A family wedding in Gloucestershire brought conversations with cousins not seen in years. “Ian, do you remember the man in the black horse when we went to Saint Ives?”
“The highwayman?” I asked.
“Yes, he was riding on the beach.”
I remember the holiday, it had been long anticipated. Friday evening had been spent in anxious waiting for my uncle, aunt and their family with whom we would holiday. Leaving Gloucestershire on a summer weekend evening in those pre-motorway days; darkness had long fallen before they arrived. No matter that the hour was late, we were going to travel to Cornwall through the night hours to avoid the traffic Saturday would bring.
Not wishing to miss a single moment, I had endeavoured to stay awake by opening a quarter-light in the window of one of the rear doors. Of course, I had failed; being twelve years old and staying awake all night were not compatible. Two images remain from that journey: stopping at an all night filling station where petrol was obtained by inserting fifty pence pieces into a slot in the pump and my uncle driving straight on through a mini-roundabout, something that was then a novelty, and the trailer he was pulling leaving the ground as it crossed the raised surface at speed.
By six o’clock in the morning we were at a campsite at Perranporth, but its cost sent us westward until reaching a campground outside the now fashionable resort of Saint Ives, a place where, forty-five years ago, it was possible to find somewhere to park. Days were spent on the beach and evenings were a time for walks and visiting the town. Pubs were strict about admission in the 1970s, and while parents might have gone into the Sheaf of Wheat Inn, those of us of younger years had to sit outside with our lemonade and crisps (years later, I would tell people I had drunk in the pub when I was young – it wasn’t a complete lie).
The odd thing is that the highwayman is a moment that is remembered by other members of both families. Not only do I not remember it, I don’t remember anyone talking about it. If 50 pence petrol pumps remain in the consciousness, it is odd that something so unusual should altogether disappear. Perhaps I had not been in their company, though that seems unlikely, at twelve years old, I would hardly have gone somewhere by myself.
There are moments from the past when there seems to be a heightened awareness of things, moments when the layer of time between things long past and the present reality seems very thin; there are moments when you almost expect to see people as they were in the scenes that replay in the mind. Then there are other moments which strangely disappear. Perhaps the subconscious, in its editing out of images that might disturb, simply excised the highwayman. A pity, I always liked highwaymen and smugglers and the shadowy characters that filled the storybooks of childhood days.
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