Returning To Liverpool For My Grandfather’s Porsche

I’ve been forced to swap one cold winter for another.

My Grandfather, who had spent the majority of his life work with his hands in the North of England, passed away a week ago.

Ours is a big family, the De Boers are a Dutch family but not on my Mother’s side. She grew up in the UK, in the port city of Liverpool. My Grandfather, having spent the entirety of his life in his hometown, was a true ‘scouser’, a man that was incredibly proud of his work, family and community.

I’d visited England just once before. My Mom, during a period of acute homesickness, took me to Liverpool for 2 weeks in the Summer Vacation. I remember feeling incredulous that she had simply booked these flights and commandeered two whole weeks of my holiday without even asking me first. Although I’d felt like pushing my point on the ride to the airport, when I saw my Mother’s white knuckles gripping her bag, I decided that it wasn’t worth the hassle and resigned myself to a long flight spent consoling a woman whose only fear had kept her from returning home for over a decade.

I was only fifteen at the time, so my memories have no doubt become a little fogged and faded. There are a few moments that still stick out when I think back to the fortnight we spent staying at my Mother’s old home. The chief of these was my Grandfather’s Porsche. His pride and joy, this was the one and only luxury that the man allowed himself, besides 3 slowly sipped pints down his local every Friday.

Fulfilling a life-long dream, he had bought the car second-hand from Tech-9, a Porsche specialist based in the city.

When we visited, he was already getting on in years, but he was still spry enough to take me for a spin in his 1973 Porsche 911S. I remember seeing the sheer joy in his eyes as he opened up the throttle on the motorway. His happiness wasn’t derived from the speed with which we were hurtling down the M6, though. He was happy because he was driving his first Grandson, who he had never met before, in his dream car. He was happy because he had achieved more than he had ever hoped to and still had another 15 years of good living ahead of him.

That afternoon, back in 2002, was why I had to drop H.G. and Isaac off at a friend’s place and book a flight to Liverpool. The word of his passing had taken a while to get through to me. My satellite dish had been on the fritz for the last week, so I’d been unable to receive any messages; including a frantic voicemail from Mom telling me that she couldn’t bring herself to book the plane tickets back for the funeral. She made the journey by herself in the end without incident, other than nearly breaking a strapping young man’s arm as she clung to him for dear life.

My Grandfather clearly hadn’t forgotten that day driving on the motorway either. When I returned I was handed the keys for the Porsche. It was an odd feeling, returning to that car after so much time had passed. He’d looked after it so well, I was half attempted to keep it, but the logistics of getting it back to Minnesota, let alone the ridiculous notion of driving it, dissuaded me.

The car went back to Tech-9, where the mechanics gave their condolences and told me about the day that he had picked it out.

They were as impressed with its condition as I was  – I just hope that the next owner treats it as well.

Winter Chill In Minnesota

When I first arrived here in Minnesota – it was the middle of July.

The sun baked us on the drive across the country from Silicon Valley, forcing us to make multiple stops on the way to pour water into the van’s thirsty radiator (as well as our parched mouths).

Those early summer days were blistering but blissful. The thermometer, nailed to a post on the veranda, hit well over 100 degrees on a couple of occasions and I remember, at some points, actively wishing for Winter to come.

Well, surprise surprise, I’m now looking back on those days with a certain misty-eyed nostalgia. I didn’t bother installing any AC during those glorious, endless days of summer heat. Having been cooped up inside a sterile office for well over a decade, it was a relief to be outside – with the dirt, kicked up by the dogs, sticking to the perspiration on my forehead. That sticky grime, that you can only obtain from spending time working outside, is part of the reason why I came out here in the first place.

Now, however, trapped in this bleak Minnesotan winter, any sweat that forms on my brow is more likely to freeze to my head than attract a Steinbeckian film of orange dust. My days of pretending to be a long lost Joad are well and truly behind me.

Recently we’ve been averaging a bitterly cold 25 Fahrenheit and that’s just what the temperature is reading outside. When I’m out walking H.G. and Isaac, the wind can pick up and make the temperature feel another 5 or even 10 degrees colder – they’re lucky they still get two walks a day.

I may have stalled on purchasing an Air Conditioner but I wasn’t about do the same for the heating system. The shack we’re living in isn’t exactly the most insulated building around. The estate agent told me that it had been on the land, a half mile down from the main road, for well over 30 years – as long as her company had existed for. There are little clues hidden around the place, suggesting that it might have even been built by the original owners.

Odd little carvings in the wooden cladding suggest that a person was making a constant record of the progress made on the build. The marks have slowly been eroded away by the abrasive summer breeze and bitter winter deluges, but the remnants of what look like Roman Numerals still remain etched on to the odd plank.

