A lifetime of personal transport.
I have been thinking about personal transport, and the way it has changed during my life time, both in frequency and quality.
My earliest wheel recall was of a huge pram. With a brother following on from me five years later, I noted that his, and my first transport was kept in the hall and consisted of a large shiny black bath shaped baby container mounted; via a chromed tubular frame and four springs, plus four leather straps, above four spoked rubber tyred wheels This assembly accommodated the “rock-a baby” motion at standstill for calming fractious kids. (Me). It substituted for an I-player in those far off days. With a bar for pushing and guidance at one end, it had a press stud retained waterproof cover, complete with a section that stood up in front of the passengers face, held in position with a pair of elastic bands; and a fold down hood, with curled and clicking stretchers. There was a void below the passenger floor to carry shopping. The loading disturbance must have been at the expense of the child’s comfort, and was no doubt objected to in the appropriate manner. I have no recall of such an event!
I do however recall trips to the Market and to various shops around the town. I was invariably left outside the premises and had to put up with some strange faces peering in and making silly noises. I suppose kidnapping was not so high on most people’s fear lists as it would appear today. The best trip was up to Nascot Place to see Granny and Grandy. On the way I would see the top part of lots of people and the occasional upper deck of a bus. Peter the dog would walk alongside us, but I could only imagine him trotting along as my weather proofing did not allow vision below the pram sides. I also recall wearing a white fluffy woollen hat was de rigour. There were also woollen fluffy balls hung at the side of the hood. I have persevered, but cannot recall ever travelling in the pram with the hood down!
It was around about now that a Pushchair appeared on the scene. It folded up quite flat, but as I recall did not really cooperate with the folder. It brought tears to my mother’s eyes on more than one occasion, and the command, “Don’t play with that thing!!!” This contraption was used for both my brother and I over a lengthy period. The suspension was not up to pram standards but it did have the advantage of not being cut off from the world. It was trundled along the promenade on holidays, on shopping trips and on Nascot Place forays’. It was also pushed to Ricky on a Sunday evening with either my brother or me strapped in. In later years it carried him to hospital after breaking his leg in the shed climbing on my mother’s bike. This recall is down to the noise he made as he was pushed over the pavement cracks in Park Avenue on the way to A&E! During my time at Chater Junior School I suffered from Housemaid’s knee, which required me to be transported to and from Southsea Avenue in this same transport. My street cred went down to minus minus! I remember pleading to be allowed to walk (Limp). “Get in the ‘chair”, was the reply. This day and age did not advocate children’s lib or free expression. Although some of the modern baby carriages are both big and high tech they seem to me to be more suited for a battle field foray than a walk down the park.
. When I was a little older the journey to Nascot Place would be via 321 bus from Whippendell Road. I recall my mother telling me that the appearance of a bus going in the wrong direction heralded the imminent arrival of the one we wanted going in the correct direction. I never did understand that logic. I still don’t. I doubt I would have comprehended “imminent” either.
The “Clippie” would issue us with a Penny ticket from a wooden clip rack he carried and “ting” a hole in it with his shiny punch hung over his shoulder, corresponding with where we got on. Then it was all fun, sitting on my mother’s lap. “No Smoking” downstairs, so that was where we sat. Some of the Double Decker’s had stairs that curled up the back of the vehicle on the outside. They were of no interest to my mother! Up Whippendell Road, along Cassio Road and a left turn into Market Street. At the top was the bus office and I recall people getting upset because the drivers would change and delay the journey. Left into the High Street and right into Clarendon Road. At the top was the call, “Watford Junction”, and off we got to walk up to Langley Road. It was around here that sometimes Peter would be waiting, having leapt the garden gate. It was a miss-timed attempt that was to eventually see him leaving the family!
The next transport I recall was utilized when we took my other Granny (the Chester Road one) on a Sunday evening walk along Tolpits Lane for a drink at the Gate Pub at the bottom of Batchworth Hill in Rickmansworth. The men went inside for a pint or two and us; including “Granny” sitting in her woven basket ware Bath Chair; with its long steering bar resting in her lap, sat outside with a Ginger beer and a packet of Crisps. I think Gran may have had a Stout? On the way back I remember claiming “my legs ache” and I would sometimes be allowed to sit by the side of Granny’s feet for part of the way back along the lane. When taking the walk without the bath chair we would make our way through the town, via another pub or two, and catch the bus in Ricky town centre. The secret here was to get upstairs seats, as the bus was often unable to negotiate Scott’s Hill, and those downstairs would have to get out at the bottom and walk up.
