By­ways

Evergreen - - Contents - Roger Har­vey

The typ­i­cal pack­age hol­i­day of the 1960s was not for my fam­ily. Rather than sit­ting on a plane to Spain we took the car — and not just to Spain. In 10 years of won­der­ful hol­i­days we toured much of Europe and I col­lected ex­pe­ri­ences to en­rich a life­time.

My fa­ther and his brother owned a suc­cess­ful car- sales busi­ness, my mother was a vastly ex­pe­ri­enced mo­torist who had driven my fa­ther’s pre- war Lagonda be­fore her mar­riage, and al­most ev­ery other type of car after it, and I had learned to drive as a seven- year- old on coun­try roads and dis­used air­fields — so when I was 13 and it was de­cided I should see the Con­ti­nent, it seemed per­fectly nat­u­ral that we should take our ex­per­tise and love of cars abroad.

That sum­mer of 1966 we went to Switzer­land, and I never for­get the ex­cite­ment of my first Euro­pean travel in that hol­i­day car of happy mem­ory: our bright red Hill­man Minx, BVU 356C. On our last night in Eng­land, tak­ing cof­fee in the el­e­gant White Cliffs Ho­tel in Dover, I watched crossChan­nel fer­ries ablaze with lights as they slid

Mo­tor­ing Ad­ven­tures

in and out of the busy har­bour, and knew that the morn­ing would bring me a spe­cial rite of pas­sage. “First time over there,” grinned my fa­ther in the man­ner of a Squadron Leader send­ing a novice pilot on his first sor­tie. “You’ll love it!”

And I did. Ev­ery­thing in France seemed so dif­fer­ent, in­clud­ing the mo­tor­ing: epit­o­mised by the spec­ta­cle of a French farmer thrash­ing his matt- grey Citroën 2CV down a Route Na­tionale with a large pig on the back seat. We crossed poignant bat­tle­fields of the Western Front to spend our first night in the Cham­pagne city of Reims. Later came the Rhinelands and the in­vig­o­rat­ing Alps. I was thrilled by the lakes and moun­tains and the bright flags of the can­tons colour­ing the neat Swiss towns. Best of all was a mag­i­cal vista of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau lit pink and gold in an en­chanted sun­set be­yond the gar­den of our tiny wooden ho­tel.

In 1967 we drove the length of France again to make a tour of Spain and Por­tu­gal: a parch­ing trek through dry hills and desert plains. There were places in cen­tral Spain, far from the tourist- traps of the Costas, where a car like our Ford Cor­sair Au­to­matic had never been seen… and au­to­matic trans­mis­sion fluid un­heard- of. When we ran out of this, a des­per­ately needed top- up was ob­tained from the hy­draulics of a

road­side dig­ger — by means of sign lan­guage and the help of a lo­cal po­lice­man while be­mused vil­lagers looked on.

In 1968 an­other Ford Cor­sair was hoisted aboard the Ber­gen Line ship Leda and we sailed from New­cas­tle to Nor­way, over­taken by a mid­night storm. Al­most ev­ery­one was sea­sick — even my fa­ther, an ex­pe­ri­enced ex- Mer­chant Navy sailor. I was nearly tossed out of my bunk; not that I cared, I felt so ill. My mother, stom­ach in­tact, was one of only a hand­ful of pas­sen­gers who joined the Cap­tain for break­fast in an eer­ily de­serted din­ing room.

When Leda stopped rolling and cruised with de­light­ful rock­steadi­ness up the beau­ti­ful Ber­gen Fjord, I sud­denly re­alised I had scarcely felt bet­ter in my life. Daz­zling sun­shine, blue wa­ter and lush green is­lands made our first view of Scan­di­navia look like a trop­i­cal land­fall, but once out of Ber­gen we knew we were in fjord coun­try. Amid mag­nif­i­cent scenery most of the roads were sur­faced with loose gravel. This was ru­inous to car paint­work and slith­er­ingly dan­ger­ous; never more so on than on the no­to­ri­ous Stal­heim Hill, as near ver­ti­cal a drop as I have ever ex­pe­ri­enced in a car. But my mother kept the heav­ily- laden Ford in a straight line and we sur­vived to cel­e­brate with big­ger meals than we had ever seen. When we or­dered chicken we got a whole one — each! Sea trout meant just that: a whole sea trout, which is a lot of fish for

three peo­ple. Dessert was no es­cape from the calo­ries: the tri­fle came in a wash­ing- up bowl- sized dish. My fa­ther never quite lost the ex­tra weight he put on in Nor­way!

A long drive to Aus­tria was next in 1969: a de­light­ful re­turn to Alpine air and beau­ti­ful mu­sic. By 1971 I had a full driv­ing li­cence ( and an In­ter­na­tional one, which looked like “pa­pers” forged by POWs in The Great Es­cape), so I was en­ti­tled to take the wheel of the stately grey Wolse­ley we drove to Italy. We sat in Florence, over­look­ing the Ponte Vec­chio in a ro­man­tic dusk, braved the hectic traf­fic of Rome and the in­fer­nal heat of the Au­tostrade del Sole where Fer­raris and Maser­atis zipped past us at a shock­ing 120 miles- per- hour, and came at last to spectacular views across the Bay of Naples and the haunted, sun- struck streets of Pom­peii.

