Past present

May 17th, 2009 | By | Category: Personal Columns

It’s Pete Hill’s birthday.

On Thursday, 17th May 1979, he was 18.  His birthday party was at the Red Lion pub, at West Pennard in Somerset.  It was a good party.  The DJ played lots of stuff by Blondie.  It ran late and Tessa Billinghurst took some of us for a drive in her dad’s shiny new Alfa afterwards.  We were going to the beach, but stopped at Taunton Deane services for coffee and decided to turn back – it was 5 am on a bright May morning and there was an economics test at 11.  The lines of the test paper ran into each other and the supply and demand curves kept moving around.  “This will test those of you who think it is OK to go partying”, said Mr Howe.  He was very grumpy when he handed the paper back to me the following week, begrudging me the 81% I had scored.

I have not seen any of them since 15th June 1979; the day the A levels finished.  I hope Pete prospered; I always liked him.  I hope Tessa succeeded in whatever career she followed; she was great fun in the short time I knew her.  I hope Mr Howe is still enjoying a well earned retirement; he taught me most of the lessons in life worth knowing.

Pete will be 48 today, probably by now a very different person from the one I knew.  I don’t know if the Red Lion is still open; I hope so.   I wonder if Tessa still drives shiny sports cars.

Thirty years later, do the pieces from a long past jigsaw still matter?

The road from the village of Curry Rivel towards Taunton passes a turning for a place called Fivehead.  For decades a signpost pointed down the road; a cream sign with the words ‘Ancient Parish Church’.  Not once in my life did I ever turn down that road; yet if someone told me that the church had been closed, I feel something would be lost.  Why worry about losing an option that was never chosen, anyway?

Perhaps it’s about choice and possibility; perhaps part of being human is having the capacity to exercise random choices. If Pete and Tessa and Mr Howe were not part of the story; then the random choices they generated would not have been possible.  Life would have been less without their presence.

Maybe Pete’s party is about even more than  a past possibility.  Albert Einstein once expressed the belief that “the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.”  If all of time happens together, then the party is not just about a Thursday evening thirty years ago, it is part of the present, except, of course, there is no present, as there is no past and no future.  Einstein believed that the only reason for time was to stop everything happening all at once – a convenient arrangement as it would mean missing a lot of parties.

Pete’s party was thirty years ago this evening, or this evening at what seems like thirty years ago, either way, I’m not going to Taunton Deane services in the morning.

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  1. This has reminded me of the time when Sarah and Wendy were taking me back to college at the beginning of one term and I fell asleep in the car not thinking that they could get lost on the M25. I woke up a while later and took a few minutes to realise that we were going in the wrong direction. They had pulled off at South Mimms services which wasn’t actually open at the time and had managed to rejoin on the anti-clockwise side. Ah well. We would have got there eventually albeit several hours later but then if Einstein was/is right then it would have just seemed that way.

  2. May 17th 1974 is the birthday I shall never forget.

    As I was readying myself to celebrate my 17th birthday in a Dublin city venue, news came through of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. There is a memorial to all those who died that day in Glasnevin cemetery. That atrocity was 35 years ago yesterday.

    BTW Congrats on your success in economics!

  3. The bombings must have been reported on the BBC, but I have no memory of them. There used to be a memorial in Cathal Brugha Street, but it was moved, and I’m not sure where it went.

    Belated Happy Birthday, by the way.

  4. Ian – whatever brought back that old memory ? I don’t know about Einstein, but the parts of the jigsaw seem to matter more the older we become.

  5. I think I’ve led such a conventional life that anything different figures strongly in the memories. I’ve lost so many pieces of my jigsaw that it takes a great effort of the imagination to fill in the gaps.

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