For some time the limit of my own personal transport would be a metal toy car that I pedalled down the garden path, stood up and swung the car round me, and peddled back again. I am told I got Peter to tow me up and down on a piece of rope, but don’t recall it.
I have recall of some of the sights and scenery on this somewhat restricted journey. Departing from the step opposite the Mangle; under the canopy over the back door, I would leave the water butt on my right as I passed the opening known locally as “round the corner”. This housed the outside; and only, toilet, and the coal hole. It was also home to mothers bike, and lots of others over the years. On the left, the fence dropped in height and “next door” was visible. On the right was a “no go area” known as “Fathers shed”. Usually locked when he was not at home, but out of bounds, even when he was at home in those days.
On it’s corner was a tank that was filled from the water butt and provided the source of the pond fountain. (Later on in the journey). Then came the small lawn and large apple tree. A greenhouse was built over against the fence later. Here would sit Peter, when not press-ganged into doing the towing.
Next on the right was a flower bed. Not a very large one it is true, but in season covered in flowers. Along its edge were Pink Ice Plants. These were invariably smothered in butterflies. Red Admirals and Peacocks; with the occasional Cabbage White. A narrow path way gave access to the small square pond with its sparkling fountain. (When father had tipped water into the afore mentioned tank on the shed). Stickle Backs and Gudgeon lived in the pond and it was another semi no go area. Although I was allowed to look. “Keep out of the water” and “don’t throw stones” was part of the garden Standing Orders.
Behind the pond was another patch of garden with flowers in it. This was the site where the Anderson shelter would be dug in a few years time.
Then came the gate into the alley way. I had reached the end of the tour. Beyond this gate lies danger!
Having seen all there was to be seen, I would stand up in my little vehicle, hold it clear of the ground and shuffle round 180 degrees before lowering it again. The journey back was very similar to the outward journey, but everything was on the other side.
I have a vague recall of a three wheeled pedal bike, but associate it with handkerchiefs’ tied round bloody knees rather than any real pleasure.
The next stage in my personal “wheels” is a little confused. The dream was of owning a bike, but that did not happen as soon as I would have wished. The first interim move was on Roller Skates. They were not easy to get hold of and often a pair would be shared between me and a mate, one each. They were also not parent friendly, as the key operated shoe clamp tended to part the upper from the sole. This occurrence would invariably produce a sore ear, or two. Elbows and knees suffered too from pavement burns. This seemed to be the way things went in those days.
Then came home made carts. Basically two planks with a bolt holding the front axle to the longer plank. To this chassis was fixed a box at the back to sit in, and with wheels; most likely from an old pram attached to the axle ends and sides of the box, all that was required to complete your machine was a piece of rope to complement the feet and act as a steering and towing aid. Brakes were considered a little sissy, plus the fact that they required some design skills not yet; if ever, to be learned. We all envied those kids with any form of slope or hill adjacent. Durban Road was as flat as a pancake.
During this period I recall many an uncomfortable ride on fathers bike crossbar down to the Tolpits Lane allotments. Although I was provided with a folded sack to sit side saddle on, the Sturmey Archer gear change lever on the centre of this bar was right in a critical area. Never mind the indignity of an actual gear change!
Around this time my only near equestrian experience came. I would leap on and off the Milkmans cart to deliver bottles, keep the horse of the customers Privet and sweep up the droppings into a swinging bucket. Certain customers would give me six pence for a steaming bucket full!
I was at Victoria Senior School before legal two wheeled transport became available. In the interim I had attempted to ride my mother’s antiquated bike up and down the garden path, with varying degrees of success. My father brought home a black monster of a machine for me. A Sunbeam, with 28″ wheels, a chain that ran in an oil bath and a saddle, even at its lowest, that was level with my chin. He insisted I ride it! So taken into Durban Road he held it upright whilst I climbed; I really mean climbed, onto the saddle and walked me down the road with me straining on tip toe to maintain contact with the massive rubber covered pedals. He let go. I fell off. For the first and last time!
Another bike was obtained, which I rode back from Pinner on the first occasion I climbed aboard. I believe it cost £5. A fortune in those days. It had dropped handle bars and “Rat Trap” pedals with derailleur gears. I got on well with these latter when I remembered at last to keep pedalling as I changed ratios, or it was a “oily hands job” replacing the chain on the spring loaded sprockets. This machine was to carry me for hundreds of miles over the following years, it was always reliable, and never failed to start . A situation that I could not claim for several of my later “wheels”.
