Nigel had always had a passion for cars and all things automotive. From an early age he was able to identify the makes of cars, well before he could read and write. When his parents took him anywhere in the family saloon, usually on their way to their annual seaside holiday, the infant Nigel would point to a car they passed, or which they were stuck behind in a traffic jam, and shriek, 'Ford Anglia!' Or 'Rover!' much to the adult's displeasure.
Nigel was an only child. His mother and father had been married over five years before he appeared on the scene. A bit of a surprise. They had virtually given up hope of having their own baby, and had even considered adoption as an alternative. June was in her early thirties when he was born and Jim a few years older. Their lives, as a childless couple, had got into a rather set routine, so a baby had tended to unsettle their ordered existence.
Nigel had succumbed to an endless succession of childhood ailments. There was nothing out of the ordinary about any of this, but, considering the length of time it took for them to have their own child, Nigel was to them an extremely precious baby. As a result, any slight sneeze, cough or wheeze and June would panic. She was constantly going to the doctor's surgery with the child, even for the merest hint of an illness. When Jim was at work, she would phone him to tell him the details of the slightest cough Nigel had, or when he child was asleep at night, she would go into his bedroom on the slightest pretext and stand and watch the sleeping child.
He played endlessly on the lounge floor with his growing collection of toy cars, constructing complex road networks out of building bricks, garages, filling stations, bridges and motorway service areas. His mother, a very fastidious woman, was always keen to keep the family home clean and tidy, and was constantly fussing around clearing up the lounge to make sure Nigel's toys were cleared away before her husband got home from work.
One night, not long after they had gone to bed her husband had gone downstairs to get a drink of water, and , not having turned on the lounge light, managed to tread on one of Nigel's Dinky toy cars. As he had no slippers on, the impact of his heel on the sharp metal of the toy had hurt so much that he had let out a loud expletive.
One afternoon, when Nigel was about three years old, his mother was baking a cake, and concentrating hard on following the recipe, which she had found in a magazine she read avidly. She hadn't noticed Nigel, who, up until that precise moment, had been playing happily with his cars on the lounge carpet; disappear noiselessly through the front door and into the street. Usually the gate was secured tightly shut, with a draw-bolt that the inquisitive child could not release with his tiny fingers. But, this afternoon the postman or a deliveryman who had come to the house had not locked it, possibly.
On discovering that the child was no longer playing in the lounge, when she took him a drink of orange juice a little later that morning, she was somewhat shocked and began to panic when she found the front door open, and, on looking outside, the gate. She ran out onto the pavement and peered up and down the whole length of the road to see where Nigel had gone.
June shrieked his name at the op of her voice as she ran along the street, having the effect of making people turn and stare at her, open-mouthed. One woman said: "There is a little boy near the greengrocer's, sitting on the kerb, talking to an elderly gentleman.
She turned and fled, encouraged by this information, but in her haste forgetting to thank the woman. She turned the corner into the main shopping street and she saw ahead a knot of half-a-dozen people standing on the pavement near the parade of shops. It wasn't clear at first what was going on, but as she got closer she could see that they were surrounding Nigel, who stood in the centre of the little gathering.
"Nigel! What ever is going on?"
"You know the boy?" said a woman.
"Yes, of course. I'm his mother."
"He nearly got knocked down by a car! This gentleman," she said, pointing to a tall, elderly, distinguished military-looking gentleman "prevented him from getting run over!"
"My name's Harry Bevan. How d'you do? He held out a neatly gloved hand to the very bemused June, who took the proffered hand and grabbed it, not really sure what to do. Harry shook it very vigorously, and June was aware that, for his age, which must have been at least eighty-five, that he certainly hadn't lost any strength with the passing of the years.
"I really am most grateful to you . . . Harry. Nigel's a really naughty boy. He shouldn't have left the house on his own," June said. She was relieved to have found him, but was overwhelmed by fear for his safety.
"So, he's your boy is he? We've been having a great time together, looking at the cars. He knows a lot about them, too!"
"I really am sorry if he's been a trouble too you!"
"No trouble at all. Just glad I was able to prevent a rather nasty accident."
