Somerset. 17.6.18

Sunday afternoon in the cottage with the folks. All of us either reading or writing. Had a relatively quiet weekend which is good seeing as the next few are going to be busy. We said farewell to year 11 on Friday and it was imbued with more emotion than normal this year as I’ll be leaving too (unbeknownst to them). We had the usual leaving rituals: the signing of yearbooks and schoolshirts, the selfies, final goodbyes and thank yous. I asked several of them “How does it feel?” They all said the same thing “Weird”. I guess children become so normalised to or institutionalised by school they can’t imagine life beyond it. We were all like that once but I think for some they feel worried about what is to come.

Feeling tired by the end of the day – hadn’t got much sleep the night before. Came back here to the cottage but forced myself to up to Sherston to Lizzy H’s opening of her upholstery workshop / shop. I’m always apprehensive about going to see her because she has this innate ability to make me feel crap through her own insecurity. When I got there Libby was there – how did I manage to go out with her for 3 months? There isn’t much sparkle and Lizzy announced how they’d just been slagging me off for not coming. Fair enough. She’s never top of my list of priorities. Then later in the evening she asked if I came because I felt guilty (in a silly voice trying to make it sound jokey). “No I came because I felt bored” I responded. Her neediness is overpowering. I was so tired it tipped me over the edge. I declined dinner and sped home and had dinner in Wahaca (one of my favourites not so much for atmosphere but for food. I always some here on my own) – Tacos, beer, tequila and went home and watched the highlights of the Spain v Portugal game (3-3). A great start to the World Cup. I feel like just not wanting to see Lizzy at all. There we are. I think I’ll allow myself to grow apart from her. That’s what I do. I distance myself from people who piss me off. Always withdrawing into myself when I get angry. Next time it happens I’ll have to say something. It’s still annoying me today. There’s something very officious about her and shows how much I’ve always hated people wanting to judge me.

Had quite a late night on Friday but not totally bonkers. Yes, the intake has been more frequent and the smoking has increased. I don’t care. I haven’t felt depressed for ages. And my sleeping has been good for 3 months. 3 MONTHS. Noone can understand how significant that is to me. There is an orange glow on the horizon.

I decided it was time for some more recording and so to Hartcliffe, one of the poorest parts of Bristol. It’s an incredibly featureless place – rows of nondescript brick houses and roads. The whole scene made even more neutral by the gloom in the sky. Amongst the rows of residential housing I found Queens Road with a row of shops and a pub at the end of the road. The first person I met was Malik, outside Londis, a smiley young Pakistani man who was keen to talk once I’d persuaded him I wasn’t working for the authorities (a common problem I’ve now realised – I need to have the blog open on the phone). Nothing of great interest in his story but still enjoyed his opinions on Bristol. Bishopsworth was “friendly” and St George was “one of the best places I have ever lived”. On to the Queens Head pub. Classic Bristol. All white working class men – most over 60 either drinking Natch or pints of lager. Got chatting outside to Ashley (from London) and John, 83, from Bristol. He had the accent and “T R U E” “L O V E” tattooed across his knuckles and then the names of his kids now faded beyond recognition on the back of his hand. His wife has dementia and he’s wondering about how bad it will get or how quickly it’ll take to get bad. The younger locals were suspicious, thinking I was the police but I showed them the blog and they relaxed treating John as something of a celebrity once I’d finished and bought him another can of Natch. He was into smoking weed, it transpired. 1 or 2 before bed every night because it eased the pain in his hips. I love these chance meetings like the transitions or changes on my walks. The snapshots of life but also the acute awareness of time. I won’t ever meet John again.

It’s been a month since the court hearing. A beautiful hot day in Bath. Edward Counsell (how appropriate) my barrister, beaming in shirt sleeves with a pack of Marlboro lights in his breast pocket and a huge biography of Ted Hughes on the table in the rooms set aside for the barristers to interview their clients. I immediately liked him. I can still remember the heat and the sense of butterflies / the drama of the situation. It makes the sense of nostalgia stronger. Edward didn’t fill me with confidence, though. He talked me through the procedure: the questioning, the protocol. He told me that everything relied on any ‘dependents’ – tutees or students. A taxi driver had lost a case for exceptional hardship although driving was the main source of his income. He was also surprised by how much savings I had. My eyes seemed to feel a pressure behind them. Here I was fighting ‘exceptional hardship’ with a much higher than average savings balance. It wasn’t looking good. He also mentioned the prosecution and that I might have to face questions from them too. I’d felt so relaxed on the walk here but the reality of the situation had now gripped me. Try to remain calm and contrite.