When we return from our walks, I often wait on the veranda, attempting to catch my breath whilst the chilled wind tries its best to steal it from me. As I lean against the post, checking the thermometer, the dogs shake off the dirt and snow from their underbellies.

I often find my fingers straying to the smoothed grooves in the decades old wood – my mind drifting to strangers, knocking gnarled pieces of wood together in a much simpler time.

No Billboards, No Pop-Ups – Still Brainwashed

There’s not enough people up here for billboards.

I noticed that on the drive in.

Driving through Nevada, Idaho, North Dakota. The populations of the counties starts to dip, and with it goes the advertising. Its like that old saying about the tree falling: if a billboard is erected in the middle of a deserted road, will anyone see it? I guess that analogy’s filled with holes, but H.G. seemed to agree with me on the way up (Isaac was taking a nap at the time, he’s not much of a thinker anyway). Its kind of pleasant driving around this part of the States. When I trundle off to Thief River, the only distraction on the road is the huge expanse of wilderness all around me. No beaming toothpaste big grins or stern Hollywood grimaces.

virginIts probably for the best really, I’m very susceptible to advertising. My internet went live yesterday, the one modern commodity that I would die without (I have an outhouse about 50 yards from my back door, totally fine with it). A big old satellite dish stuck on top of my little shack in the middle of nowhere, makes me look like a crackpot UFO hunter—I just want the option to watch some Netflix from time to time. Still, getting back on the grid means the return of advertising. I’ve got AdBlockers set up (I lived and breathed Silicon Valley for years, remember?) but the internet’s essentially one big advertising newspaper.

isaacYou see when you launch a search in Google (like you use anything else, right?) little bots run off at the speed of light to diligently bring you back what they think is most relevant. Now they’re quick, but not so smart. A few clever clogs figured this out a few years ago, and found out a way of tricking the bots into thinking that their sites were more relevant to certain search terms than others. This gave them a foot up on the ladder above the other boys and girls who hadn’t been so smart—and so began SEO.

So regardless of the lack of billboards or pop-ads, I’m always being advertised to. Whenever I’m looking to buy a new hard drive or maybe a new toy for Isaac, the first fifteen or so results will have just been manoeuvred there by some SEO company in Liverpool. Patiently seeding the internet with little falsifications to satiate their clients.

I’m still going to buy the hard drive and Isaac, well, he always gets what he wants.

From Silicon Valley to Minnesota

Well I’m here now…’Hi Mom!’, or so the old adage goes.

The journey from Silicon Valley took three days. If I’d really pushed the rental van I could’ve probably made it in two, but what would be the point in rushing?

The look on my boss’ face was interesting when I handed my notice in. A mixture of disappointment and mild annoyance. The guy never liked me, but I could tell he liked me better than the prospect of having to fill my position. One of the big 3 software companies, there would be internal interviews and inter-departmental squabbling – far more effort than hiring a man to clean your pool, that’s for sure. He limply tried offering me a raise, but it was no use and I could tell that he recognised the look on my face. He could see the wasted look of exasperation in my eyes and it was one he was familiar with – he stared at similar grey holes in the mirror each morning.

server-rack1

I had been so long in the heat and the dust and the wind of the Valley, that I felt like one of our giant servers. Constantly sucking in air to keep my mind cool, but all the while particles of dust would be lodging themselves into one of the labyrinthine nooks and crannies of my circuits inevitably leading to this – a meltdown. I’m being over-dramatic, that’s what my Mom said: ‘You’ve got a wonderful job, more money than your Father and I ever had – stay there, live, find someone!’

Nope. Sorry Mom. I love computers but I don’t want to become one. (‘So overdramatic!’)

I filled a small cardboard box with a couple of novels, a bonzai tree (Secret Santa gift of ’12, never been trimmed) and a stapler (not mine – taking it anyway). There was cake, and balloons – Sandra on reception cried as she does at every leaving do. Then I was in the car, back at the flat, boxes packed and in the van on my way to Minnesota. Happy trails.

nevada-roadThree days of driving, no rush. Just me and the dogs in the front cab, my IKEA futon and wide screen rattling in the back of the truck with the computers and hard drives that comprise my film and music collection. Willie Nelson and James Taylor gave us the soundtrack to our journey, I tend to lean pretty hard on the road trippin’ cliches when I’m driving long distance, I don’t think H.G. or Isaac mind too much. And now we’re here. Home Sweet Home. A shack in the middle of nowhere, mild now but no doubt a frozen wasteland in just a couple of months. I’ll be here for the indefinite future, writing and living.

The door’s open now and I can tell H.G. wants a walk because he’s staring out at the wide expanse with a feverish longing in his eyes. The heat and the dust and the wind of the road has gotten him all hot and bothered.

I feel you boy, lets go for a walk.