Last week I based my post around the car I learnt to drive in, way back in1973.
This is the link if you want to read the post: https://wp.me/p5nj7r-1nM
This week I continue with the ‘cars I have owned’ themed series of posts.
(Okay, I did not own the Vauxhall Viva in the first post, but that’s just a little technicality we can dismiss for the sake of this blog.)
So, where was I… oh, yes.
I was back from sea.
My trip from Portsmouth took me over to Lisbon, on to Keel, then up to Copenhagen and onwards to Oslo before heading back to England, via Scapa Flow and Inverness. After which my sailing schedule was halted for a short period and I found myself based in the small village of East Meon, Nr Petersfield in Hampshire.
Now, East Meon is not a well-known place by any stretch of the imagination. It is one of those villages that, should you blink while driving through it, you would miss it completely.
I think the village was served by two busses a week. One on a Tuesday morning and another late on a Thursday afternoon, which meant, apart from the old ‘Shanksy’s Pony’ I would be pretty well isolated from humanity.
Not an attractive prospect for a young man of almost seventeen years of age.
Thus, four of my friends and I rummaged around in our pockets and collected the sum total of £39.86 (GBP) pence. This is, at today’s exchange, worth around $52.45 (USD).
Now, back in late 1974 early 1975, this sum was worth a little more than it is today and, I think, the Pound to Dollar rate was about two US Dollars for each British Pound. Anyway, whichever way you slice the cake, it was not a vast sum of money.
But it was more than enough for the five of us to find ourselves the proud owners of a 1961 Vauxhall Cresta, with two new tyres, which were in the boot, (that’s the trunk in Americanese) awaiting to be fitted.
Our bargain car cost us the princely sum of £25.00, cash, from our pooled funds. That left us with £14.85 pence to buy some petrol, (that’s gas to you Americans), and beer at the local village pub; which is located at the foot of the hill, about three miles away, along a very twisty and dark tree-lined country road.
Now, before you think this tale is about some disaster concerning five young men, a vehicle without any documentation or roadworthiness inspection, two bald tyres, a very dark, twisty, rain-soaked road and the fact that not one of those young men, (except my few lessons which got me passed my test almost eighteen months ago, lessons and procedures now totally forgotten), had ever driven a vehicle of any description on any sort of road before, you are wrong… sort of.
Brian, (I’ll call him Brian because, after forty-six years, I have forgotten his actual name), got to drive Caroline first. Why we decided to call the Cresta ‘Caroline’ escapes me but I should think there was no good reason, at least not one which would make any sense today.
The trip was a simple one. We would leave the base and, once we were off the track and onto the road, we would allow the car to freewheel down the hill for the three-mile trip to the village. Once in the village, we would be able to coast to the filling station, which in fact was just a single pump garage, put a small amount of fuel into the car and then go to the pub for a few beers.
We reached the tarmac road at the top of the hill and began our descent, killed the engine and allowed the car to coast downhill, picking up speed as it went. In those days’ cars did not have power steering and the breaking was a matter of pressing hard, feeling the breaks fade, letting them off and jumping on them again, as sort of camber breaking to help the breaks bite.
However, as none of us were experienced drivers; we knew nothing of this technique and, as the car began to accelerate to breakneck speed, the four of us pressed ourselves further and further back into the leather seats with wide grimaces plastered across our fear frozen faces as we watch, unable to move as Brian, now a paler shade of white than an albino turd, stood upright planting his entire 7 and a half stone, that’s around 105 pounds, weight on the brake pedal and wrenched the steering wheel right and left as the sharp, blind bends rushed at us at warp speed.
Rounding the final bend, the road levelled out as it approached and entered the village of East Meon. By the time we were nearing the garage, the car had slowed to around thirty miles an hour and Brian realised he had been standing on the accelerator (gas pedal) and not the break. He now pressed the correct pedal and the car jerked to a halt, throwing the four of us forward.
I hit my head on the dash. Dave slid off the bench seat and disappeared under the consul. Jack became wedged in the passenger footwell and Mark landed on top of him, breaking Jack’s nose in the process.
Dave said, “What the fuck” as he extricated himself from wherever he had disappeared, climbed over me to get out of the car, ran around to the driver’s door and pulled Brian from the vehicle, throwing him unceremoniously into the middle of the road. He then jumped in, started the car and drove the remaining ten yards to the pump.
We fuelled the car with enough fuel to get us back up the hill and, we hoped, back down again but in a much more controlled manner. Then Dave drove to the pub, but not allowing Brian back in the car, so he had to walk. (It was a quarter of a mile at most.)
After a beer or three each. It is amazing to recall how far a few pounds would go back in those days. It was time to leave and make our way up the hill and back to base. I am unsure of how it happened, but I was the one nominated to drive back. I was both terrified and excited at the same time.
Now, as I said before, this car did not come with any warranties with regards to its roadworthiness or any guarantees as to what parts worked and what was defunct. We soon found out only one headlight worked, as did one windscreen (windshield) wiper and, guess what, it was not the one on the driver’s side.
The heaters power however compensated for both of these malfunctions. Whenever the headlights or the windscreen wipers were switched on the heater blasted out a stream of red-hot air akin to the afterburner of an F15 fighter aircraft. The heater was also automatically activated when the left turn indicator was used, as it was when reverse gear was selected.
If on occasion, the glove box was opened while the car was moving at over thirty miles an hour, the radio would come on at speaker shaking, window-rattling volume; tuned into some random station, never once the same as the time before. Other than that, the radio would not work at all.
So, I got to drive the three miles back up the hill in the pouring rain with illegal tyres, no clear vision, jets of hot air bonding my polyester trousers to my legs, all the windows wide open, to compensate for the lack of oxygen available to our lungs because of the same furnace, the persisting rain blowing painfully into my face by the gale-force winds and the radio ear-splittingly blasting the drumming jazz hit, ‘Skin Deep‘.
I must say though, this journey back was surprisingly uneventful if you disregard my searching for and getting the wrong gear on the column change as I struggled to understand the mechanics of controlling a motor vehicle whose controls were alien to anything… that one vehicle I took lessons in… oh, and the swerving, harsh breaking and full 180 degrees spin, on tyres so worn they were all but slick, I managed as I swerved to avoid the deer, which ran out from the almost pitch black shadows of the trees in the pouring rain.
How I did not hit the deer, the embankments or end up shitting my pants, I am unsure but I got us all back alive if a little shaken.
Over the next few weeks, we did get the headlight fixed and replaced all four tyres. No one knew what to do with the heater, so we simply put up with its furnace temperatures by driving most of the time with the windows wide open. As for the radio, we decided it was haunted and the soul of the car, so we left that well alone, just in case ‘Caroline’ was a relative of ‘Christine’.
A few months later it was time to move on, so we sold ‘Caroline’ to a group of ‘newbies’ for the heavenly sum of £50.00. That was a one hundred per-cent profit on our original investment.
I often wonder what became of Caroline. Maybe she continued to service the base’s personnel until they closed it down in 1993.
What, you may ask, has this post got to do with writing or being indie?
I like to think it shows one can create a story from even the most basic of events from our everyday lives.
The next time you feel stuck for something to write about, scribble a short article about what happened to you today, yesterday or twenty years ago. I am certain you will find you have an audience eager to read about those events in your life.
Try it. You have nothing to lose.
Keep Happy, Paul
If you liked this short story why not download one of my Electric Eclectic Novelettes, they are longer short stories I am sure you will enjoy.
Find my books, paperbacks and ebooks, including my Electric Eclectic books HERE
Want a bit more? Then check out ‘Within the Invisible Pentacle’ a collection of short stories all with feminine titles.