It was time my cycling skills earned me some money, so I got me a Paper round. Collecting the sorted and house numbered papers from the Newsagent on the corner of Southsea Avenue my ’round took me across Ricky Road to roads on both sides of the park. These customers all seemed to take Radio Times and other heavy periodicals of the day. My canvas bag hung heavy on these days. I believe the remuneration was four shillings and six pence per seven morning week, and a once a year begging operation on an evening near to Christmas. “Happy Christmas. Have you got a penny for the paper boy?” was the question. I usually got something, and quite often it was not too far away from the original request.
Another later concurrent two wheeled venture was the “Lunneys” trade bike, ala “Open all hours”. An evening and Saturday morning job at the local grocers on the corner of Durban Road and Whippendell Road involved making up orders from customers lists, packing them in cardboard boxes, and loading as many as could be handled, into and above the steel framed carrier at the front of the trade bike, to deliver them to some of the better off people who again lived in the main, “down the Park”. CPA was one location. The delivery was fraught with danger. Basically built to be unstable, the bike had to be lifted onto its stand. Not an easy task when stacked high with orders. It fell over on a number of occasions and a return to base to report the fact was not a pleasant experience. Sometimes it would tip when being ridden; top heavy; and near stationary. Due to the name plate affixed in the frame below the cross bar preventing my foot from going through to the road., the only way to not go down with it was to step off and let it fall. Disaster!!!!! My brother seems to remember six shillings a week for this venture. I can’t exactly recall but I was five years earlier than him.
Pleasure cycling was still my main travel outlet. A pair of us would set out on a Sunday morning and make our way through Rickmansworth down to Denham and on to the A4. This would take us to Hyde Park Corner where we would turn up The Edgware Road and make our way, eventually, to Stanmore. I recall from then on it was all downhill through Bushey. We needed a little more effort from the GasWorks on up the High Street, then home for a rest and tea time. A variation of this Sunday trip would be to go down to The Great West Road and cross it to London Airport. In those days it had no real terminal, only tents. The walkways were wooden duckboards and the restrictions to open access were ropes strung on metal poles with loops at the top. An occasional Strato-Cruiser would appear out of the empty skies, from New York, the loudspeaker would inform us, and a Caravelel would be seen racing down the runway to leap into air. We could only wonder what “abroad” was like in those much more “stay at home” days.
One lasting memory of these journeys concerns the road beyond Ricky to the A4 where it passes Denham Studios. It had been laid in sections of concrete with a bitumen filler between them. This hammered a vibration up through the frame and hard saddle. It left a lasting impression and a nasty burning sensation through the early part of the following week to remind us of our journey.
We are now coming to the time (1947) when I started work. I had got a job at The Sun, mainly on the basis that my father worked there. The transport was still two wheeled. My bike was parked with hundreds of others in the racks provided. Being part of the clocking off ritual was as near as I am likely to get to taking part in a swarm of bees leaving a hive. There seemed to be millions of us; all jockeying for position to get out of the gate. I only lasted six months in this first venture. I could not stand being locked inside for eight hours a day, five days a week. It was also extremely boring and in all honesty, a dead end. Although it must be admitted that the money was better than most other options
My mother got me an interview to become a contracting electrical engineering apprentice. Still on the bike, but with my mates tools carried on the back this time. We covered quite a large area and sometimes has several jobs a day. On our time sheets we recorded cash in lieu of bus fares. I found I had an aptitude for creative accounting in this area. During the next three or four years I learnt a lot about electrical installations and repairs and clocked up a formidable sum “on the buses”.
Sometime in 1950 I purchased, from a vendor, name lost to time, my first motorised transport. It was a BSA 500cc side valve motor cycle of 1929 vintage. It was motorised but did not run, despite being kicked for hours. The best I could produce was a hazy puff of smoke from the somewhat rusty, but entirely matching exhaust pipe. My recall suggests that the purchase cost was less than £5, and I was “done”. This machine was kept in a shed that formed part of the coal yard at the top of the bottom section of Chester Road, and it was here that I would spend hours “trying things”, with little or no skill input and even less success. I was called up for National Service in 1951, and despite being an electrical apprentice; with two years at night school toward a National Certificate, the RAF determined I would be a Motor Mechanic! I spent 16 weeks becoming one. (See Defence of the realm Part 2. for more detail) at a Station near Blackpool.