June held tightly to Nigel's hand as she spoke to Harry. The rest of the crowd seemed to drift away gradually, having seen that Nigel had been delivered safely to his mother.
"I used to have a car and drove everywhere once upon a time, but I can't drive anymore, due to my failing eyesight."
"I'm so sorry to hear that!" said June.
"I used to own a Jaguar, you know."
" Yes. An XJ. Beautiful beast. 2.8 engine. Over-head cam, polished pistons, double carburettor and all that. Didn't bother with the air conditioning, though. Didn't see the point. Just wind down the window and let the wind blow in. Damned fine car, though. Quiet as a lamb. Had real walnut panels on the inside of the doors and the dash. Real leather seats, too. Used to sink into them, smelt divine. Sorry to see her go . . ."
June could see he had a misty-eyed look on his face as he recalled the car.
"I really am most grateful to you, Harry. I must repay your kindness. Nigel might have got run over if you hadn't stopped him."
"Oh, I don't know. Anyone would have done it!"
"I know!" she said, right off the top of her head, "Come to tea, one afternoon!"
"Oh, I really couldn't impose . . ."
"You really wouldn't! Please. As a thank you?"
"I could pick you up in the car. Where do you live?"
"Not far. Warnock Street. It's the other side of Fletcher Grove. Number 8a."
"How about . . . Next Wednesday afternoon? Around 3 o'clock?"
"Sounds fine. I've not much on next Wednesday."
So it was settled. June would drive to pick up Harry and take him home to have afternoon tea with them the following Wednesday. It would be nice to have someone to entertain and it would be good for Nigel to have someone to talk to about cars. Besides, she could bake one of her Victoria sponges that always went down well with everyone who visited.
Harry certainly enjoyed his visit, his tea (especially June's Victoria sponge, filled with butter-icing and strawberry jam and topped with a dusting of icing sugar.) and Nigel's collection of toy cars. He became a regular visitor to the family home, occasionally bringing Nigel presents of Dinky toys, to be added to his rapidly expanding collection, and became an 'honorary uncle' to the boy. They quite often met 'Uncle Harry' on their trips out, June pushing Nigel's buggy, when they visited the park, the library or just passing in the street.
One particular toy car Harry had given Nigel became his favourite, and would be taken everywhere he went, even to bed, playschool, and the Primary school, when he eventually started there.
The family went on holiday to the seaside, and most years they drove to Southwold. One year, when Nigel was about five or six, the 'Harry Car' as Nigel had christened it, came with them to Southwold. Nigel played with it on the beach, as his father Jim built him a magnificent model town, all made of sand, with an intricate system of rivers, streams and lakes, all fed by a rock-pool higher up the beach, and left by the tide when it went out. There were houses dotted throughout the whole road and river model, with bridges over the rivers and tunnels going through the ingeniously constructed mountain range. Nigel would spend hours on end playing with his model cars, pushing them along Jim's network or roads on the beach.
One evening, as soon as the tide turned, and began to creep steadily up the beach and engulfed the sand town, they began to pick up their belongings and head off up the steps towards the town, in time for their evening meal at the small hotel where they were staying.
When it was time for Nigel to go to bed, 'Harry Car' could not be found. Both Jim and June searched high and low for the toy, emptying all their bags they'd brought back to the hotel from the beach, but no sign of it could be found. Nigel became very temperamental and began to cry and it took ages for his parents to calm him down before he went to sleep, and they had to convince the child that they would have another attempt to find the toy the following day.
The next morning, immediately after breakfast, they trekked back to their usual spot on the beach. Again Jim made his son another sand town on the beach, spending all morning in the bright sunshine constructing more rivers, roads, mountains and bridges for Nigel's cars. Then, quite by chance, Jim was digging in the sand while constructing a castle, and there in the sand, a few inches below the surface, was 'Harry Car,' a little sandy, but nonetheless no worse for wear for his ordeal of being buried. Nigel was overjoyed that the toy had been returned to him, and was all smiles and grins, and as a result, Jim bought them all huge ice creams from the kiosk on the promenade as a celebration.
