Maggie B Dickinson – Published in Best of British June 2014
In 1951 five of us squeezed into a tiny 1934 Morris Eight. Its registration was AKA 738 and the suspension was wicked. None of our neighbours owned a car and, considering few travelled more than the thirty-odd miles to Blackpool for their Wakes Week, they came out en masse to wish us luck as our destination of Torquay was an unknown quantity. Dad had even nailed a horseshoe onto the radiator.
I’d never previously left Lancashire and as we travelled the A49 between the fells of Long Mynd and Caer Caradoc I marvelled at Shropshire’s sparkling rivers without effluent – and clean roses, minus soot from factory chimneys. I was equally enamoured of the Church Stretton Hotel a few miles south, where we arrived at 6pm, and which was several notches above the bed and breakfast establishments we normally used at Blackpool or Morecambe.
From the roof rack dad lifted an ex-army rubber suitcase which folded flat when not in use but expanded to enormous proportions when packed with all our holiday attire. This object was the major embarrassment of all my childhood holidays because once father lifted the thing onto his back he was lowered to a horizontal position under its weight.
Physically unable to make eye contact with the young receptionist he bellowed ‘Can ter purrus up fer t’neet?’ She looked desperately at the rest of us until my mother, who as a child had been given elocution lessons in Blackburn, acted as translator – a role she played for the rest of the holiday, since my dad only ever spoke in dialect.
The following morning we headed down the lush Wye Valley to Chepstow for the Aust Ferry that would take us over the River Severn. My aunt and uncle, who were travelling ahead in a hired 12-horsepower Standard Vanguard, hadn’t closed their boot properly and dad was in hot pursuit but failing miserably to close the gap. This was the fastest he had ever driven and I became seriously alarmed when I saw the speedo needle rising rapidly. ‘Oh no,’ I yelled, ‘we’re doing 40 miles an hour’.
That evening we finally, and wearily, arrived at our lodgings in Dower Road, Babbacombe where we were accommodated by the charming Mrs Worrall. It had taken the best part of two days to cover the 324-mile journey.
Poignant memories refuse to fade, and one that is etched on my mental hard disk for all time is the mesmerising view of Oddicombe Beach from the red sandstone cliff tops. Approached by a scary funicular railway the sweep of golden sand was flanked by a seamless Wedgwood blue sea and sky. Add the palm trees and music floating up from the café’s loud speaker, and it assumed the guise of Paradise.
It was to be more than a year before the first British music charts appeared but my friend and I, who were thirteen years old, had already discovered the commercial Radio Luxembourg. As most of us didn’t own gramophones the pirate channel provided our only access to the exciting phenomena of pop. Along with our classmates we were hooked, and by the time American rock and roll came onto the scene a couple of years later, we were already seasoned music fans.
For the entire week’s holiday a 78 rpm record of Hoagy Carmichael’s My Resistance Is Low had pride of place on the café turntable and through external speakers. I heard it from my deckchair, whilst swimming in the ocean with peevish jelly fish, and as it wafted over me as I relished my first Knickerbocker Glory. The tune and lyrics ran through my head a million times as I dreamed of a boy back home, on whom I had a giant crush.
We spent our final day on Babbacombe Beach but the Morris Eight repeatedly baulked at the severe gradient. In desperation dad finally coaxed it up the hill in reverse. The car sulked all the way home, and its Big End conked out the following week. It was a tale my father milked to the end of his days.