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James Deakin | all galleries >> Travel >> Around the world in 80 frames > The Heart of England
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The Heart of England
Feb, 2005 James Deakin

The Heart of England

England

I had not seen my father in over 20 years. He left the country to return to England when I was ten, some two years after separating from my mother. He would write occasionally, but there were lapses that would often last for years without a single word being exchanged. Put it this way, in the last two decades, we had spoken four maybe five times.

To be honest, I never had any inclination to see my father, either. But considering I was already going to be in Europe, somehow it just seemed like the right thing to do so I arranged to stay on an extra couple of days after. I emailed him and asked him if he would like to meet in person. He jumped at the chance and we started speaking regularly on the phone to iron out any wrinkles in the plan. Actually, we spoke more in the week leading up to this than we had in the last twenty years. But it was all very proper; much like how when we arrange to meet any business appointment when we travel. For me – at least at the time I was organizing it anyway – he was simply another appointment, and that’s not meant to sound cold.

In hindsight, I was ambivalent only because I didn't marinate myself in the emotion. Maybe it was a natural mechanism I employed so as not to get analysis paralysis. But the night before I was meant to meet him at the airport, it all started to sink in. I started to realize the gravity of the situation I had put myself in. What the hell was I thinking? There I was in a foreign hotel room, ten thousand miles away from a friendly face and a familiar voice, and about to meet my father again after twenty years. Alone. No back up, no safety net. Nothing. To think that this was my idea. It’s true what they say: your feet do actually really get cold when you want to back out of something. I felt it.

I needed the upper hand, something to tip the psychological balance in my favor. This was his turf after all. The last time he saw me I was ten years old for crying out loud; I would sit next to him in the car and change the gears for him from the passenger seat. I knew through our brief exchange that he drove a Volvo D5 wagon, something that he rated higher than the E class he used before it. I always remember my dad as a very good driver, and one that understood and appreciated a well built car. He taught me how to drive when I was eight and would let me drive him out of the village every morning on the way to school. My fondest memories of my father centered around that car. If there ever was a common interest, this was it.

I fired off an email and BMW U.K. coughed up a stunning 530D finished in pearl black paint and handsomely trimmed in supple beige leather and capped off with an extremely rare set of stupidly priced vanity plates that read: BMW 530D. It came equipped with traction control, Dynamic Stability Control, a satellite navigational system, Active Steering and a 218 horsepower diesel engine that wound out a thumping 500nm of naturally-sweetened, delicious torque. Laying eyes on it for the first time drove every last butterfly out of my stomach. This was just the ticket. After all, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.


I had planned everything in detail the sleepless night before. I went over everything in my head a thousand times. I wanted to meet on neutral territory so I asked him to fly out and meet me at a neutral airport in a fairly neutral part of town. I had even bothered to do a reconnaissance of the area so that everything would fall neatly into place. I went to the airport four hours early so I could check what gate he would come out of. I found out which baggage carousel, if any, would he be collecting his things from; where was he likely to exit? Where do I park? How long, how much? Twenty years had come down to this moment. I couldn't afford for anything to go wrong. This required some heavy duty planning. It's the kind of stuff that Hallmark cards draws a living from.

After combing through every last detail, I still ended up with two hours to kill. I had a snapshot of my Bimmer basking out there in the gentle autumn sun, tanning itself, just itching to go out for a drive. Much like a healthy Labrador, this car is faithful, responsive, playful and has a sixth sense that can feel you putting your shoes on and already starts to get excited because it knows you're both going out for a run. But the similarities end there; this is no dog – this is arguably the best handling mid-size sedan on earth. And with this engine, you get the best of both worlds – devastating performance on the very low end, where you really feel it; effortless Motorway cruising with excellent overtaking power, all while turning in some very tidy fuel figures.

Autumn in Europe can be a painfully beautiful backdrop, but this being a 'Deakin milestone' and all, nature did do her best to add some spice to the story. It just so happened that while I was there, England was hit by the worst snow fall in years. But I couldn't help it, I decided to go out for a drive just to clear my head anyway. Driving around England can be very daunting at first, until you clear those creepy electronic eyes that follow your every move; there are cameras for speeding, red light cameras, some to check if you're on the bus lane, the carpool lane and a thermal one that monitors your heart rate and senses if you are in anyway showing any signs of excitement whatsoever; it will digitally convert that into a figure and issue you with a corresponding fine, depending on how happy the government thought you were at the time. The more excited, the higher the fine.

But find a few country back roads and follow a homesick Gti Golf around for a few miles and you start getting a feel of where and when you can really play around with the car. The chassis is so honed that it blends into its driving environment and adapts beautifully to whatever the road can throw at it. Only the week before, the bitumen was warm, dry and filled with natural grip. Today I'm slicing through a snow storm with the occasional thin sheet of ice between the rubber and the road and nothing but a blurred set of very bright red fog lamps guiding me through the fastest line through the countryside.

I bury the nose into an early apex but brake too deep for the corner. The DSC kicks in and reduces the drama, allowing me to exit cleanly and safely and not have a twisted Gti Golf as a hood ornament. We were actually traveling well within the posted limit, but in these conditions, it all felt very quick. Yet I keep pushing the Five, taunting it, trying scare it. I love a car that has more confidence than me. I become a better driver a result. I reach the end of the wet road so I flick off the DSC by holding the button down for three seconds, jab the throttle and spin the car around on its own axis to face the other way. With a thick smile still spread neatly across my face, I glance at my driving interface and notice I 've managed to burn up an hour and a half since I last bothered to care about time. My Dad!

There's half an hour to go before he touches down, but my navigational system tells me that I've wandered 30 miles off the beaten track. That'll mean I'll have to average about 60mph. In the snow! Now I'm busting to take a leak. By the time I reached the airport (the actual documented portion of this frantic journey has been deleted to protect the innocent and as a sign of respect for that herd of sheep) I had tears streaming down my face from the frustration of not being able to squeeze my lemon.

Screw all the details, when I arrived at the airport I parked my car smack bang in front of a fire hydrant and partially up the curb and ran for dear life into the terminal to find a bathroom. Even though I was late, I wasn't about to ruin the whole moment even more by saying, “Hi Dad!, I know its been twenty years, but could you just hang out here for a few more minutes, I gotta pee.” I eventually found a bathroom downstairs. Problem was, I couldn't get back up without walking the entire circumference of the terminal. Don't ask me to explain why, but I bet Bayani Fernando had something to do with its design. Screw it – I counter flowed up a south bound escalator with one hand fully extended in front of me, my head buried down and the other hand behind me, guiding me like a fin. If you've ever seen a Filipino walk in front of the movie screen in the cinema without trying to be intrusive, you would know what I'm talking about.

I got out of the terminal and – first things first – I had to be certain that I still had a car left. So I run out and much to my relief, I saw it was still there and there were no crumpled traffic tickets stuffed under the windscreen wipers. I leaned forward and supported myself by placing my hands just above my knees and let out a long, deep breath. A sigh of relief. When I straightened out, I turned around and headed back into the terminal without so much as looking where I was going and accidentally bumped into this very imposing figure who had just stepped out of the electric doors. We were both startled, and both took a half step back and apologized purely from instinct. We locked gazes. Eventually, I opened up my arms, smiled and slowly said, “Hi Dad.”

Canon EOS 20D ,Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS
1/250s f/11.0 at 17.0mm iso400 full exif

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Malcolm D 07-Oct-2008 16:20
I've just re-read this, James, and it still brings tears to my eyes. Thank you for your courage in making it happen. Love, Dad