Few events mark the passage of time more emotionally than invitations. It starts with invitations to christenings then birthdays, 21sts and engagements, weddings and anniversaries. It goes downhill after that – funerals. Fortunately such events are less dark and sombre than they were. Such gatherings tend to celebrate the life lived rather than the more sombre mourning of the passing of family or friend.
All too frequent these days, there was another yesterday. This one particularly poignant. Pat Finlay. The majority of you won't know her, but the old hands may recall her as the wife of Ross Finlay who passed away 13 years ago. Ross was a former motoring and motor sports journalist and broadcaster, contributor to 'Motoring News' and a former co-ordinator of the Scottish Rally Championship in the 1970s. In fact I took over as co-ordinator from Ross when he stepped down in 1980. He wasn't a mentor, but he did give sound advice and offered valued opinions and quietly supported this young upstart.
As for his wife, Pat, she had the patience and tolerance of a saint, and was possessed of an outwardly regal demeanour and an almost Mona Lisa-esque smile. She even managed to cope with the exuberant antics of a certain Jaggy Bunnet in those far-flung carefree days. She accompanied Ross to most rallies he attended helping out as and when necessary particularly on the International Scottish Rally when it was truly international and a proper rally.
Ross manned the Press desk on that event with Pat keeping him in some sort of order. In the '70s, in those wonderfully quaint days before mobile phones, volunteer (but carefully selected!) Information crews were dispatched to Special Stage finishes to grab a quick word or memorable quote from drivers then scamper out to the nearest public phone box (marked on OS maps) and phone back these gems and merry quips to Press HQ.
At the end of one such stint, the youthful Jaggy returned to HQ in the Post House Hotel in Aviemore to report in for the day. As was his wont, and possessed of an uncanny ability to vocally imitate a Ford BDA (often used to particularly good effect while commentating at rallies and race meetings!) he attacked the stairs in 1st gear, grabbing 2nd halfway up the flight, the sound resonating around the stairwell, on to the landing, a 90R into the corridor, grabbing 3rd halfway along, then 4th on the rundown to the open Press Office door in a converted bedroom. At full volume, echoing off the narrow corridor walls, far in excess of modern decibel limits, it was down the ‘box, double de-clutching on the way and executing a perfect handbrake turn - with tyre squeal - into the room.
Unbeknownst to our hero, Ross was seeking a bit of peace and quiet, sitting on the toilet, reading out loud and timing his script for the BBC while Pat was dutifully sorting out the paperwork at the dressing table. As the approaching crescendo increased and the ‘mechanical cacophony’ erupted into the room, Ross kicked the door hard with his foot, slamming it shut with considerable voracity at which point Pat erupted into gales of laughter.
Asking where Ross was, Jaggy was told he was in the loo. He wasn't actually 'doing the business', just looking for somewhere quiet away from the din and hubbub and sitting on the closed toilet seat, practicing his script - till his senses were assaulted by a BDA bellowing along the corridor. Aye, Ross could draw someone a real dirty look at times, but Pat just laughed, not so much at Jaggy, but at Ross' annoyed reaction and the violent bang of a door being kicked shut.
I don't know why, but sitting there in the quiet stillness before the Service, that wee tale came back to me. The exasperation, disapproving looks and sighs of abject frustration - and the patient tolerance, humour, smiles and laughter. He was a grand chap, and she was a lovely lady.