We were taken through all aspects of a motor vehicle; from steering to tyres, and one week was spent on ignitions systems. This turned out to be a godsend. Magneto’s were covered, whilst it was stressed they did not often figure in RAF land bound vehicles. But then, they did not have any 1929 BSA 500cc motor bikes either . I could not wait to get home, which was not an easy task from Manchester. I did try thumbing a lift down the A1. I got home, but it took forever; and I still had to pay the return fare back. When we got a 48 hour pass and travel warrant midterm the excitement was intense.
Down to the coal yard first thing on Saturday morning, I removed the Magneto, took off the contact breaker arm and determined exactly where it should be refitted relative to (here is the clever bit) “point of maximum flux”. I spun it a few times and received an electric shock, the likes of which I had not previously experienced. So far, so good. The device was fitted back to the machine, and with a pencil in the spark plug hole to determine “Top dead centre”, the chain was located on the shaft and locked. All these terms are relatively unimportant to the laymen, but us skilled; “8 week Motor Mechanics” it was life and death.
This deserves a new paragraph. I wheeled the bike out of the shed, turned on the petrol cock, set the advance/retard lever to half way, and kicked down on the lever. The first thing that happened was it kicked me back. Hard. At the same time a loud bang shot a cloud of black particles out the back. I was over the Moon. Retarding the lever a little, I tried again. This time the beast sprung into life, and as I stood by its side it throbbed away with a sound so sweet I could have cried. But onwards… Sitting astride the animal; I pulled in the clutch lever with my left hand and selected what I believed to be 1st gear with the knobbed lever on the right-hand side of the tank. Twisting the throttle gently with my right hand I slowly released the clutch. This was my first time, so I was extremely careful and gentle. I was somewhat surprised to find I had completely released the clutch lever, and we; the bike and I, were still in the same spot. I reached down to the gear knob to put it back in Neutral when suddenly the bike shot off across the yard, where a waiting patch of stinging nettles and rubbish brought us to a sudden and somewhat painful stop.
Success! This last hiccup had been caused by the clutch mechanism being fouled by the gear change rods. No problem to clear, and I had driven my first motor vehicle!!!
With no licence or Road Tax I could not road test my steed, so I spent some time tidying up bits and pieces and fixing others that seemed on the point of falling off, whilst waiting for the documentation to arrive by post. I familiarised myself with the controls and other operating features and discovered I was the possessor of an engine with Total Loss lubrication. Oil; stored in a separate compartment of the petrol tank, dripped; when turned on via a site glass directly into the crank case and provided lubrication to all the bearings and cylinder walls. Here it was burned up. Forget to turn it off and it all ran down into the ‘case. The next start produced a plume of smoke to be proud of and shouts of appreciation from housewife’s around the yard with washing on the line.
With Tax and a Provisional Licence obtained it was time to impress the other road users. I proceeded down Chester Road, only stalled it twice at the bottom, before heading for Ricky. I made the National Benzole petrol station where the attendant managed to overfill the tank and produced a lot of explosive petrol vapour from the hot cylinder head between my legs. Fortunately he was not smoking. Two things happened on the way home that were to reoccur with annoying frequency during my ownership. The chain flew off the Magneto just behind the front wheel, but fortunately I saw which way it went and did my pencil in the plug hole trick again. The second did not actually stop me, but produced a chase, to catch up with the bouncing Paxolin ball that formed the gear change knob. With the vibration incurred, almost everything worked loose. I am sure science could explain; but I never determined how this ball could actually travel faster than the bike when it fell off. A lot faster!
I actually travelled to my permanent RAF Station, Barkway, near to Royston on this monster. I was courting a local lass by then and waved as I sailed past her and her mate as I approached the bottom of the High Street. By the time they caught up with me I was sitting on the kerb with my pencil in the plug hole again, nonchalantly finding “Top Dead Centre”. They did not stop!
