Lying high and dry
The tide is far out
Fishing boats rest on the strand
Lying high and dry
The tide is far out
Fishing boats rest on the strand
He stands wash’d by waves,
Lost in the sea of time
Sculpture is “Another Time” at Margate (Kent) by Antony Gormley
I passed my driving test in mid-1982, shortly after qualifying as a dentist. Like many dentists I have met, I went through a phase of fascination with cars.
My first car was second-hand. I was advised to buy something not to expensive just in case during my first months on the road I was to have had an accident. I bought an Austin Allegro from a local dealer. It seemed in great condition given its low price. However, it had at least one annoying defect: it would stop suddenly without warning. This defect was due to a loose connection in the ignition system. After a very few months, the car began emitting blue smoke from its exhaust. This was due to some major defect in the engine, which would have cost more to repair than the car itself. When I confronted the dealer, who had sold me the Allegro, he reccommended that I bought a new car. I told him that I was not happy with his response because I had had the car for such a short time.
A local garage did something temporary to the engine to improve its part-exchange value, but also advised me to obtain another vehicle. To my great surprise, the local VW dealer offered me a very good part exchange price if I bought a VW. I bought a VW Polo Formel E. This was not a car for using on the Formula One racetracks, but a comfortable, very easy to drive, practical small car. The ‘Formel E’ related to the fact that the car had a gear setting that allowed low fuel consumotion. This car served me well and would have kept on going for many years, but I had my eyes on owning a Volvo.
The first Volvo I bought was a Volvo 340, a descendant of the Dutch DAF models. Like the Allegro, mine had a persistent problem. It also stopped suddenly and without warning. Despite many visits to the local Volvo dealer, no one could solve the problem. Eventually, Volvo recalled my car for a modification to rectify a design fault in the carburettor. After that, the 340 behaved well and survived a rear end shunt with very little damage. My lust for another car sent me back to the car showrooms after about two years.
I bought a Volvo 240 estate car. Though enormous and looking aerodynamically inefficient, this car was superb. It handled as easily as my relatively tiny VW Polo had done, and it could fly along if speed was needed. Once on the autobahn in West Germany, I managed to move the car at 105 mph uphill, and even then my foot had not completely pressed the accelerator pedal to its fullest extent. This spacious, easily manoevrable car carried me right across Europe from Kent to Belgrade, and on another trip from Kent to Budapest. Why I traded in this Volvo 240 for a newer Volvo 240, I cannot recall. Both 240s were excellent, but a new model of Volvo had arrive on the market place.
I part exchanged my perfectly good Volvo 240 estate for a brand new Volvo 850 saloon. This was a complete disappointment after the 240 models. It looked good by Volvo standards but was not pleasurable to drive. When I took it to a Volvo dealer a couple of years later, I was offered a pathetic part-exchange price against a new Volvo. I was told that the 850 did not sell well second-hand.
Very disappointed with Volvo, I rang the local Saab dealership. When they learned my wife was pregnant, they offered to bring a model of the Saab (in our price range) to our home so that I could take it for a test-drive. As soon as I sat in the driving seat, I knew that we had to own a Saab. We bought a Saab 900, which lasted us well for a few years, and would have lasted us much longer had we not decided to trade it in for a newer model before its resale price dropped too far. We bought a Saab 9-3, which sadly lacked some of the quality of the first Saab we owned.
Ten years ago, we set out to attend our friends’ golden wedding anniversary party in rural Kent. Before leaving London, we replaced our four tires as required after we had the results of our car’s official car inspection (MOT test). We arrived early and decided to visit a bonsai nursery that we had seen a few years earlier. When we returned to the car, ready to drive to the party, I turned the ignition key and all that happened was a grinding noise from the engine. We called the AA (roadside assistance), who arrived quickly. The engineer looked at the enging and discovered that the fan belt had slipped off its mountings. Worse than that, one of the parts of the engine thatrelied on the fan belt had a severely distorted metal part. We asked the enginner roughly how much it would cost to repair the fault. He said he thought it would be at least £300.
Now, when I had last visited the Saab garage, I had asked for a part-exchange quote for our now ageing car. I was told that £400 would be generous. Consequently, we decided not to replace the car, but to sell it to scrap dealers, who gave us a paltry sum for it. Since then, we have not owned an auto, and life has been, surprisingly, less stressful.
You may be wondering how we reached the party. The kind AA engineer took us to a local car hire place, and we picked up a car (paid for by the AA as part of our membership plan), and arrived quite late at the party.
