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My point of view

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My personal views on life and things that make me think twice.

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A little bit of America in the Thames Valley

Memories Posted on Sun, February 15, 2015 10:16AM

Dad’s Ford Anglia 1200 Super wasn’t just a car, it was our
family’s entry into the space age long before the Weasley’s got theirs to fly
in the Harry Potter films. After several, in my eight year old opinion,
abortive attempts to join the ranks of the modern motorist, via the dreaded
Triumph Mayflower and the evil-smelling Austin A30, we had finally arrived in
something that was two toned, had chrome plating, and more importantly possessed
fins. Ok they were English fins and nothing like the elegant excess of those on
a Corgi model of the Chevrolet Impala but then we did live in a council house
at a time when ‘coffee’ was considered a reckless shade of ‘beige’ so anything
too extreme would have provoked comment, caused curtains to twitch and rumours
to start that one if not both of my parents were heading down the slippery
slope of debauchery.

What was there not to love about this car? Inside you had
colour-coded upholstery and rear side widows that could be opened with a
reassuring click to allow 2 inches of fresh air into the cabin plus an actual
stalk that flicked up and down to control the indicators. No more trafficators
for us! The nifty angle of the rear window meant acres of headroom so even with
a full load of four claustrophobia was going to be the least of your worries. Set
in a brushed steel panel was a state of the art speedometer that didn’t look
like granny’s mantle clock and all four forward gears had the luxury of
synchromesh which made a huge difference to my Dad’s inability to accurately
judge the impact of inclines on our journey. If things got too much in second
gear you could change down into first without all the bother of a hill start
and, with Dad’s variable skills in clutch control, all the heart stopping panic
that entailed. There was even an ashtray that wouldn’t have looked out of place
in one of those new-fangled Apollo things the Americans were regularly sending
up to orbit the moon.

And it wasn’t just me that loved it either. Between 1959 and
67 1,004,737 of the 105E rolled off the production lines and on to the nation’s
driveways to be joined on the roads by another 79,223 of the 1200E variant. I
think everybody also loved the fact that this was the first Anglia with an
electric motor driving the windscreen wipers, previous models having relied on
a vacuum arrangement that meant frantic sweepings at low speed and next to
little movement beyond 40 mph, which is a bit disconcerting in a sudden English
down pour.

Back then this Ford Anglia looked American enough to a boy
raised on ‘I Love Lucy’, ‘Bewitched’ and the ‘Dick Van Dyke Show’ to be living
the dream where food shot out of holes in the wall and everybody had a
refrigerator the size of a British wardrobe. In fact if you closed your eyes
that could be Mary Tyler Moore sat in the front passenger seat couldn’t it?

Well maybe not. No amount of chrome detailing and
colour-coded PVC upholstery could alter the fact that the minute we headed
beyond the town boundary my dad would invariably get lost and that even with a
mouth full of barley sugar sweets my mother was still able to make enough loud very
un-MTM sounding noises to signal her disapproval.

However in the micro-world of an eight year old child,
two-toned paint work, chrome stripes and knowing that your indicators were set
in an elegant upright arrangement rather than being orange blobs bolted on as an
afterthought were all enough to make you wonder if Las Vegas wasn’t just
lurking on the other side of the Thames Valley. So perhaps getting lost wouldn’t
be such a bad thing after all.

The Austin A30

Memories Posted on Sun, February 08, 2015 10:25AM

I’ll admit to having a guilt trip about this one. My dad
loved her. I just thought she was old and smelly. There was something about the
PVC upholstery that gave the car a very distinct chemical smell. So much so that
my mother was convinced we were leaking fuel. But looking back our old Austin
gave sterling service and later went on to be the family car for my sister and
her new family until 1968.

And they must have been good little motors (223,264 produced
in between 1951 – 1956) because despite my mother gripping the seat in fear of
being blown to kingdom come ours never broke down, blew up or otherwise
protested at my dad’s erratic driving. Somehow he never mastered the art of
navigating, steering and changing gear but the Austin A30 was a very forgiving
car. Which was more than his wife was when we got lost – yet again.

So what was there to be eight years old and embarrassed
about? Apart from Uncle Ron’s brand spanking new Mark I Ford Cortina and Monica
Moss’s gleaming black Austin Cambridge you mean? Probably it’s lack of speed because
with three forward gears and a 0 – 60 time of 42.3 seconds she was never going
to stun other drivers by skimming along the fast lane unless the road was empty
and Dad had steered her into it by accident, the Austin I mean, not Monica.