As Nigel grew, and the years passed, his passion for all things automotive and mechanical grew. By the time he was fourteen, his parents had bought him a bicycle, a brand new, shiny model, with all the latest refinements on it, such as bell, battery-powered front-and-rear lights, carry-bag, pump and special pedals with reflectors inside. As an only child, money was no object. On his birthday they had concealed the amazing machine in the garage, covered in wrapping
Paper and tied with string and with a large label on the handlebars with 'Happy Birthday, Nigel!' written on it.
Nigel came downstairs to be greeted by a large pile of presents from friends and family, and, after he'd opened them all, Jim went outside to the garage and returned with the paper-shrouded bicycle. Nigel's face was a picture of total happiness once he had torn the wrapping paper from the bicycle. He would be the envy of his friends when they saw the magnificent machine.
Unfortunately for Nigel, the appearance of the bicycle resulted in not only envy within his small circle of friends, but also bitter jealousy. It was this jealousy which lead to one unfortunate incident, when someone, (and it was never made evident who was the culprit, but June had her suspicions.) decided to tamper with the brakes on the bicycle.
Nigel went out on his own on the bicycle, one sunny summer evening, after school, and once he had completed his homework. Jim and June were very insistent on this matter, making sure all his schoolwork was done before he went outside to play with his friends. He rode away from the town, far out into the countryside. At last he was free from his parents, from their constant control of his life, from the restrictions they had imposed over what he did, what he ate, what he read, what he watched on television, and most of all, how he behaved.
He pedalled through the open countryside, and past wide green fields full of grazing cattle, horses and sheep. The green of the countryside was so invigorating for someone brought up in a town, where all was brick, concrete and stone. He stopped in the gateway of a farmyard, and marvelled at the space around him, the openness of the view and the sheer blue of the sky. He drew breath, and, having had a rest for five minutes or so, got back on the saddle of the bicycle and sped on.
His route took him up a hill, the gradient of which was reasonably steep, so he was obliged to dismount and push the bicycle up the hill. Once at the top he was able to admire the view over the countryside for a short while, before getting back on his machine and cycling down the other side of the hill. He pedalled for a short distance, but then he stopped pedalling and rested his feet on the pedals and allowed the bicycle to free wheel. The bicycle gained speed as it rolled down the hill, and Nigel was thrilled by the speed the bicycle attained, the wind that whistled through his hair, and, over all, the sheer exhilaration. But when he came to apply the brakes as the bicycle got to the lower part of the hill, there was a problem. They would not slow the speeding bicycle. There was a really unpleasant clanking sound as he again attempted to put on the brakes, and as he looked down at the spinning front wheel, he could see the entire mechanism, which controlled the brakes, had come completely adrift and was suspended by the brake cable that was still attached to the bicycle frame.
At the foot of the hill the road took a sharp left turn, to go round a small wooded area, which had a gateway from the road in it, leading to a car park and a picnic area.
The bicycle continued on it's speeding flight, with Nigel on board, desperate to halt it's rapid descent, and to hopefully come to a gradual stop before the road made it's sharp left turn. Unfortunately this didn't happen and the bicycle and its panicking rider continued on its straight course into the ditch and pile of brambles directly ahead and where the road should have veered leftwards. The unfortunate Nigel sailed over the handlebars and landed directly on top of the brambles, while the bicycle landed up nearby and it's wheels continuing to spin.
Fortunately for Nigel he didn't have to lie in the bramble bush for long. At the precise moment that the bicycle and Nigel shot off the road and crashed headlong into the ditch, a car was coming over the brow of the hill behind him and the driver saw exactly what happened. The driver was a middle-aged man who was with his wife, out enjoying the summer weather after a hard day's work, and was on their way to a pub they knew and frequented regularly in the summer months. As soon as they saw what had happened to Nigel, they drew up in their car, and got out and went over to the unfortunate boy lying in the ditch.
"Are you hurt?" asked the driver.
Nigel laid in a heap within the brambles, blinking his eyes as he attempted to focus on the approaching couple, blood oozing from a gash on his forehead.
"My arm hurts. I think it might be broken."
"We'd better call for an ambulance. He needs to go to hospital," said the woman. She ran back to the car and scrambled about inside until she sound her mobile and bought it out. She quickly keyed in '999' and spoke to the operator.
