My father, Bill, also went off in his car and didn’t come back. Not that he killed himself, unless you count the fifty fags a day for thirty-odd years, but he still wound up dead. He set off to fill the tank and, on the way, suffered a massive heart attack whilst – considerately, consciously, one would like to think – steering his Vauxhaul Astra gently into a verge.
‘But what has this got to do with Oldton?’, I hear you ask in that disembodied voice of yours. After all, it happened in a small Lincolnshire town with its own very definite and different name. Well, over the intervening years I have come to believe that, in a roundabout way (travelling clockwise, in other words – he was an aficionado of the corny joke), my father was en route to Oldton at the time.
Dad went to the petrol station in preparation for a short holiday with my mother. They were due in North Norfolk the following day and mum didn’t want them to go: she thought – she knew? – that he was too ill to drive that far. Afterwards, what with the funeral and the grief, with everyone and everything that needs to be taken care of after a death, it never occurred to me to ask where they had been going. But now I’m almost certain: their putative destination was Oldton. Mrs Millaby’s guesthouse by the beach, to be precise.
Dad never got to fill the tank, never came home. Although, reassuringly, he’s still around sometimes, very early on weekday mornings when I’m doing yoga downstairs and I feel compelled to stretch and sway facing the empty room, his presence too strong to turn my back on.
Eventually my brother Barry wrote a wonderful, empathetic poem about dad’s death. It pretty much says it all.