It’s a summery afternoon. A day when just north of London life bursts with promise and elemental excitement, and the good earth itself buzzes with obvious health.
Close your eyes. You’re standing on an ancient, attractive street, watching a parade. There’s innocent sound, and a kaleidoscope of floats and performers.
Then down the St Albans’ high street it comes, still fuzzy in the distance. It nears and you realise. Like a diorama, or comedy sketch, or somehow, you’ve been granted three witty wishes, and here’s the first going past right now. Right in front of you, it’s your favourite ever joke, made material.
Instantly, you’re crying with laughter. Tears of the most spectacular, rare joy and neither you nor your wife can speak.
Yes, it’s a bear on the roof of a car. It’s a moment.
I often think back to those first six months in St Albans. When our hire car eased into a most English town we’d never visited. We later learnt it was home to Stephen Hawking. And Benny Hill.
Renting a cosy townhouse at The Brambles just across from Verulamium Park, we had no mobile phones, no Internet, and no TV. In 2003, how did we live in such a spartan way?
Because we had no need for these as everything was new and thrilling: our life in England; our rejuvenating jobs; our fresh marriage. Possibility was everywhere.
Each night we’d sit at the round table in our cosy living room. I’d put Jazz FM on the radio and we’d talk of our schools, our European travel plans, and our family and friends across the dark ocean.
It was great.
There were thirty million people within an hour’s drive, and we were in a continent of 727 million.
But, all we needed in that former Roman city was just the two of us. It was an enchanted, alluring time.
Up north. A distant age.
The gruff father announces, “Alright, lad. It’s your birthday. What would you like to do? It’s your day!”
The wide-eyed boy chirps, “Really, Da’? Anything! Can we go to fair?”
“The fair it is! It’s your day!”
And so off they went, Da’ and lad, in their little family car, to the village fair. Once there Da’ declares, “Here we are at fair, lad. What would you like to do? It’s your day!”
The boy beams, “Wow. Can I have toffee apple?”
Da’ nods. “Yes, you can. It’s your day!”
Strolling around the fairgrounds with the pale northern sun falling across them, the boy eats his toffee apple. It’s sticky and sweet. Da’ then asks, “What would you like to do now, lad? I want you to ‘ave a good day. It’s your day.”
The boy looks about and points excitedly at sideshow alley. “Da’, Da’, can I go on knock ‘em downs?”
Da’ nods and says, “Of course. It’s your day, lad. I want you to ‘ave a good day.”
The boy runs to the stall, Da’ trailing behind him. The boy has a go on knock ‘em downs, and with his final throw, he wins a giant teddy bear. Da’ says to the boy. “Well done, lad. What will you call ‘im, lad? What a good day!”
The boy screws up his face. He then looks up at his Da’ and says, “I call him Wunka.”
Da’ looks down at the boy, pats him on the head and says, “Alright then. It’s your day, lad. I want you to ’ave good day. Wunka it is.”
After a good day they return to their little car. The shadows are long on this northern earth. Da’ and the boy soon realise that Wunka is too big for the boot and won’t fit inside the jalopy either. A man with practical skills, Da’ gets some rope and ties Wunka to the roof of the car.
They set off for home. Indeed, it’s been a good day.
But the road is potholed and the track to the farm is too rough for the little car. The rope holding Wunka on the car roof starts to loosen.
The car then hits a large bump, and out of the corner of his eye the boy suddenly sees a blur as something bounces behind them. “Da’ Da’!” he cries. “Wunka’s off! Wunka’s off!”
Da’ answers, “Come on lad! You’ve had a good day.”