"They'll be here in around fifteen minutes," she said.
A while later Nigel was on his way to the Accident and Emergency department at the nearest hospital in the ambulance.
Jim and June received the news of their son's accident from a doctor at the hospital who telephoned them and were somewhat horrified when they learned of Nigel's injuries. Although not life-threatening, he was badly bruised and his arm broken, but the thing that was injured most of all was his pride.
Try as they might, Jim and Jean couldn't prevent their growing teenage son from getting involved with some form or other of trouble, usually caused by alcohol, his growing interest in the opposite sex, cars, and particularly those which could be driven at considerable speed. He got in with a crowd of other lads who his parents considered troublemakers and not the sort of boys they wanted him to be associated with. One of them, a little older than Nigel, had passed his Driving Test and had his own car, bought by a father who could afford to pay for such vehicles. Nigel had gone out with his friends in this car, one evening, with the intention of impressing some girl with their driving skills, on the way to a pub, where they occasionally met up to drink. Nigel had sat in the back of the car as three of them had driven off from the pub, having had several pints of beer to drink. The owner, and driver, of this car, had sped off, with his mates on board, really in no fit state to drive, and pushed the car to go faster and faster, through the streets of the town and eventually out into the countryside until they got to some narrow, twisty country lanes, with high hedges and banks on either side.
It was getting dark by now, so the headlights were on, and it was difficult to see exactly what was up ahead. The car continued on its way, by now exceeding 60 miles per hour. Suddenly they came to a very twisty section of road, and there was barely room for two vehicles to pass, in either direction. Without warning the driver had to jam on the brakes very quickly, as an approaching car met them on one of the bends in the road. The car Nigel was in ended up on the bank, and on it's side, and the driver received lacerations to his hands and face, while Nigel and another passenger had to be cut free by firemen, who came to the scene after someone telephoned for their assistance, having heard the crash from their house further up the road.
Nigel and the other passengers were taken to the Accident and Emergency department of the local hospital, where the doctors and nurses there treated their injuries. Nigel's parents were informed by telephone of their son's injuries and they immediately rushed to the hospital to be at their son's bedside. He was in a really bad state when they walked into the ward, covered in blood across his forehead, one arm bandaged and plastered, with just his eyes and mouth visible through the gaps in the bandaging.
June, on seeing her child lying in the hospital bed, had to stifle a cry, by putting her fist in her mouth, with tears running down her face. Her husband was shocked also, but managed to withhold showing his emotions.
"This is what I said would happen!" he said to June, as they later sat in the waiting room outside the ward, "He should never have got involved with those youths. He's been led astray."
June knew that Jim would giver the 'I told you so' speech. He'd expected something to happen to their son and now his fears had been realised.
"After all the money we've lavished on him!" he continued.
The accident created a rift between Nigel and his father, but his mother was more than keen to forget the whole incident. Rows broke out over the most trivial of matters, to such an extent that mealtimes became unbearable. The accident affected Nigel's schoolwork, because he found it difficult to write, due to the plaster cast on his right arm. As a consequence of this his G.C.S.E. results were very poor, and he left school with only an E in English Literature.
Any thought of his continuing his education was immediately abandoned. This further caused the rift between father and son to widen.
Nigel, meanwhile, had been applying for jobs, and his intention was that the further from home the better. He eventually replied to one application, in a town some considerable distance from his parents. It was for a job working for a local newspaper, as an office junior at the "Wermley Gazette." The general ideas was that he would be trained in all aspects of the running of a newspaper and eventually work his way up to becoming a reporter on the paper. He would start working in the office, taking customer's orders for advertising that they wanted running, answering the telephone, dealing with all the paper work that went with the job, and making sure that everything was correct before it was sent down to the printers on time. He might sometimes be expected to take on the job of receptionist whenever called upon at short notice, usually in times of sickness.
Nigel was more than happy to go off on his own, travelling to Warmly by train, with all his worldly goods in two large suitcases. June had insisted on taking him by car, but Nigel was quite adamant that he was going off to start his new job on his own. The newspaper had even organised his accommodation with one of the senior reporters, a Mr Radcliffe and his wife, who lived on the outskirts of Warmly. Nigel would travel by train. He rather enjoyed the thought of the long journey as it afforded him time to be on his own (perhaps for the first time in years.) so he could indulge his reading habit.