The courtroom was light and I could see blue sky through a row of windows. I waited at the back while the judge and the other magistrates decided the fate of another driver who was pleading ‘exceptional hardship’. I sat at the back, Edward a couple of rows ahead of me looking relaxed. Another day at the office for him. I looked at my hands.

The judge was imposing. He was a big man and was not dissimilar to Trevor Eve, the actor: a hooked nose and downturned mouth and – unusually – a shock of white hair that was pulled back from his forehead and flowed down his back. On his return to the courtroom we all rose and he held forth, his voice measured and calm: “After some consideration we have decided that we do not accept your plea for exceptional hardship. You will not be allowed to drive for 6 months and you are required to pay the court £1250. Do you have anything to say?”

“No.”

I pressed my palms together and thought of the answers that I should give but really felt all at sea.

The barrister and his client left the courtroom. “Take your place at the side of the court” and suddenly all eyes were on me.

“State your name.”

I did so.

Edward started. He introduced what I’d done. How I’d been caught twice going over the 40 mph limit. Where it was. The judge knew. I got the feeling lots of people have been done there.

It was time for me to take the box. I said I would stand not sit. I swore on the bible to tell “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. Edward started the questions.

“Wouldn’t it be difficult to get to work?”

“Yes.”

“If you’re doing supply work will this be affected as you won’t be able to get to certain jobs?

“Yes. There is a lot of competition for these jobs and if I can’t get there someone else will.”

“Now, certain tutees, one by the name I think of Lottie is reliant on your support at the moment for her GCSEs?”

“That’s correct.”

“What will happen if you’re unable to get to her?”

“She is on the cusp of getting a pass and without my support she might well fail her English GCSE. This means that she’ll have to retake next year.”

I also mentioned the fishing trip that couldn’t go ahead without my car and before I knew it I was walking back to the other side of the court, sitting and staring at my hands. We rose as the magistrates left. The prosecution hadn’t asked any questions. That was something. And now we waited.

Edward, the lady prosecution and the clerk chatted and ignored me. Edward was telling the other two how he was getting married to his childhood sweetheart. He was showing them a photo of her and they said how pretty she was and he looked quietly pleased with himself. How normal life continues for some. I shuffled and pressed my fingertips together. Time was slow.

The door opened and here they came. We stood. I exhaled slowly.

“We have considered your plea and on this occasion we have decided to accept your plea for exceptional hardship. You are required to pay the court £330 pounds. I have to say if this case had come at a different time I’m not sure if the outcome would have been the same.”

The whole outcome had come down to one thing. Lottie. I only had a few more lessons with her and in truth I could cycle to see her (I had done it once already) but it was her and her situation alone that had saved my arse. If the hearing had been 3 weeks later I probably would have been banned. How small are the facets of life that can affect us most? One’s world can be changed in an instant.

I thanked the judge and afterwards back in the interview room I thanked Edward profusely while he affirmed how lucky I had been. I wasn’t elated. I just felt relief and suddenly exhausted by having the weight lifted.

Now we were outside in the sun and the green trees, full of life, all around us and we were discussing Ted Hughes and how his writing changed later in his life. I thanked him again and said “Congratulations. I couldn’t help but hear inside the courtroom.” And we parted. Another brief encounter, and an intense one.

I walked slowly in a daze past the cricket ground and across the bridge through teams of tourists and builders oblivious to much of what was going on around me. The memory will be one of the most vivid of the Summer. I suppose the most intense moments make a stronger imprint on the mind. Isn’t there something amazing about that?

I now drive like an old lady and it’s strangely liberating. I can’t rush. It doesn’t matter. The guy tailgating me doesn’t matter. I doubt he has 12 points.

The Wednesday before last I was driving to Bradley Stoke School to tutor Connor. As I slowed down outside Bristol Magistrates Court I noticed a man in a blue shirt lighting a cigarette as he ambled down the steps. I got to the lights before I realised. I yelled out of the window his name but he probably wouldn’t recognise or remember me anyway. I can’t be too dramatic but my life would be very different if that day had gone a different way. My car is my freedom. My independence. And for me that is something I value and covet as much as a jewel or a first love.

Phew.

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