Two cars and a lorry that shaped my life
In 1975 I came back from Kuwait to start my first job. Japanese cars then were way ahead of the competition with radios, exciting quivering gauges and good heaters as standard. So I wanted one. My parents had taught me to drive on an Arabian beach in a rather large Chevrolet so this was all rather different. The N600 was dinky at 110 inches long and I found her in a garage called Gudge Brothers of Farnham.
The family insisted that I pay for the car rather than accept it as a gift so as to teach me the value of money, perhaps not realising that I was joining a bank. The N600 became a bedroom once after a country dance when boldly saying that I could drive back to London and give my friend a lift, I hit a bridge over the river in Minster Lovell, stalled and ended up in a field. Drunk and bedraggled, we slept with knees up by our chin awaking to a summer dawn, cool and with moorhens and other water birds admiring their new friend in the field. Our ties were like damp string against dance stained shirts.
On her last voyage I was asked to stay with a family in the un-aptly named village of Ugley but it actually applied to the daughters. On thinking that, God must have punished me and it broke down on the main drive blocking the way in and out. She was really stuck. The obligatory Sunday church expedition involved the family driving around this wretched obstacle over their croquet lawn with the father, a judge, looking gruffly over his half-moon spectacles into his rear view mirror to my increasingly red face. I had to return and now shamed on Monday to an empty house to recover the N600 on a trailer. I never saw Fenella Salt again.
The Thatcher banking boom years in 1986 allowed me to buy a house and a cottage in Somerset. One day I saw in Notting Hill Gate a Series II LandRover for £50. This was an impulse buy of the decade. I christened her ‘Mary’ and she served, why are my cars always she by the way, faithfully, unlike my girlfriends.
One blustery night in the cottage I had my girl staying and a rather belligerent and jealous friend Patrick came too for the weekend. We had worked together in the Gulf and he, having made disparaging comments about the Prophet Mohammed to his employer was sacked on the spot and as a result I helped him drink his way through unemployment in England. He suddenly took offence to a statement from the girl, went to bed and at four in the morning stole ‘Mary’ and drove back, under the influence to London. I never saw him again but had to recover the Landy which had been dumped in Wimbledon. The moral of this was do not share your car (and gun and pen) with your friends, oh and your girl.
Eventually ‘Mary’ did sturdy duty as a wedding car to my best friend and is still driven around Somerset lanes delivering logs.
The final motor story is about driving my trusted Bedford with its 6 cylinder six litre engine in the Sudan in 1979.
This beast rattled over the scrub land delivering the mortar platoon, petrol, tents, supplies, the padre, rested soldiers and various nervous new officers on their first posting.
As the vehicle commander you get to keep your sleeping bag and rifle with you in bins slung under the chassis rather than tabbing around with them and other bits of kit. It also meant that you slept up high not on the desert floor to be bitten by scorpions. The lesson that 20EP95 taught me is that never get separated from your kit, travel light and like commandeering the TV remote, always be in charge of your transport. You can get home any time you like!
The Bedford was sold at an auction to Sudanese scrap merchants for a few hundred shillings as the Army did not want it sent back. It was a cosy home, a safe place and could survive to odd shell splinter if the mortars went off in the wrong direction!
May all three RIP and thank you for the lifts through a small time in my life!