Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A young man’s car

We courted in Canada, Linda and I, for much of 1965 and ’66. I worked in Toronto, she in Barrie. She had a VW Beetle, I a “Yank tank” – a rusty Oldsmobile that could wind up to 92 mph on the highway, the passing road visible through a ragged hole in the floor beside my feet.

Our marriage early in ’67 began a fabulous 8 ½ years of fun. We packed everything we owned into a drive-away car , delivered it to its snowbird-owner in Orlando, and knocked on doors in Nassau until we got jobs. Then we spent 90% of our savings on a brand-new Triumph Spitfire, which we drove around with the rag-top down – weather permitting. [Me and Miss Ohio, Archives April 2013]

In Perth (Australia, 1971) we bought a second-hand Spitfire, also with a rag-top. Like “Vee Dubs”, Spitfires were a young man’s car. In Vila (New Hebrides, 1972-5) we had a company car – a Toyota: an exec’s car. Far too sedate for us, but it was free; what can you do?

The next year, we (I...) determined to chase down the dream of retiring to the caves of Crete [Zorba the Greek, Archives January 2012] in a brand-new VW Kombi that I got converted into a camper-van in Reading while waiting for Ross. The chase was a disaster from the day we set out, pretty much – unexpectedly traumatic for us new parents. Where two had been company, three was a crowd.

The mess came to a head with what could have been a fatal accident when I ran a red light in Malaga. In those days, in that place, the traffic lights shone in excessively dull shades – each colour scarcely distinguishable from the others, in the late afternoon. A giant truck (running the pale green light) screeched heroically to a halt five inches from my door.

I drove across the junction (on green!) and sat in stunned silence for endless minutes before limping on to the first camping ground we came to. Progress was suspended for the winter. We rented a flat and actually enjoyed ourselves, but it took a barrel of 10-mil Valium tablets to remove the numbness from my fingers and to recover just enough confidence to resume the journey towards the Promised Land.

I never did recover it all. We moved in safe, short stages: a few nights in Monaco with Linda’s sister, a month in Vasto on the Adriatic (where the brother-in-law owned a flat), then three pleasant months in a camp-ground in Corfu. We were only 200 miles from Athens, as the crow flies, and Athens was only 200 miles from Crete by ferry. But psychologically Crete was as far away as the moon, and it was never mentioned again. That dull red light in Malaga had signalled the end of the road for our life of travel. There were a few flickers of defiance, in years to come, but there was no fire any more.

Linda and Ross flew to Australia for three months. My Mum came over, and we camped all the way to London through Yugoslavia and northern Italy and Switzerland. She loved every moment and never forgot one of them. It was a son’s delight to watch her revel in the experience.

Reunited as a family in Bath, where my English grandfather had been born and raised, Linda and I agonised over our future for a whole year. Then, by default, we threw in the towel and retreated to Cayman for the rest of our lives.

That’s the end of the story. We drive sedate Toyota sedans now – old ones, but in good shape. Sometimes I see an old Beetle around town, made in Mexico or Brazil or wherever; but I’m not tempted. They’re a young man’s car, and I haven’t been young since Malaga. Sometimes – sometimes – what can you do?