Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Memories Of Cars

Strapping Tom safely into his car seat this morning triggered a whole lot of memories of the various car journeys I made as a child with my grandfather. My mum and dad have never owned a car though my dad got his license in his early twenties – instead if a car was necessary for a family holiday they would merely rent one.

My grandfather, however, got his license just after the war – on the second attempt. He failed the first test for being cheeky. As they drove up a steep hill the instructor apparently asked my grandfather what he would do when he reached the top – obviously expecting a technical answer to do with gear changes and the accelerator. My grandfather merely laughed and said he’d continue over the top and go down the other side until he reached the bottom.

That got him a big fat cross and a fail.

The second test he restrained his naughty streak and passed. From that point on, until he reached his eighties, he was never without a car. Hence most of the car journeys I experienced as a child were in his company and in his car.

Now every time we strap Tom into the backseat and nag Ben to put on his seatbelt I am always reminded of how, when my sister and I were of a similar age, we would ride quite happily and quite acceptably in the back of my grandfather’s car without seatbelts. I even recall one occasion when – as a treat – my grandfather let us both stand on the front passenger seat with our hands on the dashboard. This was wonderful as a small child to be able to see properly out of the windscreen as we drove along. Somehow I don’t think there are many children who experience such things now.

Countless times we would lie down on the backseat on long journeys and fall asleep under a “car blanket”. I even made the entire journey to Weston-super-Mare once lying down in the back of my grandfather’s old estate car, snuggled up to my grandparent’s huge Labrador, Kim, while my sisters and the grown-ups were all crushed up in the backseats and the front passenger seat. We didn’t think anything of it. It was normal.

And yet there is no way I’d allow Ben or Tom to do such a thing now. Health & Safety has encroached onto the Western consciousness like a new religion and we all of us, at least once a day, pray to it in some way or other.

My strongest memory of being in a car with my grandfather was when he would drive us around seeing various aunts and uncles and performing various errands on a Sunday morning before we’d go and spend the day with my Nan. One regular errand involved my grandfather sneaking into his work depot to secretly use their car washing facilities. He’d allow us to poke around the musty offices, help ourselves to notebooks and occasionally play with the telephones (old Seventies dial ones). One Sunday though, for some reason or other he made my sister and I wait in the car while he went off to do something. He would be “right back”.

I guess as a small child – and we couldn’t have been any more than 5 or 6 – time passes much more slowly than it does for an adult. It felt like he’d been gone for hours. We began to panic. Maybe he wasn’t coming back (God knows why we thought such a thing)? He’d forgotten about us or got lost. In the end, being the eldest, I decided we should climb out of the window and go and find him. My sister was up for this and the pair of us clambered from the back to the front of the car. We couldn’t, however, work out how to unlock the doors. My sister had a brainwave – a good one for a 5 year old – and wound down the driver’s side window. She managed to clamber out and drop down to the ground. I got halfway out when I heard my sister shout. My grandfather had reappeared. The last image I have of this memory is of my sister running towards him, her skirt flapping in the wind, as my grandfather jogged towards us asking in a loud voice what the hell we were doing.

I don’t recall being told off or getting into trouble. I just remember being relieved to see him and feeling safe.

And now forty years later, even with all the seatbelts and air bags and the Health & Safety procedures that litter our lives, I can’t say that I’ve ever feel as safe as I did that day when he walked so exasperatedly back towards us.

Seatbelts are essential and legally correct – I know this – but love is what made me feel safe.

I hope one day Ben and Tom will realize this too for all they may protest now at being “restrained”.


25 comments:

Heather said...

I am sure they do, although at that age they won't realise it of course, but you'll see it in their faces if they ever get lost for a couple of minutes and then find you, or when you pick them up from playing at a friends house or from nursery, that delight and relief at seeing you, at knowing that all is right with the world because Daddy is there.

Benmk2 said...

What a great blog post so much you have inspired me to write a post about child hood car memories that inspired me and the first cars I fell in love with. A different spin to yours, thanks for the inspiration. I will link to you also if thats ok:)

Steve said...

Heather: yes, that's true and it's always nice picking the youngest one up from nursery and seeing him so pleased to see us. The eldest I suspect is more pleased to see his Nintendo when he gets home...!

Benmk2: it's always nice to be an inspiration to somebody! Feel free to link - that's very kind.

ArtSparker said...

Lovely, have linked this since I posted about safety today. A Parisian blogger took his son out to play in the snow a couple of weeks ago and noted that all the public parks had been closed because the snow was considered a danger to children.

It's all compensation, isn't it? Since we keep making the world more unsafe on a macro level, we adjust with extra signs and belts.

Steve said...

ArtSparker: I think you're right... the more dangerous the world becomes the more fossick about for seatbelts and clipboards and risk assessments... until absolutely everything is dangerous. I do hope they'll draw the line at happiness. And thank you for the link, by the way, much appreciated. :-)

femminismo said...

What a lovely post. Oh, those grandfathers! Weren't they something. Big and strong and always letting us get away with mischief. I, too, rode in a big back seat and we even stood (!) up!! Once my little sister opened the door and stepped out (my grandfather was driving with my grandmother beside him), but she wasn't hurt badly. Just a scratch. She still says to this day I pushed her, but she's not being truthful. Just says it for laughs. I'm sure I was as frightened as my grandparents. Thanks for your post.

Gypsy said...

What a lovely post Steve.

I remember my mum bringing a new baby home from the hospital and she was just in a carry cot on the back seat. If she had suddenly had to brake the baby would have rolled right out onto the floor as it was only one of those flimsy cane things. I'm sure that thought hadn't even occurred to mum because they just weren't schooled to think that way back then.

