cope with the about to be enormity of loss was a lady… just a normal single parent who’d been told she had to come up with a huge (as in many, many thousands of pounds) amount in… three days.
She’d worked her proverbial off and had secured the money.
It was to be a bank transfer and (for whatever reasons) that’d take seven days. She told that to her interrogators – thinking that they’d show some form of clemency – who calmly said no deal. We gave you three and on the fourth, the bailiffs will walk in and change your locks.
To be hung drawn and quartered in this manner is not good.
All around – and its reported everywhere – there are those who sponge off the state… doesn’t matter which state… America… Peru… Britain… France… Germany…. Sardinia… Canada… and everywhere else; it happens and… yet… with the world in economic free-fall… what happens? What really happens?
Seems to this Voltaire on its grassy knoll that those who’re busting their collective arses and trying to be good are the first to be… punished.
While hating every second of it, this living out of a suitcase maybe… just maybe… has a few merits.
My alcohol-drenched, lain on the sofa and nursing his unwisely-imbibed-whisky-sodden-head awaiting-his-bacon-sandwich son recently mailed me from his totally sober, corporate lair… Dad, what’s your address… his forthcoming will occur in California during the eighth month of this year and his about-to-be outlaws wouldn’t mind an address to which they’ll send the… to about-to-be son-in-law’s (dysfunctional) father.
I’ve yet to reply.
Tomorrow, I’m at the House Of Commons. I’ll be talking to a set of seriously gown-up types about Project-X that, itself, is about to undergo a name-change. All the good web-site domain names have gone; but – with a great deal of help I’ve narrowed the selection down to… something that works; tells it like it is without being too wordy and… I’m going to be needing business cards.
Easy enough to design… and they’re designed and printed out – my contact details (such as they are) are there in black and white; the shirt is clean, the suit pressed and the boots… yeah, my sexy boots are ready to rock and fxxxxn’ roll.
But… there’s one thing I can’t wear or type onto a business card: passion.
Its brimming over… it informs everything; it is the central point.
Tonight and while writing this, I watched a truly extraordinary tv documentary; a bloke who set sail in his Kayak – aiming to be the first chap to paddle his way from Australia to New Zealand. He knew he’d face mountainous seas… knew it’d maybe cost him his life… his wife, his child… his everything.
But… he set sail… or rather… he put paddle to water with their absolute blessing and, after one false start… off he went.
Why? It had to be done… and… he had the passion and drive to do it.
That he didn’t survive is a matter of record… though, he did it, driven on by… a beating heart. By his passion to achieve. His upturned and empty Kayak was found within sight of land.
Project-X is driven too… not by an address / a suitcase under the stairs or in a closet… not by a mobile ‘phone number or a web-address… but… by passion.
My dear friends from the bottom of the bumpy, graveled lane will re-build… that bit of adversity – just a minor inconvenience in the wider scheme of things… they have the passion, the will, the want and desire to make good. And… they will. The lady who lost her Kayaking husband; the mother who’s husband drowned will help their son re-build because they both believed in his… passion.
Its more than a business card; opens more doors than a suit; better than a tie and a shed-load sexier than the best boots.