A Triumph Spitfire and me ~ c1974
“A computer!” shouted my five and six year old sons when asked to guess what our surprise was. “It’s something we’ll all love,” I’d told them. Their friend had a computer and they desperately wanted one too. (It was early in 1986 and very few families owned one). Their disappointment on being told that the surprise was actually a baby brother or sister was crushing. “But we really want a computer,” said the eldest. I knew exactly how they felt – I’d be seven when I too was told to expect a surprise that evening. When my father arrived home from work driving our first ever family car (a dark green Austin A30), I sobbed because I’d wanted a rabbit.
But just as the boys got used to the idea of a new sibling (and even rather liked their little sister once she arrived – at least until she became mobile and wrecked their games) , so my 7 year old self began to enjoy the excitement of ‘going for a spin’ on a Sunday afternoon. The Model Village at Bourton-on-the-water, feeding the swans on the River Severn in Worcester … Evesham, Broadway, Burford -the list of interesting places was endless and they usually had a decent ice-cream shop! Petrol must have been cheap in those days because it was very much later that I remember my Dad saying that if the cost of a gallon reached a pound, he’d give up driving!
I can’t say exactly when it was that the A30 gave way to a turquoise A40 but I do have clear recall, aged around ten or eleven, of the night we slept in it. Until then we had holidayed with my grandparents in Gloucestershire and always spend a few of the days visiting Weston-Super-Mare which was less than an hour’s drive away. Quite what possessed my mother to book a holiday in St. Ives in Cornwall, a journey close to 260 miles away, I have no idea. It was ‘the main holiday fortnight’ and I doubt very much that in those days the A38 ‘Holiday Route’ offered dual carriageways or bypasses. With our parents in the front, my brother and I were squashed into the rear seats alongside our mother’s sister, Aunty B, and various bags which couldn’t be accommodated in the boot or on the borrowed roof-rack. It was not a comfortable trip. As darkness fell we pulled off the road and were told to sleep; it wasn’t a comfortable night either.
After that came more Austins – first a pale blue 1100, and later still a sludgy green (described, not inaccurately, by my younger brother as cat-muck green) 1300. In 1975 the first brand new car appeared outside the house. Yet another Austin – this time it was the latest design – the Austin Allegro. This was the car that took me to my wedding the following year. Eschewing tradition, I chose to have my dad drive me. (I think I’ve mentioned previously my green wedding dress and matching nail polish – I was anything but conventional!)
The Allegro was the one and only brand new car my father ever drove. There was to have been another and this time a change from the Austin; a VW Golf had been ordered and on 4th August 1981 he was due to pick it up after work at 5.30pm. Shortly after 5pm my lovely Dad suffered a fatal heart attack. He was just 49 years old.
At 18 I had passed my driving test (in a mini which was what pretty much every one learned to drive in back then). My soon-to-be husband and I shared a purple Mk. III Triumph Spitfire and, though hopelessly impractical once my first son arrived in 1979, we held onto it and bought a six year old mini estate for me. With the back seats down the bulky Silver Cross pram fitted in a treat, complete with baby. It was a few years before baby seats became the norm. After Dad died and Mum had been persuaded to keep the new VW, I was given the Allegro and drove it until 1984. After that came a bright yellow Ford Capri, a turquoise Capri (which I absolutely loved but it was the most unreliable car in the history of motoring), a white Mini Metro and then a blue one but by then I had three growing children who regularly complained of being squashed so in 1991 I bought a bright red Ford Escort which due to changing home circumstances I kept for nine years.
My next car was another red escort (I have no idea why I chose the same) followed a year later by what I had longed for – my ‘dream car’. A colleague had a sporty Escort Cabriolet Ghia. It was dark green with a black canvas roof. A throwaway comment one morning, “If you ever want to sell that, I’d love it,” resulted in me buying it from her only a few weeks later. It was fast, reliable and with the flick of a switch the roof retracted. I loved the look of it but the dream, whilst not quite turning into a nightmare, soon died. It was an incredibly heavy car and the steering lock was awful. We live in a cul-de-sac and when I turn my present car around I can do so in one or two turns. The cabriolet necessitated a minimum four point turn. Parking it in the town centre’s multi-storey car parks with its narrow spaces was a complete pain and after a summer of knotty hair (headscarves and I have never gone together), I gave up and bought the car that still remains my favourite one ever – a bright red Ford Mondeo. It was a joy to drive. But then I got a promotion at work and with it a company car – a VW Passat at first and very nice it was, but the sale of the Mondeo was a reluctant one. Over the next few years I drove many, many miles in a Toyota Avensis and then a very sporty VW Golf (both black).
And then I didn’t want to drive all those miles any more. The offer of voluntary redundancy came up and I volunteered. In late 2011 I bought the car I still have now – a silvery- blue Vauxhall Astra. I like driving it but quite recently I had to get three new tyres fitted. Though the cost was not as high as the recent £700 repair to my husband’s car, my purchase, alongside ever- increasing insurance premiums, has once again raised the question of ‘going down to one car’. It is something we have talked about periodically.
My husband retired on the same day that I received confirmation of my voluntary redundancy request. We had both driven company cars for years and at the time neither one of use felt ready to relinquish our ‘un-shared’ car status so we each bought our own. We agreed to reconsider in three years time. Nearly six years on, a decision is very overdue. We each have our own interests and whilst we do enjoy doing things together, we do a lot of things apart. Much of what we do as individuals requires transport and the public variety simply doesn’t offer the flexibility required. I’ve had my own car and the independence that goes with it for over forty years. I really hate the idea of relying on someone else not needing the car. However, the irrefutable fact is that, for a large percentage of the time, one or other of the cars is sitting outside the house, unused. Both cars are getting older and with that comes the prospect of more frequent repair bills. Both are depreciating in value but if we sold them now it would give us a half-reasonable amount to put towards another one. But this is where we stumble – another ONE.
We talked about it again the other evening and to came to a (wholly unsatisfactory) decision: we’ll think about it in a month or two! Which is exactly the decision we came to last time and the time before that….and the time before that…..