CAR NUMBERS

CAR NUMBERS

Peter Henry Robinson loved cars. He’d loved them ever since his sixth birthday when he opened up a small, oblong package and found a yellow box inside with the words Dinky Toy written on it in red letters and in white the number 158 . In the box was a die-cast model of a Riley saloon in black paint. Peter Henry ran his fingers over the long bonnet, over the roof and down to the boot at the back. He liked the small rubber tyres that he took off and on so many times that his father warned he would lose them one day, which of course he did.  But it was the sweeping curves of the mudguards and the running boards that he liked best as he raced the black Riley saloon around the living room and into the hall making all the noises he thought a car makes as it revs its engine, changes gear or comes to a screeching halt.

For his seventh and eighth birthday and the Christmases in between, he was given a different Dinky Toy car. He put all the sixpences and thruppeny bits he was given by his doting grandparents, aunties, and uncles whenever he went to visit them for tea, and he visited them often, into his Strolling Minstrel money box. As he put ever more coins into the slot in the minstrel’s tin hat the weight of the coins made the minstrel’s tin legs become ever longer and so the Strolling Minstrel became ever taller until he became as tall as he could be. Then Peter Henry would empty out the coins and go on the bus with his mother to the toy shop in the town and buy another Dinky Toy car so in time he had quite a collection.  Although the black Riley saloon with the long bonnet and the sweeping curves remained his favourite. And when the weather was nice, as it often was in our childhood memories, Peter Henry Robinson would sit just outside his house, 155 Park Road Middlestone on a little wooden stool that his father made for him and watch the cars go by. Always hoping to see a car just like his favourite toy black Riley saloon. If it was wet or cold, which it sometimes was, he would sit in the bay window of his house and look out over the hedge which his father cut low so that Peter Henry could still see the cars going up and down the road.

Park Road led to the new council house estate, a big green park, an old cemetery with a little chapel in the middle and some small villages beyond. In those days very few cars went along the road so while he was waiting for the cars to go by, always hoping to see a black Riley saloon with a long bonnet and sweeping curves, he began writing down the numbers and letters on the  car’s registrations plates. He would write them down  carefully in his very best handwriting. His teacher, Miss Walker,  always said his writing was “a bit scrawly” but he could read it and that was all that mattered to Peter Henry if a Morris Minor or a Standard 8 went whizzing past at 30 miles per hour! Then one day from his seat on the pavement he saw a black car with a long bonnet  and sweeping curves that was just like his Dinky Toy Riley saloon. On it was a number plate that read “PHR 155”.

“ That’s my car” he shouted and rushed inside shouting at the top of his voice,

Mum, you’ve never guessed what I’ve seen.  A car with my initials and our house number on it. PHR 155!”

His mother, who was baking lovely cakes in the kitchen as all mothers did in those days in all the best reading books, said.

That’s very nice Peter. Now wash your hands and get ready for tea.”

Every day after that Peter Henry would watch from the pavement or from the bay window hoping to see if that car went passed his house again, but it never did.

The years went by and  Peter Henry Robinson grew up as we all do. He became an apprentice car mechanic and went to college at night to learn as much as he could about cars and how to repair them when they broke down. He got a good job at a big garage in Middlestone and one day he met a girl called Jane. They got married and lived in a small flat in a new block of flats on the outskirts of Middlestone which felt even smaller when they had twin boys.

But life has its sorrows as well as joys and first his father and then his mother died and the house on the quiet road that led to the council estate, a big green park, an old cemetery with the chapel in the middle and the new housing developments in the villages beyond stood empty.

“We should move there,” said Peter Henry, “We will have more room for the twins”, and so they did.

And as the twins grew older Peter would let them play, very carefully, with his Dinky Toy cars. On days when the weather was nice the three of them would sit on the pavement watching the cars go by. The twins would argue over who sat on the little wooden stool their grandfather had made and Peter Henry would tell them everything he knew about cars until they were happy to be called for tea by their mother. And then, when the twins got married and had children of their own Peter Henry would let his grandchildren play, very carefully, with his Dinky Toy cars. If it was nice weather he would sit with them on the pavement outside 155 Park Road, Middlestone and the children would argue over who sat on the little wooden stool their great-grandfather had made. If it were cold and wet they would sit in the bay window and he would tell them everything he knew about the many cars that went along the once quiet road until they were happy to be called for tea by their grandmother.

But sadness often follows joy in life and the twins and their families moved far away. The big garage where he had always worked became a dealership for expensive foreign cars and Peter Henry retired from his job. Jane fell ill and after a short illness was taken in a long, sleek black car decorated with flowers past the council estate, the big green park, the old cemetery with the disused chapel in the middle, along the new road to the crematorium and Peter Henry Robinson was left all alone.

He stayed at 155 Park Road Middlestone and he kept the hedge low so that he could sit by the bay window watching the cars go by on the road that was much quieter now they’d built the Motorway. Sometimes, if the weather was nice, he would take his chair and sit on the pavement and try to remember all the things he knew about cars as they went passed the house where he’d lived for most of his life.

But time slipped by too quickly and Peter Henry became unsteady on his feet,  his hearing and eyesight started to fail. One day he had a fall and hurt himself so badly that it was decided by his family that he must move to a retirement home with a warden on call. As he sorted out which of his possessions to take to his small one-bedroom flat and which to leave behind he came across his old Dinky Toy cars in a box in a cupboard under the stairs along with the little stool his father had made.

I know”, he said to himself,” I’ll give the cars to the  great-grand-kids as long as they play with them carefully.  It will give them something to play with instead of that computer thing they’re always on. And they can give them to their children one day.”

He picked out the black Riley saloon with its long bonnet and sweeping running boards and thought out loud,

“I’ll keep this one for myself though, just for old times.”

Then he found a little notebook full of car numbers and  “Peter Henry Robinson, 155 Park Road, Middlestone.” on the inside cover in scrawly handwriting.

“Well, I’ll be damned, “he said to his empty house, “Fancy finding this after all this time.”

So, for old times’ sake, he took his childhood notebook and the little stool and made his way outside to the pavement. He put the stool down and stood watching the cars pass by. He still hoped that one day he would see  PHR 155 again and on that day he did. Although his eyesight was not as good as it used to be he could see a whole procession of cars driving slowly along the road towards him. Many of them looked like the cars in his Dinky Toy collection.

Then he saw it. A black car with a long bonnet, sweeping curves, mudguards and running boards. Looking carefully he could make out the registration plate, PHR 155.

“ That’s it” he shouted to no one in particular, “ That’s my car! ”

In his excitement, he stumbled over the little wooden stool his father had made and fell right in front of the black car with the long bonnet and sweeping curves just as it was passing by his house.

Not long after the accident, the organisers of the first-ever Middlestone Classic Car Rally that was being held in the big green park, just past the mixed private and council estate, and the old cemetery announced that out of respect for the elderly gentleman who had so tragically died during the motorcade the event would be cancelled.  But, they promised, that next year it would be back, bigger and better than ever.

And at the funeral everyone said,

Peter Henry Robinson, killed by a black Riley saloon eh? Still, I reckon  it’s just how he’d have wanted to go, don’t you?”

 

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