A Minor Diversion and the TOPO

During the 50’s we owned a series of cars but the most idiosyncratic was, without doubt, the Morris Minor 1000. Sitting with the driving seat fully back I found my knees were somewhere near my chin, so the matter of using the clutch caused my knee to make the little signal arm come out and indicate I was turning right, an embarrassment at any time. Sometimes that same little arm stuck and when I got out of the car I would break it off.If nothing else it gave me confidence in doing small repairs. Then there was the shape of the boot. Clearly, at the speeds that thing achieved, streamlining and hence the drag factor were obviously an issue the designer had spent hours on. I never did discover why it was so small and of a shape that no more than one suitcase could be accommodated in the boot at a time.

We proposed taking a month and going to Igls in Austria, via Brussels and Cologne. We had learned that to save money one took as much tinned food as one could and due to the shape of the Minor’s boot the tins had to be packed round the spare wheel and within its dished rim. Just one suitcase, a Revelation, expanded to its maximum, everything else was in plastic bags – apart, that is, from a doll in a carry-cot. My younger daughter refused to go unless the wretched doll went too and in its carry cot. Every inch was catered for, under the seats, the sun brolley was between the seats, the back shelf was loaded until the rear view was almost obscured, every spare space was taken up – except one – behind my heels – that triangle of valuable space immediately in front of the driver’s seat. That was where the unmentionable dolly in its equally descriptive cot rested when we were on the move.

It had to happen – of course. It would have been unthinkable for it not to have. When we travelled in other vehicles, where things were secreted in suitcases, it never happened, but because we were travelling like gypsies, it happened – we had a puncture on a motorway, the German Autobahn outside Cologne. There I had to take out the case, the plastic bags, and the individual tins of food, before I could change the wheel. That was not the end of our embarrassment. We were staying in hotels where the staff in green aprons came out to take the elegant, matched suitcases from people driving limousines. In our case this was not quite a fair description. They came out all right, but I made them hold out their arms and piled them up with the transparent plastic balloons containing our necessities, all on display. I suppose seeing the repeated looks of surprise, followed by disgust was compensation for what I really felt. No matched luggage meant no big tip; what plastic bags portended, they had no previous experience, but they guessed correctly.

Igls was not a success after our previous holidays at Hendaye in the Basque country. For a start, the latter was on the Atlantic, the beach was wonderful, the huge waves came straight in and when it wasn’t raining the weather was perfect. Then there were the myriad of things to do. On Bastille Day there was the great celebration with the confetti battles, where one never opened one’s mouth to say a word in case a complete stranger threw a handful ofconfetti in. Towards evening, when the street dancing started, the ground was littered to a depth of more than an inch with all colours of confetti one bought in huge paper bags. Sophie lost her watch in all this mele, It is impossible to believe, but after a lot of searching, under the confetti, in the middle of the cavorting feet, I found the watch still going. Those celebrations kicked of with the Toro Del Fuego, a papier-m?ch? calf, festooned with Catherine Wheels, bangers and Roman Candles, carried on the head and shoulders of a man, weaving in and out of the crowd, sputtering its fireworks to the screeches of the dancers. There was that beautiful city of San Sebastian, with its posh shops, fine restaurants, statues on high towering pillars of rock round the harbour and a small funfair at the top of one of them.

We visited San Sebastion from Hendaye on the Topo, a ackety train in which all the locals crossed themselves before it started, and with reason. It journeyed through a tunnel in the Pyrenees, which was not well lighted. The way it rocked about was certainly unlikely to imbue anyone with the confidence they would survive. In San Sebastian we bought the cheap liqueurs, which we shared with the other guests, all French, back at Madame Ader’s and this made the evening meals most congenial. The only problem was no one spoke English. After about three weeks of continuous fractured French I came down to breakfast swearing I would speak no French that day, it was such a strain. I had to renege, there was no chance of getting through a day, with only English.

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