It’s something like 30 years since we fooled Uncle Derek. We were schoolkids at the time and, looking back, I’m amazed that we managed to orchestrate it. Not that the undertaking was particularly complicated, just that we managed to successfully create something that carried sufficient credibility with it as it journeyed from our schoolboy imaginations out into the real adult world, a world which, it transpired, we knew so little about.
They’d gone out on Sunday morning. Somewhere floating about the start of the story I have it in mind that they had gone to church. That seems utterly ridiculous. It’s possible that our two mums had gone to a Sunday service, but almost certainly our two dads had gone to play golf. I hadn’t appreciated it until very recently but I can now imagine just how relaxed and at ease with themselves they must have felt as they returned at lunchtime. Two old friends sharing four or five hours away from the shearing forces of their two families. A beer, maybe two to round it off. I love that they could have been so happy together.
We were in the sun room at the back of the house pretending that we weren’t hiding, but hoping all the same not to see them as they arrived. I can’t say what Uncle Derek’s immediate reaction was when he realised that his Mercedes wasn’t on the road outside the house, where he had left it the previous afternoon. Nor can I tell you what his immediate reaction was when he found the note we’d forged. We didn’t see that at first hand either. He moved too quickly.
The idea had come to us after an intense period of brainstorming, or more accurately riffing, on the subject of how we could shock, jolt or just plain upset our fathers. Although the tradition of the date allowed for the fooling of anyone in the vicinity, there was no-one else under consideration for the four of us. It had to be them.
There is a rivalry which flows back and forth between fathers and sons like untrammelled electricity, or at least it did with us, and any opportunity to strike an intergenerational blow had to be seized. We had learned this from them, through brutal sporting beat-downs and incomprehensible grown-up jokes delivered at our expense. We slowly developed the nagging desire, which grew into an inescapable obligation, to return fire and got tastes of how good that could feel through fleeting two-goal leads and brief glimpses of board-game fallibility.
We never managed to make anything stick though, until April 1st came around and we found ourselves together and alone in the house in Gloucestershire. This time we made it count, even if only for a couple of minutes.
I can’t recall the specifics of the note we left sticking out of the letterbox on the front door. I do however remember that the stroke of inspiration that made the whole wheeze hang together was not to write the note as if it had been left by the mechanic we were claiming had collected the car. Too obvious. So straightforward an attack must surely be spotted immediately. Also, not plausible. Who among us could write like a car mechanic? What would Derek’s local car mechanic even be called? Wouldn’t a mechanic be from a specific place and maybe even have business cards or headed paper? What on earth did car mechanics write like anyway? Too many opportunities for us to unwittingly give ourselves away.
So, we wrote it from The Neighbour.
My recollection is that he was a Steve or a Paul, that when the two dads got a grip of him to demand an explanation he was already well into his Sunday whiskey and thus in no position to be coherent even if he had known what they were loudly raving about, and that the note ‘he’ wrote went something like this:
Derek, the guys came to collect your car for the respray. You weren’t in so I gave them your spare keys. Car will be back on Tuesday.
Not only did this approach allow us to construct what we thought was a plausible note – we knew The Neighbour’s name, The Neighbour might reasonably have given the car away whereas the mechanic would never have just taken it – it also created the single right-hand turn in the narrative that we needed to make the whole thing fly.
Now, when our dads read the note they could not think directly from ‘note’ to ‘car/garage’, passing directly through the pounding, weak heart of our blatant, gasping lie to get there.
Now, they had to look right, to the house next door, rather than behind them, to the corner of the street that we had pushed the car around to hide it.
Now their thoughts and actions had to detour via The Neighbour and in the additional few seconds it took them to assimilate and process that extra stop along the story they forgot themselves, stopped asking questions and started running…