A few weeks ago my wife and I were planning our annual summer holiday. We are only planning a trip down to Looe in Cornwall, a trip from where I live here in the West Midlands of some four hours leisurely driving, traffic conditions permitting. For some reason I began to think back to the very early sixties when my brother and I undertook the same trip with our parents, during the last week in July and the first week in August 1960.
My Dad at that time was the proud owner of a 1957 Morris Oxford. It was British racing green, was fitted with a 1500c.c. engine and had bench seats front and rear. The gear stick was on the steering column and the car was capable of around 85 mph, downhill with a prevailing wind. To say the equipment fitted as standard was basic would be an understatement. It had a heater, an interior light and although the car had an electric ignition it did come with a starting handle just in case. Radios were not fitted as standard back then so we didn’t have one.
The road networks of Britain at that time were also pretty basic to say the least. Back in those days there were no motorways as such, and certainly no M5 from the Midlands to the south west. Instead the most direct route to the West Country was by means of the ‘A’ roads which were far from direct. They meandered across the countryside and passed through many towns and villages, presenting numerous ‘bottle necks’ and therefore obvious delays.
The trip which had sprung into my mind took place in 1960. We were all off to Looe for a two week holiday. My Dad had serviced the Morris and checked oil and water levels again and again to ensure that the old girl was up to the epic trip it was about to undertake. Travelling in the Morris there would be my Mom and Dad, my brother (aged 2 years), my two Grandads, my Grandmother and of course me (aged 7 years). All the luggage that would be required for two weeks away from home was stowed in the boot and any other nook, cranny or crevice that would accommodate it. On the Friday evening Dad left work early and set about loading the car and once again checked all the vital fluid levels prior to setting off. It would have been about 6.00pm on that Friday evening when we set off. I can’t remember the route we took or which roads we travelled along as I was too young. I do remember however that at about 10.00pm that evening we pulled into a lay-by to stop for the night somewhere in the Bristol area. We had no overnight accommodation booked, we were going to spend the night in the car, as Dad had pointed out money was tight. I remember thinking that it was very lucky that the lay-by we had stopped in, happened to have a little pub nearby and Dad was able to go off for a quick pint whilst we tucked into sandwiches and fizzy pop. I have to say that was not the most comfortable night I have ever spent but I think we did all get a few hours sleep.
The next morning when I woke everyone was already up and about except for my brother who was still sound asleep. As I got out of the car to stretch and get my circulation going again I could see Dad boiling a kettle for morning tea using nothing less than a blow lamp. We ate breakfast and started off on the second leg of our adventure.
It was now Saturday morning and as I have already pointed out there was no radio in the car so the only form of entertainment were games dreamt up by my parents. These consisted mainly of counting cows and sheep or looking out for various items as we travelled ever southward. I recall a few traffic jams that Saturday morning as we drove through small villages. I now know that it was the start of the industrial holidays and hoards of people from the North and the Midlands were making their way south for their annual holidays. During that Saturday we stopped on several occasions so Dad could check the oil and water levels. We arrived in Looe safely at around 4.00pm in the afternoon. After unloading the car Dad went for a lie down as he said he was shattered from the drive.
I shall never forget that particular holiday in Cornwall. I suppose it was the fact that I was just a lad, but it seemed magical to me. How things have changed. Now it’s a few hours drive, in air conditioned cars with stereo radios and DVD players for the kids. You arrive reasonably fresh having driven down the motorway without a hint of an adventure. As an adult I would choose the way it is today, but looking at it through the eyes of a small boy I think I would pick the old Morris Oxford and the blow lamp every time.