One of the disadvantages of holding moderately high office is that one’s birthday is publicised in the quality press. However, compared with some of the things they print about politicians today, perhaps one should not complain about this minor exposure. This year, my birthday was of biblical significance and generated more interest; I am grateful to constituents for their good wishes – from supporters and opponents alike.
Our children were determined that the event should be appropriately celebrated and they did some research. They discovered that, 50 years ago, I was the proud owner of a red Austin Healey 3000. For younger readers, I should explain that this was a high-powered two seater sports car. It was a car I was very fond of, owning it while pursuing my future wife at Oxford at the expense of my academic studies. After we got married, it had to go to make way for more conventional transport, capable of accommodating a growing family. Our two-seated days were behind us.
Last weekend, there was a throaty roar outside the front door and a crunch of gravel. Outside our home was a red Austin Healey 3000. This, I was informed, was a birthday present from the children. I was lost for words. These vehicles are now worth serious money, and while the next generation of Youngs are solvent, I doubted whether they could really afford this extravagance.
They couldn’t. What they had done was to hire the car for two days, so I could drive to the family home for a birthday party and then drive back. And very nostalgic it was, bowling along the M4 with the wind blowing through our hair, our posteriors but a few inches above the tarmac.
When we got to the party, my wife and I were no longer on speaking terms. Not because the magic had gone out of the marriage, but because the noise of the car rendered all conversation impossible. The decibel count from the engine was like a pneumatic drill, amplified by the rattling of the arthritic joints of the car and the wind.
One takes for granted the advance of technology; brakes that stop you promptly; power-assisted steering; cars that start first time without the choke.
For example, the fuel gauge was binary. It showed the tank as either full or empty. For 100 miles it was full; then I went up a hill and it was empty. Going down the other side it reverted to full again. After 150 miles it oscillated wildly. These things matter, because the fuel it consumes is not sold at every garage. The long forgotten skill of double-declutching had to be resurrected, together with hand signals.
After two days, the car was returned to its owner. A lost moment of youth had been recaptured and old memories revived, as the pictures show. But it was a relief to get back into the family saloon, switch on the radio and relapse into anonymity on the A303.
PS The pictures are shot in the same location. The house has not survived as well as the car or its occupants. It had to be demolished and rebuilt.