I know we have to be careful and protect ourselves where appropriate but don't you feel like some of the fun has been taken out of life sometimes and we our making our world a sanitary place where good times mean danger? Sheesh.

Steve said...

Femminismo: grandfathers seems to have a real mischeivous streak, don't they? At least the best ones do! Thank you for stopping by!

Gypsy: I think the term "killjoy" has come into its own over the last few decades and now we need a risk assessment just to take our kids to a playground. I guess this is the natural outcome of a litigious society.

French Fancy said...

This post triggered so many 'driving with parents' memories. It's amazing how we all survived without seat belts - and I used to sit in the front sometimes and loved watching my dad change gears.

These memories of your grandfather are lovely and also necessary therapy.

Steve said...

FF: the way my grandfather drove the car was a mystery to me for a long time... i honestly thought the pedals worked like those in a pedal car at one point or like The Flintstones. Imagine my disappointment when I found out the truth...!

Gina said...

Oh yes, we used to stick our heads and most of our upper bodies out of the side windows to get the air blowing into our faces. I used to get my sister to keep hold of my arm just incase I got sucked out!

And yeah, we used to wave at and write signs for drivers behind us. We hardly ever just sat in a seat and looked out of the side window. How dull would that have been?

I once put my daughter in the boot. She was a tiny baby in a carrycot and I was tired. I missed the lifting her out of the carrycot stage and just wopped the thing in the boot. It was only when I got home and went to lift her out of the seat and saw she wasn't there, and nearly died of a heartattack that I realised where she was. She was still fast asleep.

I often carry extra children and do not fuss about seatbelts. If I have seatbelts for everyone we use them but often there are too many children.

Nota Bene said...

That's a very lovely post...I can picture it all in my head...so nicely written...it's a shame that we wrap our children in cotton-wool these days, and take some of the fun away, but we'd be heartbroken if anything happened to them....

Steve said...

Gina: I can remember writing signs on the windows for other drivers and waving at lorry drivers especially who were guaranteed to wave back for some reason. I'm sure nowadays there is a law against such things in case we distract other drivers and cause a crash!

Nota Bene: it's very hard not to be sucked in by all the Health & Safety guff. It's harder for me not to be indoctrinated as it is part of my job. I do find (if I'm honest) that I'm probably a little bit over protective... but can't seem to stop myself (even as I'm aware of the cavalier attitude I took to life and limb as a child)!

Mark said...

Sensitive post. I have similar memories: standing between the front seats; lying asleep in the boot; the smell of old cars...

Steve said...

Mark: yes, oil was a comforting smell when I was small and cars no longer smell like they used to alas.

Löst Jimmy said...

A delightful post Steve. My car memories are of a plethora of Volkswagen Beetles and bastardised VWs which were the preferred mode of transport for my father. The chug chug of the aircooled engine.

Steve said...

Löst Jimmy: cars are incredibly emotive spaces... safe cocoons and gateways to other, often more fun worlds (holidays and days out). No wonder they impinge themselves so strongly onto our unconscious mind when we're children.

Suburbia said...

How lovely that you remember that love that made you feel safe.

I used to travel home, as a child, in the back of the car lying down. The sleep taken then was almost trance like.

Steve said...

Suburbia: I quite miss being able to sleep on the backseat of a car... I find the motion of car travel very soporific.

The Sagittarian said...

Oh this post bought back memories for sure! I recall the days when we lived in Seddon and would drive down to Christchurch to visit family, we would leave at night as apparently we were too lively to go by day and would drive mum and dad bonkers. My little brother would be in his carry cot on the back seat and mum would make a big bed for us with blankets and pillows (often needed at the other end of the journey anyway), dad had an old Vanguard car which looked like a whale and just as big so we had plenty of room. We would pile in and miracles of miracles wake to find ourselves in a different part of the country in the blink of an eye!

Steve said...

Amanda: I can only recall one night journey and that was when my grandparents tooks me and my eldest sister to Weymouth... but even then we only drove until around 10pm and then stopped off at a hotel for the night before continuing in the morning. I think they were hoping we would be so tired we'd go straight asleep - no chance!

missbehaving said...

Steve, your posts about your grandfather provoke all sorts of memories, they are so good, so evocative.
When I was 3, my mum was in the hospiatl ahving just had my brother.
I couldn't go in cos I had the mumps, so my Dad left me in the car and said he'd be back in 5 minutes. I don't know if he was 5 minutes ( he always insisted he was, and as a parent I now know how elactic time can be) it may have been 5 or 50, but I do remember screaming and screaming and banging on the windows. When he came back I clung to his neck and he said he had to drive home with me sitting on his knee, arms around his neck still.

Steve said...

MissBehaving: I guess fear of abandonment is something we all experience as kids (and sometimes as adults). I know our eldest experienced it a couple of months ago when I nipped into my grandfather's house while he stayed in the car to play on his DS. If it wasn't for the battery running out on his console I doubt he would have been so aware of the passing of time!

Sarah said...

Interesting post-I am visiting from Art Sparker by the way! I know exactly what you mean about the encroachment of H and S but in the case of cars I think it is good. My brother, sister and I once travelled on holiday to North Wales in the back of my Dad's landrover-open soft topped back-just sitting side by side under a blanket. It was great!

Steve said...

Sarah: thank you for dropping by - do hope you'll return. I think we're all more conscious of "the dangers" these days - we've lost that innocent belief that all will be OK. Now we constantly worry about "what if" and so make up procedures to combat this accordingly. I guess there is no going back and whatever keeps people safe can only be a good thing, right?