Hills were a bit of a problem too. I remember one outside
Hurstbourne Tarrant that nearly proved her undoing. That gradient was never
going to be conquered in top (third), or by the time Dad had got the hang of
it, second either. So up we crawled in first much to the distress of the people
in the rear view mirror and the twenty odd bewildered drivers behind them. Was
there a cow in the road they wondered? No just a man with no synchromesh on
first gear, an angry wife sucking furiously on a Barley Sugar sweet and a son
hiding in the back seat under his anorak.

Luckily a previous owner had modernised the car and fitted
proper indicators and unlike the base model version ours had two wipers, two
sun visors and a heater. She still smelled funny though, and continued to do so
to the end of her life, a smell so strong that even the combined delights of my
two nephews with full nappies and occasional projectile vomiting never managed
to overcome it.

But hey! The Austin A30 had a floor mounted gear change, which
should have made Dad’s job easier and a dash mounted indicator switch loud
enough to hear at low speeds but over 40 mph often meant the car following
wondered when and if we were ever going to turn left.

So why the guilt trip after all these years? Well, there’s
something cosy about the fact that the A30 looks like it’s been designed by
drawing round various sized jelly moulds and it’s cheeky little face always
looks as if it’s enjoying itself. You don’t see that many now (somebody will
correct me) which is a shame because in its day, at £507 it was £62 less than
its Morris Minor rival. The van variant, boosted into A35 format, went on being
produced until 1968. So where did they all go?

All articles ©Ian
Ashley 2015

The Triumph Mayflower

Memories Posted on Fri, January 30, 2015 08:56PM

Somewhere on the scale of life’s embarrassing moments
between suddenly finding yourself naked in church and dribbling on a stranger’s
shoulder on a train has to be the moment your dad turns up with the new family
car and its…a Triumph Mayflower.

Collectable today? Possibly. Rare? Certainly. But you have
to put this little gem into context to appreciate the full shame of being that
six year old boy sitting in the back and hoping nobody could see him. You also
have to bear in mind that whilst we were trying to look proud riding in what
could have been half a Rolls Royce, Margaret, across the road, was ducking her
beehive into husband Stan’s Ford Zephyr MkIII ( with real fins!) and Vi Parsons
who lived on the opposite corner was riding in state in a two-toned Zodiac
MkII. Even Charlie Gore’s Humber Snipe had a bulbous majesty we lacked. Somehow,
even amongst, the council houses with their pristine hedges and manicured lawns
we were never going to cut the mustard in THAT CAR!

And with only three column mounted forward gears propelling
a 1200 cc engine trapped in a body without even a nod towards aerodynamics we
were never going to get anywhere fast, which was probably just as well because
drivers behind were getting out of the habit of spotting trafficators even back
then so whichever way we turned they were always taken by surprise and honked
horns accordingly.

True, ‘Winnie’ as she was known (none too affectionately)
had leather upholstery and my mother did attempt to boost her social standing
by claiming all the white knobs and levers on the dash were made of ivory. They
weren’t. In fact the only things that car had in common with the elephant was
its lack of climbing ability up even the smallest incline and it’s habit of
stopping suddenly and refusing to budge another inch. Had she ate buns and
squirted water we may have loved her more.

She was very good at rolling backwards on hill starts towards
other startled drivers amidst a chorus of screams from me and my sister. Overheating
it just loved and whilst other motorists hit the then new M4 motorway with a
sense that the Sixties were really swinging, we headed off tearful and fearful
that we were never going to see our loved ones again. The only thing between us
and death by dads idiosyncratic driving style was the fact that anything we
ploughed into would have been smashed to smithereens, ‘Winnie’ being nothing if
not a sturdy girl.

For all her faults, like doodle-bugs, rationing and gas
masks, there is a rosy glow of nostalgia on the very rare occasion that I see
one now. Oh and yes…a sense of being six again, calling out, ‘are we there yet
dad,’ not because we were going anywhere nice but even then I suspected that
embarrassment in such large doses could be fatal.

For some strange reason Standard Triumph’s managing director
Sir John Black believed this car would be
especially appealing to the American market. It wasn’t. But then ‘Winnie’
didn’t seem to have been built with getting her kicks on Route 66 in mind. Even
then she was more a sedate shuffle round the dancefloor in a polyester
two-piece than a twirling dirndl and a flash of bare thigh.

Dad sold her, or rather mum made him, after one breakdown
too many (the car not her) and a very nasty moment around a clock tower in
Sunbury for the princely sum of £55.00. Was that, I wondered even then, enough
to buy something, anything, with fins and proper indicators? Sadly no.