Ten years ago I sat on an East-bound Boeing watching the bright stars shining high above the Atlantic before the speeding sun brought an early dawn. Our contrails pointed back towards Chicago. I was heading home after visiting family in the Windy City; family who mean so much to me as the years pass by.
I love flying, but that short night I was troubled.
Just prior to leaving for the USA I had almost concluded a deal to purchase a motorbike, a lovely Pearlescent White Harley Davidson Centenary Softail, but there I was sitting in a 400 tonne cigar tube questioning whether I was doing the right thing….it was a lot of money!
The hostess invited me to close the window blind, I always get amused by that…do they think that someone is looking in from the outside at 30,000 feet altitude at night? I politely declined and explained that I was Astro-navigating, I was left alone, probably classed as a nut case…and back to my pondering.
In due course the wheels touched down at London Heathrow and we were launched into the machine that all long-haul travellers have to endure; emigration, customs, bureaucracy and of course queuing and standing in line…then it’s off to baggage reclaim.
At London Paddington station we gratefully sank into our First Class seats on the Westbound high-speed train back to Cornwall and relaxed. Mrs Dookes drifted off to sleep as I tackled a bacon sandwich and a cup of black coffee whilst admiring the pleasant English countryside speeding by at 125mph.
Mrs D’s phone buzzed with a text message; I picked it up and glanced at the words on the screen. I gently nudged my wife awake, “Message, not good.”
The text message was to tell us that one of Mrs D’s dearest and oldest friends had died.
Trudie was just 35 when she was taken by cervical cancer.
We knew that she was seriously ill before we flew out to the USA some weeks previously and had spent a beautiful day in her company; but it still came as a shock. No, it was shit….
Trudie; beautiful, delicate, lovely, wonderful, happy, loving Trudie….gone.
I wanted to scream, cry, sob and I host of other things…instead I stared out of the window and saw Trudie’s face in the clouds above the ripening wheat fields speeding past our carriage.
The rest of the journey passed in a blur; then the next two days merged into a mess of jet-lag and grief.
A few days later I was back in my office. The phone rang, it was 09:15.
Mrs Dookes was calling. She cut straight to the chase, “Dad had just called me, my cousin Andy has been found dead!”
It turned out that Andy had suffered a major heart attack in the middle of the night and had been found by his father, collapsed in the bathroom at his home.
Andy had not long turned 40.
I liked Andy, he was a bit of an odd-ball, but we shared many common interests like old machinery and trains; he was a nice bloke.
I put the phone down and stared out of the window. Life is too bloody short and at times bloody unfair.
I picked up the telephone again and dialled the motorcycle dealership.
Ten years later I’m still riding that beautiful white Harley Davidson, that you folks know as “Harls.”
I’m just sorry that Andy never got to hear the rasp of her engine through those shot-gun pipes; and I’m desperately sad that Trudie never got to ride pillion behind me, I’m sure that Mrs Dookes wouldn’t have minded…!
…but you know sometimes I see a shadow in the workshop when I’m working on that bike and start the engine….and on other occasions when I’m riding I could swear that I get a hug, like someone is sitting behind me and has their arms around my waist.
Ten years on, I’ve ridden just about everywhere I’ve ever wanted to on that wonderful bike. I’ve also got a powerful bunch of very special memories forged on that lovely machine, but most of all I still feel that connection with two very special people taken too soon and for them I ride in their memory.
Andy. Trudie. I miss you both and love you still.
Catch the two of you one day.
“Ride it on out like a bird in the sky way
Ride it on out like you were a bird.
Ride a White Swan like the people of the Beltane.”