My mother liked to drive bare­foot, es­pe­cially in sum­mer, and there were many days dur­ing our hot trips across Europe when she didn’t wear shoes at all. The Ital­ians and the French thought her cool and chic, the Span­ish, to whom bare feet sig­ni­fied poverty or pen­i­tence, thought she was crazy. But once be­hind the wheel, no ve­hi­cle was be­yond her ca­pa­bil­i­ties and no drive be­yond her en­durance. She nursed a va­ri­ety of big cars through heat, thun­der­storms, and be­wil­der­ing traf­fic jams. She ne­go­ti­ated the rugged moun­tains of Spain, swung us over Alpine passes, and roared down the blis­ter­ing length of Italy — all with su­perb driv­ing skill, el­e­gant style and tire­less good hu­mour. High above Monte Carlo she stripped off her dress just so she could say she had driven the Grande Cor­niche road in a bikini!

Oc­ca­sion­ally we be­came lost, al­most never on ma­jor roads ( one of us was al­ways nav­i­gat­ing from a sheaf of maps) but some­times in the towns or cities as we tried to find our ho­tel. Some­where deep in France

we stopped out­side a bar crammed with men watch­ing foot­ball on a flick­er­ing black- and- white tele­vi­sion. My fa­ther and I ven­tured ner­vously in; our mix­ture of schoolboy French and war- movie Ger­man, which got us through most sit­u­a­tions, failed to ex­tract any mean­ing­ful direc­tions. In­deed it stim­u­lated chaos as dif­fer­ent men of­fered dif­fer­ent ways to the ho­tel. We had to walk out and find our own way, leav­ing an arm- wav­ing ar­gu­ment be­tween bar­man and cus­tomers as the foot­ball was ig­nored and the var­i­ous routes fu­ri­ously de­bated.

By 1972 we thought we should tour our na­tive coun­try of Eng­land; amaz­ingly blessed with good weather al­most all the way. The fol­low­ing year found us in the South of France: the glam­our of the Riviera and the el­e­gance of Nice. In 1974 we sailed for Den­mark: more sea­sick­ness on the voy­age to Es­b­jerg, then into our red Ford Cortina Mk. III to cross the flat­lands and bridges to Copen­hagen, which seemed a stylish, fun- lov­ing city.

Our last fam­ily mo­tor­ing hol­i­day came in 1975 when we toured Scot­land in a Hill­man Avenger. But I had al­ready fallen in love and wanted to spend my hol­i­days with my girl­friend while she took a sum­mer job in Kent. By this time my mother was grow­ing tired of the heat and dust and the long hauls to for­eign ho­tels of du­bi­ous qual­ity, there was also ill­ness in the fam­ily, so the car tours came to an end. But over 10 glo­ri­ous sum­mers we had seen the fas­ci­nat­ing sights of Europe in a most ex­cit­ing and sat­is­fy­ing way.

If I give the im­pres­sion that these hol­i­days were jolly jaunts packed with ex­cite­ment, amusing in­ci­dents, the oc­ca­sional hard­ship and a few hair- rais­ing es­capades, that’s true enough. But for me they were also in­tensely spir­i­tual ex­pe­ri­ences which have in­spired me through­out my life. In those years, the trips abroad seemed the most im­por­tant things I was do­ing. Win­ter months would be spent on in­tense plan­ning with my fa­ther, the lat­est maps spread across the din­ing ta­ble: more ab­sorb­ing than any home­work of­fered by

school. The jour­neys them­selves were as valid an ed­u­ca­tion. I trea­sure the con­stel­la­tion of youth­ful mem­o­ries and images they gave me, some of which found their way into the writ­ten works and nov­els of my ma­tu­rity.

I thought I might never find an­other writer who could ex­press some­thing of what I had ex­pe­ri­enced on those soul- stretch­ing trips — un­til I read this pas­sage in Ian Flem­ing’s Thrilling Cities:

Driv­ing a fast car abroad is one of my keen­est plea­sures: the eight o’clock de­par­ture with some dis­tant lun­cheon stop as tar­get, the in­ter­me­di­ate stop for ‘ elevenses’ on the shady ter­race or un­der the fruit trees of a Gasthaus, the good mo­ment when the tar­get is reached and lun­cheon comes… then the shorter run in the af­ter­noon to the cho­sen ho­tel, the walk around the vil­lage or town, din­ner and a deep sleep after plan­ning the next day. What is so pleas­ant is that, com­bined with the de­li­cious new sights and smells of ‘ abroad’, there is a sense of achieve­ment, of a task com­pleted, when each tar­get is reached with­out accident, on time and with the car still run­ning sweetly. There is an il­lu­sion that one has done a hard and mer­i­to­ri­ous day’s work… Ev­ery tour­ing mo­torist knows these sen­sa­tions and I ex­pect, for all of us is­lan­ders — from the first cob­bled kilo­me­tres at Calais to the sad day when you re- em­bark as the lucky ones’ cars are be­ing un­loaded — Con­ti­nen­tal tour­ing is one of the most de­light­ful ex­pe­ri­ences in our lives. I know ex­actly what he meant.

The au­thor’s par­ents with the bright red Hill­man Minx, which took them on hol­i­day to Switzer­land in 1966.

An­other year, coun­try and car! The au­thor, his mother and their Ford Cor­sair.

DAVID HUNTER

Dover was the start­ing point for the fam­ily’s Swiss ad­ven­ture.

An English lady driv­ing bare­foot prompted ad­mi­ra­tion in some coun­tries, as­ton­ish­ment in oth­ers!

PAUL THOMP­SON

New­cas­tle upon Tyne, the au­thor’s home city, where the fam­ily sailed from on their 1968 hol­i­day to Nor­way.

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