All this independence was all well and good, thought June. She was, deep down, really concerned about Nigel. He'd never been away from home on his own before. He had no idea how to look after himself, so it was just as well he was going to live with a family. They'd be sure to look after him, make sure he got enough to eat and be company for him. But there was still a rift between Jim and Nigel. They'd hardly spoken a word since the car accident and Nigel had come out of hospital. June was keen to get things sorted out between them before Nigel left for Warmly. As it stood, this was extremely unlikely to happen, as both father and son were stubborn in their refusal to heal things. She eventually decided that things would have to sort themselves out given time.
So the day arrived when he was packed and ready to go. It was a Sunday. His two suitcases full of clothes and a leather holdall with odds and ends in it. The train was due to leave at eleven-fifteen, and he'd be on the train for over two hours. June fussed about and even made him a pack-up, a few sandwiches, a packet of crisps and a chocolate bar, just in case he got hungry on the journey.
Jim was nowhere to be found. Lost in his workshop, no doubt, or else gone to the shops to get the Sunday paper. Any excuse so long as he didn't have to face Nigel leaving home, no word of advice, kind word, or even a few pounds to put in his pocket.
Having loaded all Nigel's luggage into the car, June drove to the station with Nigel. She was desperately trying to hide the fact that she didn't want her son to go, or, at least, not so far away. She wouldn't now be able to keep an eye on him. But this was exactly what the lad wanted, to be able to get away from his parents constant control.
On the station platform there were a few other people waiting for the train. June got Nigel a coffee from the café on the platform, and they sat on a bench, Nigel sipping his coffee, neither of them speaking.
Over the station Tannoy they heard that Nigel's train was approaching the platform. June gathered up his luggage and they walked to the platform edge.
"Dad hasn't said a word. He hasn't spoken to me about going. Not wished me luck or anything."
June was glad Nigel had mentioned his father.
"He will eventually. He is pleased you got the job. He'll come round, in his own time."
"I hope so."
The train drew into the station, amidst the clatter and confusion of porters, passengers, opening doors, passengers alighting, and others boarding. June helped Nigel inside with his luggage and found him a seat, putting some of his bags on the luggage rack.
"Well, this is it then. You're off. Don't forget your sandwiches. I put them in your holdall."
There wasn't time to say anything more, as whistles blew and doors were banged shut.
"You'd better go, or you'll be stuck on the train!" said Nigel.
"No, you're right. Do ring and let us know how you get on."
"Yes, I will."
"Bye, then!" She turned and left the carriage, and stood on the platform just outside the window where Nigel was sitting. She waved as the train drew out, slowly at first, but gradually increasing speed as it reached the countryside.
Nigel drew a deep breath. He closed his eyes, and lay back in the corner seat of the carriage. The sound of the train, the steady rhythm of the carriages as the wheels ran over the track, and the sun, flickering through the trees as it sped through open fields, began to have an almost soporific effect on Nigel.
"At last!" he thought to himself. "I'm alone! My new life starts here, free from parents, in a new job and a new town!"
June and Jim heard nothing from Nigel for over a week. June imagined that Nigel had plenty to occupy his mind, what with settling in to the new job as well as accustoming himself to living away from home and discovering the delights of a new and unfamiliar town. She had considered telephoning, but Jim had told her it might not be such a good idea.
"It was his idea to get a job away from home. I don't think a phone call from his mum will do his morale a lot of good."
He did eventually ring. It was late one evening, as they sat in front of the television watching the news. It was a very brief call, but at least it put June's mind at rest. She could retire for the night, easy in her mind that her son had made the right decision.
"He needed to grow up. After all the heartache he'd caused us."
"You're right," said June, as they settled down under the duvet.
This wasn't enough to settle June's mind on the matter. She had a suspicion that Nigel wasn't being exactly honest with her. She needn't have worried, though. Her son was fine. He was managing to look after himself and seemed to relish his independence