At first sight, I thought I saw a man standing alone and naked out in the waves at Margate on a sunny but very windy afternoon. Crazy, I thought to brave those rollers on suchb a cold day and without a wet suit. Then, I noticed that he was coloureed green and motionless despite the battering he was getting from the sea. He was not a man, but a sculpture.
This sculpture braving the sea is Another Time created in 2013 by the British sculptor Antony Gormley (born 1950).
The clever thing about this sculpture is placing it in the water. Though static, the waves dashing against it can create the illusion that the sculpted man is moving. Also, by putting it in the sea, the whole sea becomes an important part of the artwork.
Although I am not too keen on Gormley’s art works, this piece at Margate, just outside the Turner Contemporary art gallery satisfies me greatly.
You can now see the sculpture and the waves in this short video: http://www.ipernity.com/doc/adam/48815810
A very British place
The country pub
My fiancé and I were walking through a shopping mall in Gillingham (Kent) in about 1993 when we spotted a flowers seller. We stopped to look at what he had on offer and spotted a kind of flower that we had never seen before.
Later, I discovered that they were bunches of alstroemeria flowers. Also known as ‘Peruvian lilies’ and ‘lily of the Incas’, they were named ‘alstroemeria’ by Carl Linnaeus in honour of his friend Clas Alströmer (1736–1794), a Swedish baron.
We bought a bunch from the florist. As we paid, he said:
“They’re good lasters. Should last you a week or two.”
And, so they were. Now, over 25 years since we married, whenever we see alstroemeria on sale, we buy them not only for their longevity, but also because they are very attractive.
I am no gardener, but I enjoy garden, plants, and flowers. When I lived in Kent, I had an enormous garden, which I filled with shrubs because someone advised me that they needed little care and attention. This was good advice.
There was a strip of earth next to where I parked my car at night. I filled this with various shrubs that needed almost no care. One of these plants was a very slow growing conifer, which looked like a miniature Christmas tree. It grew close to where I entered the driver’s door of my car.
One day, I noticed that this tiny tree was no longer in its place. It had disappeared. I thought that maybe it had died and rotted away. After that, I thought little if anything about the missing plant. Where it grew was soon covered with foliage from the neighbouring fast-growing shrubs.
Many weeks later, a uniformed policeman visited my house and asked me if anything, such as garden tools or plants, had gone missing from my land. At first, I thought that this was an odd request. Then, I remembered the mysterious vanishing of my small conifer. I told the policeman about this. Then, he told me that there had been a garden thief operating in the area and the police were collecting evidence.
I told the policeman that I could not believe that my tiny plant could have been of any value for a thief. He explained to me that plants are valuable, and that the maturer they were, the greater their value. I was amazed that there was such a species of criminal as a plant thief. But, since then, I have heard it is quite common, especially amongst respectable looking visitors to horticultural gardens such as Kew Gardens.
Well, as the saying goes: ‘you learn something new everyday’
When we were trying to sell a house in Kent many years ago, the estate agent put a “sold” sign outside it when, in reality, someone had made an offer, but only an offer without much commitment. I removed the “sold” part of the sign to reveal the “for sale” part of the sign that was hidden underneath it. Then, I rang the agent, told him off for being premature about advertising our house as being sold. Also, I told him what I had done about it. He replied cheekily: “Good man”, without making any apology. This same agent had told us days after we put our house sale in his hands: “Don’t worry about it. I’ll sell it, okay. Now, you can just go out and spend the money right now.”
The agent’s somewhat infuriating, unapologetic answer regarding his sign was typical of people living in that part of Kent. If, for example, someone caused a problem, such as, for example, scratching your car or blocking you into a parking place, and then you alerted the miscreant to the problem, he (usually) or she would not apologise, but instead say cheekily: “Oh yeah?”
There are two other nonchalant responses that continue to infuriate me after complaining about something or having pointed out a serious problem. These are: “These things happen” and “such is life”.
During my last few years in dental practice, I entered my seventh decade of life; I passed the age of sixty. In a way it was creepy: I had become older than my mother was when she passed away, having suffered painfully during the last few months of her life.
As a dentist, I knew the age of all my patients. Their dates of birth were recorded on their record cards. I used to look at people of my age, and either think that I was looking good compared to them, or that they were doing better than me. Generally, everyone looked young in my eyes, even those who were my senior. Those, who were younger than me usually, but not always, looked young. Interestingly, those, whom I knew to be much older than me did not look as old to me as I might have thought when I was younger. For example, patients in their seventies and eighties would have seemed ‘ancient’ to me when I was in my thirties and forties, but having reached my sixties, they no longer looked so old from my vantage point.
