This is the fifth post in this series, where I feature a car from my past and link it with something to do with being an author.
Today’s post features a British Classic, the ubiquitous Ford Escort Mexico Mark1. Mine was bright yellow. I think it is called Daytona Yellow, but I’ll stand corrected if you know better.
The Mexico was a product of Fords famous Advanced Vehicle Operations (AVO), built to capitalise on their success in the 1970 London-Mexico Rally. It used the same strengthened bodyshell as the RS models but was powered by a 1599cc pushrod engine, developing 86bhp and 92lb ft of torque.
Top speed? 99mph all-out (although ford said it could do 124mph.) That may seem pathetic now but still, the driving experience remains genuinely special.
Don’t just believe me, during the Silverstone Auctions in 2018 a 1973 Ford Escort Mk1 Mexico sold for a new world record auction price of £50,625.
The accompanying photo bears a close resemblance to my 1970s production car.
I was and still am a bit of a ‘Petrolhead’. I love fast cars and been fortunate enough to own several excellent machines and driven some other amazing examples.
It is a passion which I first recall having as a child of four or five years old.
I was born into a working-class family, living in the south of England, a country which was still smarting from the second world war. As with most families back then, it was a matter of make and mend.
Luxuries were simple treats like tinned fruit served with jelly and not as a separate dish on another day. We walked for miles to get to the shops, the market or visit relatives. Not many people owned cars and bus fares were deemed an unnecessary extravagance.
I recall many shopping trips when we wheeled a pram, a large ‘carriage’ type pram with a basket tray underneath and hooks on the handle. In the pram would be an array of bags. Sturdy leather ones for potatoes, vegetables and fresh fruit. Baskets for loaves and eggs, woven hemp or seagrass for the general shopping.
The shopping trip took in the butchers, I would watch as they cut the meats to order and counted the number of sausages strung together.
“How thick would you like your bacon?” he asked,
“Number four, please,” my mother would reply.
A weeks’ worth of freshly butchered meats, all wrapped in white ‘butchers’ paper’, would go into one of those bags we brought with us, a particular bag reserved for meat.
This story was repeated at the fishmongers. A piece of rockfish for my father, a small portion of cod for mother and a bag of sprats for us children. Each item wrapped in white paper by the fishmonger who served us. We would have the sprats ‘on toast’ with tomato ketchup or with a slice of bread spread with margarine for our dinner that night.
These purchases again had a dedicated bag. Fish needs to be kept apart from the other foods.
The shopping trip continued. At the bakery, if I were lucky, I would be treated to an iced finger roll. Basically, a plain bread finger roll with a smidgen of pink icing on top. Often, even mostly, this was given to my mother by the baker. A gift for me in recognition of her continued patronage.
The main grocery store, ours was the co-operative (CWS), was something to behold. I loved this place. For a young child, it was magical. Men in brown coats, with the help of ‘shop boys’, scurried around fulfilling the customers’ orders, mostly women with hats or hairnets who stood gossiping while the storemen collected and packed each order.
Our shopping was piled into a big box, often a long box which originally contained a gross of hens’ eggs. Once the order was complete, the payment was taken, cash, of course, and put with the bill in a large wooden ball.
The ball was then hoisted upwards on a contraption until, near the high ceiling, the ball fell onto a narrow metal track. I watched in wonderment as the ball rolled along this circuitous track above my head and disappear through a hole in the wall.
A few minutes later the ball would return, clunking and rattling along with the same overhead rail system, passing over and under several other wooden balls making their own way back and forth.
Eventually, the ball would drop onto a cage and the shopkeeper who collected our order would deftly twist the ball to open it, revealing the receipt and the change. He would then pass the receipt to mother and judiciously count the change into her palm.
It was some years before I understood the balls were sent to the cashier’s office, where the payment is taken and change made, so those working on the shop floor did not have to (or be trusted with) handling cash transactions.
There is an open-air museum in County Durham, called Beamish. (If you have the opportunity, please go. I know you will love it.) In the reconstructed town, this museum rebuilt an original co-operative store where the payment/cashier system of sending wooden balls along suspended tracks is still operational. One of my delights, to this day, is watching the balls run along those rails, the entire system operated solely by gravity.
It never fails to bring back memories of my childhood.
One of our final stops, when shopping, was a second hand (used goods) store called ‘Bluebird’. This is where my mother would buy clothes and household equipment. Many of the clothes were unpicked and made into entirely different attire. The odd bits and pieces of scrap material too small to be useful became dolls clothes for my sisters, other remnants rags for cleaning.
However, while my mother was looking around the shop and gossiping, I would go to the corner of the ‘Bluebirds’ where the toys were, especially the matchbox cars.
Here is where I found a Jaguar XK120 and a 150, both in ‘old English white’, a bright red e-type, a blue Bugatti racing car and so on. Sometime mother would let me keep one and I would carry it, clenched in my small fist, all the way home without letting it go.
I would not let my grip release the car, even when I needed to help push the pram or help mother to steady it up and down the kerbs, the large box on the wire tray beneath, bags sitting in the pram and those with the ‘delicate’ items swinging from the handle. Whatever occurred, I would keep my new car clasped tightly in my palm.
I did not know at the time, but this was, I am sure the beginning of becoming a petrolhead.
My dear little Mexico stayed with me for a well over a year. Only the water pump failed. I must admit I was a little sad to see it go, as I have been with most of the cars I owned.
(My next car, another Ford, soon helped me forget the Mexico… but that’s a story is for another time.)
Anyway… this post is leading me to say a person’s interest, their passion starts somewhere, usually in a small way when a certain event triggers their inquisitiveness, stimulates their curiosity.
For me, it was my child-being falling in love with small model cars which led to me having so many marvellous wheels once I became an adult.
Later, in my teens, I found books created those same heart-fluttering moments of marvel and wonder as I became totally lost in their pages, carried off to fictional worlds which made themselves real within my mind, so real they distracted me at school as I wondered what was happening if I would miss anything, anticipating what the character would do next.
Both reading and driving are passions conceived in childhood and now, in my dotage, they both still excite and comfort me in equal quantity.
I say to you, write if it is your passion to do so. Write in a way and a style which is all yours. Let it be fired by your love and lust for wordsmithing. Look to no one for permission or approval.
Buy the car you want to drive. Write the book you want to read.
You can check out the books I wanted to read because I followed my own advice and wrote them.
They are all on my website, right HERE
Feel free to browse around.