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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Cars I've Owned- Part 1

Over the years I've owned many cars. Some I've loved, but many I have hated. You have a definite love/hate relationship with the car you own, basically because when they run smoothly, get you from point 'A' to point 'B' without any problems, when they decide not to behave, for example, refusing to start, or breaking down unexpectedly, they are more hated than loved. Most, if not all, the cars I've had have been second hand. I never seem to be in a position financially to afford a completely new vehicle, so the old cars I've had were prone to the usual faults such as refusing to start in cold or damp weather and one-hundred-and-one other problems. I suppose an older car is going to cause more problems than a brand new one because the bits and pieces, such as brakes, tyres, water pump, starter motor and so on are the bits that wear out fastest and so cause you the most problems.

Having been brought up on a farm does have it's advantages, particularly when you're starting to learn to drive. There is always space, or at least there was at Malting Farm in Cardington, I don't know whether all other farms are the same, allowing you to be able to drive a vehicle along farm tracks or across meadows and fields without encountering other vehicles. I was able to drive tractors which aren't exactly like driving a car as they have so many gears and sub-gears and far more levers to shift into these sub-gears. But at least I was able to drive such vehicles as Land Rovers which gave me a chance to do some driving, although off-road, before I was able to start driving lessons. 

The first car I owned was a Ford Anglia, the classic car from the 1950's- 1960's. I was working at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham in 1969 (see earlier post on here which gives a full  description.) Before I'd gone there I had been doing driving lessons and hadn't yet done my driving test. I don't know how many lessons I'd had, quite a few I seem to recall. My test was set to be during the summer break in the theatre's season so I went home to Bedfordshire. I probably took a few more lessons and then did the test. Unfortunately I failed miserably, on something quite trivial, like not turning right or left when told by the examiner, or keeping up with the traffic. I went back to Cheltenham and did a few more lessons there and did my test and this time I passed! As a result my parents bought me the Ford Anglia, which cost all of £75! I know, looking back, it doesn't seem possible that you could buy a car for so little! It was two-tone green, light on the top half and dark on the bottom half. It had quite a few quirks. One being the windscreen wipers. When you put them on, and you drove slowly, say, up a hill, in a rainstorm, they moved fast, but if you drove faster, for some strange reason they moved slowly. Why? Seems odd thinking about it now. On those old cars you had the headlight 'dip' control on the floor near the clutch pedal, unlike in a modern car where you control the 'dip' with a lever on the steering wheel column. I think it might even have had indicators which actually stuck out from the side of the car when you were going to turn either left or right and not just a flashing bulb on the four corners of the car. It's a wonder they never got knocked off when a bicycle or someone went past. Goodness, how cars have changed, but this is a good 45- or more years ago.

Of course, having a car was made use of as part of my stage management job. Moving on to work at Greenwich Theatre a few years after working at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham, as part of my work I had to return a lot of items which were used as props in a show we'd done. I had to load up the little Ford Anglia with no end of items and then drive into the centre of London and return the things to some of the prop hire companies around Covent Garden in particular. I had not been driving for very long and it was quite nerve wracking driving through Marble Arch, not knowing exactly where I was supposed to go and no sure which lane I was supposed to get into as well and looking at an A to Z Atlas of London which was open on the passenger seat beside me. It was quite hair-raising, to say the least. The best way to learn to do something that might be difficult is to just get on and do it, a good motto for life I always think. Spending to much time mulling it over is a good way of talking yourself out of it, so that incident driving through Central London certainly taught me a thing or two and came in handy a good deal later when I used to go in to London in my car when I used to do TV walk-on work and had to get to, say BBC Television Centre or any of the major television or film studios such as Pinewood or Shepperton.

On another occasion I had to drive a large van with a load of furniture into central London and was going to return it all to the various hire firms around the city and beyond. It was a rainy day, which didn't exactly help matters. I don't think I had ever driven such a large vehicle before and I think it must have been the largest vehicle you could drive on an ordinary driving licence. I soon found out that stopping the engine was no easy matter. You couldn't just use the key to turn it off when you wanted to park the vehicle. The only way to stop it was to stall it by shifting the gear stick and the clutch at the same time or something weird which made the lorry shudder horribly. I went with another stage management member to help me unload the furniture, which included a piano. Somewhere in Covent Garden (at a time when the fruit and vegetable market was still there.) it was a real knot of small alleyways and roads and I accidentally got into a one-way street- the wrong way, so I had to reverse the lorry quite a distance so as to get out and so get back into the correct flow of traffic. Not an easy manoeuvre at he best of times, but not helped by the fact that it was raining. My vehicle-driving experience was increased several times over that particular day.

I was always very keen to keep on the right side of the law. For some reason or other, one always gets somewhat edgy, almost guilty, for whatever reason, when you are out driving somewhere and you see a police car, when you're absolutely sure you've done nothing wrong. On one occasion, when I was working at Greenwich, when I'd gone home for the weekend and was driving back to work fairly early one Monday morning. The route required me to go through the Blackwall Tunnel. I never like driving through tunnels at the best of times, but I had to go and ignore an instruction on a reading or one of those overhead gantry things, which told me to move over into a different lane. I just drove on and didn't move over to a different lane and I got stopped by a Police car, pulled over to the side of the road. I didn't have my driving licence with me and was told I'd have to go into a Police station and show my licence. I was numb with fear. I don't know why. I don't think, up until then,  had ever set foot in a police station. So, I did as I was told and a few days later I did just that, produced my licence at the police station somewhere in or around the Greenwich area, was told to not do 'it' again, and went away, fully warned off. I don't think, after that, I ever ignored an instrucion as regards driving in the right lane ever again.

As for hating any cars I've owned one was a bright red Ford Escort estate. Bought from a neighbour. It was a real pain to get started, particularly when the weather was damp or cold. I tried to remedy it with such things as new spark plugs, battery leads and other bits and pieces that I replaced, but all to no avail. It was worse when it was damp, even when there was no rain. Those cold, misty mornings, a slight drizzle, you name it, the confounded thing refused to start. Even having a tow from someone else's vehicle and jump starting, it would not start. So much so I just lost my temper and gave the confounded thing a good kick. A bit like that famous scene in "Fawlty Towers" when Basil Fawlty can't get his car to start and hits it with a branch of a tree. It's almost always when you need to get somewhere in a hurry, early morning, have to get to work. The thing had an almighty dent in it's side for ever after. I'm not surprised I lost patience with it. Stupid thing.
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