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.