Tuesday 27th April. Oxford, England
Funny what you remember. I hadn't thought about about this particular story for years, but Matt reminded me last night. The last time we saw each other, I was seventeen and he was eleven. His family were visiting my family. At the time, I was working on a local fruit orchard, and I remember Matt was quite impressed with my 'company car'. My boss had been kind enough to lend me his brother's 1968 Holden Monaro. It wasn't in real good condition, but the Monaro was something of an institution in Australian muscle cars. A very strong high performance six cylinder motor provided more than enough power for a seventeen year old to get himself into trouble.
So anyway, I took my little cousin Matt for a drive. My family lived in the bush, and were surrounded by a whole network of unsealed backroads that I had come to think of as my personal playground. I'd learnt which gear to be in as I slid into each corner, and what speed I could reach before having to lock up for the next corner. Dukes Of Hazzard, eat your heart out. Matt seemed to enjoy that type of driving. Instead of covering his eyes and screaming in fear as I'd anticipated, he was smiling and watching the trees flash by. There was nothing for it but to take it up a notch. The next corner was a sixty mile an hour right hander. I left it a little later than usual to brake, and threw the big heavy car into the corner at almost seventy. Thankfully we were both seat belted, because the vehicle came to quite a sudden stop. When the cloud of dust cleared, we found ourselves stuck in the ditch nose down, the front left hand guard stoved in by a solid hardwood guidepost. Matt stared at me and after a while asked "Did you mean to do that?"
All my best attempts to drive us out of the ditch just ended up in excess wheelspin, engine over-revving and more swearing than was necessary. The only way out was to give eleven year old Matt a crash course in driving, and have him reverse the car out while I pushed from the front. Try explaining to an eleven year old, the relationship between the clutch and the accelerator! My biggest fear was that once extricated from the ditch, Matt would continue to propell the powerful car down the road in reverse, too panicked to remember my most important instruction, "As soon as you're up on the road again, slam both feet on the middle pedal as hard as you can!" Well, the other important instruction was that his Mum and my Mum were not to hear of our little misadventure. But Matt did a sterling job of driving the car out, while I used the broken guidepost to lever the weight onto the spinning back wheels. We were on our way in no time- and if I remember correctly the next stop was the local store, where I bought Matt's silence with an agreed upon quantity of chocolate bars!
Matt and his Italian girlfriend Alesia (I've jumped back to present day now, folks- Pulp Fiction style. Pay attention) Matt and his Italian girlfriend Alesia picked me up from the bus stop. They live in Kidlington, about ten miles north of Oxford. Actually, it's the same village where Richard Branson lives. I should go over there and give that Branson a piece of my mind for not answering my emails...
Matt has been in England for almost two years now. He's currently managing a computer project for the local police force. You know me and computers, that's about as specific as I can get. He and I have been catching up on old times, and swapping stories about other cousins that we've managed to keep in contact with over the years. Tonight, he and Allie took me to a local pub for dinner, and I must say if you're in Kidlington, Oxfordshire, do yourself a favour and dine at the Boat Inn. The steak and ale pudding which Matt and I both had was sensational, and was accompanied by an extremely generous serving of refreshingly not-overcooked fresh vegetables. The vegetarian pudding that Allie chose was also delicious- I know because I finished off what she couldn't eat.
Oxford itself is a beautiful old city. I caught the bus in there this morning, and spent a few hours wandering the streets and the grounds of the historic campuses.