Reverse Gear

Duncan Christie-Miller

‘We had one of those’.

‘Never let us down’

‘She was called Marilyn.  Much better when topless’

Just a few of the typical remarks you get from complete strangers when you own a Morris Minor Convertible. Then the opening gambit is followed by a few memories about the brilliant 50s and 60s.

The lack of traffic, the motorists’ camaraderie, the price of petrol, picnics by the A303, the girlfriend.

Funnily enough there are no memories of leaking hoods, the inefficient heater or having to demist the windscreen every few minutes in the winter plus the agonisingly slow wipers … ah! Selective Memories.

I am writing this with one eye on Vera.  She is my ‘new’ 1960s Moggie convertible. What a girl! What a wonderful exhaust noise! And she will cruise at 50 mph. Yes … 50 mph! I am going to forget that her wipers and indicators failed on the M25 recently in heavy rain beset by charging leviathans covering us in drenching billows of spume and grit.

You see, there were benefits to motoring and life in those days. You planned your trips. Everyone recalled petrol rationing and thus were careful about getting lost and wasting both fuel and time. You could read a map. Indeed, you had to be able to read a map.

If you raised the bonnet you could identify the important bits – and see them clearly. A raised bonnet also indicated that you needed help and soon someone would draw up alongside and ask if you needed assistance. Or an AA man on a BSA with sidecar would appear, salute you and politely sort out your problem – normally electrical or the dreaded dirty fuel or misaligned points or an old spark plug. And then there was a chance to discover your father and he served together in the RASC in Italy.

You carried a tool kit, a spare can of petrol, some rags for wiping the dipstick and if you ventured abroad you proudly stuck on your GB plate and those odd shaped black templates on the headlights to alter the beam.  Not that Vera’s lights would actually blind anyone but it was a gesture that you were a proper motorist on an adventure across the Channel. You just hoped that there was no fog otherwise Europe would be cut off.

Do you recall searching for the pedal that dipped the lights while the oncoming car flashed you and if you could hear him swear at you as he passed you with his King of the Road headlights blazing away?

There were brilliant bacon sandwiches for sale at roadside caffs and the strawberries you bought just after Stonehenge actually tasted of … well, strawberries.

There were some cars with seatbelts, but they were for weaklings. Anyway, if you wore them you could not turn around and thump the kids in the back who after six minutes both asked ‘Are we there yet?’ and needed a wee stop. On many occasions you saw a small piece of roadside theatre with a britches-less child, a concerned mother and an apparently indifferent father enacting a ritual of pants down and pee or head down and be sick. And if there was dog present it would be lolling out of the rear window with an enormous tongue curling back in the wind showing off its central parting.

I once chased an open car with a good looking blonde in the passenger seat only to discover it was an Afghan hound.

Of course, you could drink and drive. How any pubs survived the new drink/drive laws remains a mystery. Perhaps, the police are human after all? They did not look like Stormtroopers then and were all akin to PC49 and Sergeant Dixon. Well, nearly all of them.

Did you learn to drive on a disused airfield with your father tensed up and imploring you to ‘DOUBLE DECLUTCH YOU IDIOT’ while kangarooing along the dispersal strip in a series of ever increasing bounds that would have won an Olympic medal for the hop, skip and jump? Of course, you passed your test first time? Perhaps you failed after reacting too slowly to the examiner thumping the dashboard with his clipboard as a sign that he needed an EMERGENCY STOP NOW! Or was it the three- point turn and the parallel parking? Most men failed first time. Most women passed first time. Discuss that if you dare.

As you turn on the air conditioning, relax into your leather armchair, tune to Classic FM and waft home on tyres with the grip of a gorilla – perhaps recalling that skid in the wet outside Torquay during a wet Bank Holiday on your nearly slick Dunlops – just think of the good old days.

Or forget them? Drive carefully. Have fun

Duncan Christie-Miller

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