When I was in a dental practice in Kent during my thirties, I worked with a young girl, ‘T’, a first-class dental surgery assistant. She must have been in her late teens or very early twenties at the time. In that practice, we received the record cards of new patients before they entered the surgery. One day, T handed me the record card for a new patient, ‘Mrs M’. As she did so, she said:
“Look, she’s eighty-nine. What can she possibly want at her age? Surely not new teeth – she won’t be wearing them for long.”
Mrs M strode into the surgery and looked around.
“What lovely linoleum flooring,” she said, “where can I get some of that? It would suit my new kitchen.”
“I’ll find out for you. Please sit down. Make yourself comfy,” I said, “how did you get here?”
“I took a taxi, dear, but now that I know where you are, I’ll drive myself next time.”
I carried out the preliminary dental examination, and agreed a treatment plan with Mrs M.
“It will take four or five visits to make your dentures,” I explained.
“That’s alright, dear, I’ll fit them in around my work.”
“What is that you do?” I enquired.
“I do the accounts for my son’s business, dear. Keeps me occupied,” she said, getting up to leave.
When the patient had left the room, I looked at T and said:
“Never judge a book by its cover, or a patient by her age.”
I passed my Driving Test in 1982. Naturally, I wanted a car after that. A good friend, a dental colleague who was keen on motor cars, suggested quite sensibly that it would be best if my first car was not brand new. He felt that as I was an inexperienced driver, I was more likely to damage it. With his assistance, I chose a second-hand Austin Allegro, which looked in good condition and had not done a huge mileage. Neither he nor I would have guessed what a challenge this vehicle would prove to be.
All went well at first. After a few weeks, I was driving along a motorway between the Medway Towns, where I worked, and London when suddenly the car lost power. I managed to steer the Allegro to the hard shoulder. The engine was not working. I turned the ignition key and the engine sprung back into life. I continued to London uneventfully.
The problem, the engine’s spontaneous and unexpected switching off, occurred on a number of other motorways and main roads, sometimes at night. I returned to the garage where I had bought the car, and their mechanics checked the car thoroughly (so they said). They could find nothing wrong. Reassured, I continued using it, but the same problem recurred regularly. I got to a point where I used to drive along the motorway with my hand holding the ignition key in the start position, so that the motor could not turn off.
After a few months in rented accommodation, I decided to buy a house when I discovered that the monthly mortgage repayments were the same as my monthly rental payments. After looking at about nine properties, I chose one. Before moving in, I used to visit its soon to be former owners in order to settle details of the house sale. On one visit, I parked my Allegro in front of the driveway where two of the occupants’ cars were parked. When I was ready to leave, the Allegro would not start. The owner’s son, a man in his twenties, came out to look at the car. Within minutes, he discovered what the garage mechanics had missed. The lock into which the ignition key fitted was loose: it did not engage firmly in the ‘on’ position. So, when the car vibrated, the key could be thrown out of the ‘on’ position into an ‘off’ position.
When the boy’s father, who was taking an interest in the proceedings, saw what his son had discovered, he fetched a wire, and touched its two ends to a couple of places in the engine. Suddenly, there was a blue flash followed by a strange smell and some white smoke.
“Aw, now look what you’ve gawn and done, Dad,” said the son, “I reckon you’ve blown a fuse.”
Almost as quick as a flash, the young man said that he would run up the road to buy a new fuse, which he did. He inserted it, and then carefully started my car.
I continued using the car for a while. Soon after the fuse incident, the car began belching black smoke instead of the normal exhaust. Once again, I returned to the dealer, who had sold me the car. After I told him what was wrong, he said:
“Sounds like you’ll need a new engine, my friend.”
“But,” I protested, “I’ve only had the car for four months.”
“Such is life, young man.”
I took the car to another repair shop. This was run by a wizened old man. He looked at the engine, and said:
“I can do something about that smoke, but it won’t last long. My advice to you is to sell it as soon as I’ve mended it and before the problem returns and the engine burns out.”
I took this wise man’s advice. The local Volkswagen dealership were happy to take my Allegro as part payment for my brand-new Polo vehicle.
Soon after taking possession of the Polo, I visited my aunt and uncle in London. Their reaction to my new car gave away something of what they had secretly thought about me in the thirty years they had known me. After spending a few hours with them, they accompanied me to the road. I had not told them about my purchase. When they saw me unlocking my pristine Polo, my aunt said:
“Is that yours, Adam?”
Then my uncle said:
“I never imagined you would have ever bought a new car. It’s the first normal thing you have ever done.”