The last time my uncle and I were in a car together on this route, we were returning from the hospital after my mother had died.
That's very nearly 38 years ago.
I was in my first year at university and was preparing for the start of the Spring term. I hadn't long gone to bed when I heard a noise in the bathroom, which was next to my bedroom. I got up and found my mother lying by the sink. I could see something on the floor by her mouth. My grandmother got there the same time as me and straightaway she said, 'Get dressed. Go and phone the doctor.' Then she bent over my mother, saying, 'Margaret, Margaret.'
We didn't have a phone so I had to run down the road to the kiosk outside the Post Office. The doctor (in those days night calls went straight to your own doctor) asked what had happened; I said I didn't know, but my mother was lying on the floor, 'like she's had a fit or something.'
From that description the doctor had the wit to call for an ambulance and I don't really recall much of the rest of the night.
The next morning my best friend came round and my great-aunt got us polishing brass (my grandmother had a large collection) and old silver forks when we ran out of dirty brass. When my uncle got home from the hospital, he said that my mother had had a seizure and that the doctors were doing their best. For some reason I couldn't remember the word 'seizure' and when local shopkeepers and friends asked me I said, 'She had a ... thing,' and they looked at me, sorrowfully.
I kept waiting for someone to say, 'Don't worry; it'll be all right.' But no-one did. Suddenly I was grown-up and nobody would lie to me.
My mother was in hospital and conscious but confused. The last thing she said to me was, ' You smell nice. You look like Peter.'
On our way back home from visiting her that evening we were involved in a car crash when a lorry came into the side of us. As a result the girl who was driving - she was my cousin's girlfriend - lost an eye, my grandmother sustained a broken leg, my great-aunt died - and I had a few scratches on my forehead.
The strange thing was that when we'd got into the car, leaving the hospital, I had climbed in behind the driver. My grandmother, as eldest sister, automatically took the front seat and then said to me, 'no, don't sit there. Let Auntie Gay sit there so the car's balanced.' My gran and Auntie Gay were both large ladies and my gran had this, what could be seen as a silly, idea that having two heavyweights on one side would make the car unsteady. But it saved my life. Or condemned Auntie Gay to death. Maybe if I'd been sitting there my smaller frame would have prevented too much damage. Who knows?
My uncle and I spent the night after her operation in one of the small off-corridor sitting areas, waiting. At about dawn my uncle came to me and said, 'Mum's gone.'
Auntie Gay was resuscitated at the scene of the crash by a doctor who happened to be passing. She lived for a few weeks but was unconscious throughout.
I think those were the first bricks in the wall.