During my last 18 months in the RAF I managed to get a Driving test out of the service. After only a few months practice on the camp road and locally around Royston, I travelled up to Weeton, where I had done my mechanics training to take the test. Six of us were loaded into the back of a QL Bedford 3 ton truck and driven to Blackpool. Here we were called, one at a time, to climb up via the front wheel hub and a stirrup, into a driving compartment the size of a garden shed. The steering wheel was enormous and turned about three revolutions from lock to lock. To the left was a four foot gear lever which was positioned almost behind the driver. The gear box was non synchro-mesh so a double declutch gear change was required. The vehicle was completely new to me although I had had some double declutching practice. Add to this the fact that Blackpool had trams, and seemingly an extraordinary number of milk floats, and you can see the problems presented. I recall noting that a milk float looked altogether different when viewed from above, and had an annoying habit of disappearing altogether when close under to the QL The trams, I soon realised, would not drive round me, so I had to take all the evasive action. It was also of interest to find the first gear was extremely low. I remember thinking that in 1st, with a foot full of accelerator, the thing would possibly go straight up the outside of the Tower.
“Pull over there” was the command. Followed by, “Get Out, and send the next man up here,” heralded the end of my effort. There followed a one hour written test on our return to camp, and a result; delayed until I returned to Royston. I passed! I could now take the Football Team to away matches on a Wednesday in the old V8 Fordson truck and collect the rations from our supply centre at RAF Bassingborne. The Fordson owed me some returns as I had replaced its cylinder head gasket many times. It was a wreck! Taking it along Royston High Street was not for the feint hearted. It required only one parked car to turn it into a near No-go area for this monster. Some shops had pull out blinds that were asking for trouble too. But at least life was not so boring now.
My other vehicles on camp, to both drive and service, were a 15 hundred weight Bedford canvas tilted truck and a Standard Vanguard with the same luxury passenger facilities. Whilst a passenger in the back of this last vehicle; together with a stack of new plates for the Cookhouse, our driver hit a much larger truck head on; and both the crockery and I flew into the cab back. The crockery smashed, I bruised, and the vehicle deformed and smoked a bit. I had just given up smoking. But this went out of the window!
The remaining period of National Service was mostly boring. I would hitch hike home most weekends. I never missed a 3pm kickoff at Vicarage Road. The vehicles that picked me up were very varied, from enormous commercials, to a Rolls Royce chauffeur driven limousine with Dirk Bogard in the back. He was making a film about the service, and perhaps thought he would pick up some tips from a serving airman. I suspect he was disappointed!
On my release from the service I returned to Electrical Contracting. Fully qualified now and with a mate of my own. And a fiancée in far away, (in those days) Royston, I travelled every Sunday to see her. First on the old BSA bike, then in a recently purchased Austin Chummy Tourer of the same vintage (1929). This vehicle I had purchased for again, less than a fiver. One of the reasons for the change was the winter weather, and the high risk of coming off the bike in usually untreated roads. This did not make things entirely safe; and I was to recognise a few problems that did not show in the better weather.
Number one was the windscreen wipers. They were of the vacuum operated type, taking the suction from the inlet manifold. A foot down on the accelerator equalled less and less power to the wipers and a narrower arc swept. Come across a hill in the snow and I was soon steering by guesswork. Not the ideal thing to do on what was then one of the main trunk roads. The A1. The other resulted from the same problem combined with very narrow tyres without a great deal of road contact. I pulled up at a service station at Graverly and applied the hand brake; as most of my vision was gone. Everything went quiet and I opened the door and stepped out. The car carried on for another five yards or as I watched it; sitting on the ice. The next draw back was restarting it when it was hot! The fuel tank was mounted in the engine compartment directly under the windscreen and would get quite warm, even in the snow. The fuel pipe to the carburettor on the other hand got quite hot, vaporising the fuel and starving the engine. I found I had to hold snow on the fuel pipe to cool it down, before winding the starter handle like a big toy. This little car had taken 45 stone of four Watford supporters to a cup match at Leytonstone and only been a problem on bends. Tilting over too much caused the tyres on one side to rub on the wheel arches, acting like a brake and producing a nasty hot rubber smell. We soon synchronised our “leans” to avoid completely scalping the tyres. On this day the car was stolen from the road outside the house and fortunately the rogues could not start it. Although it would not have been a difficult vehicle to describe to the police!
The car itself was tiny, with a canvas top section and acetate side and rear windows. The front screen was split horizontally and hinged at its centre which passed for A/C in days of yore. Under the bonnet was a tiny engine block, about the dimensions of two supermarket loaves on top of one another. The bonnet was hinged down it’s middle, and with a turn of speed, 30/35 mph perhaps on a good day, it would lift, like gulls wings if not properly tied down. This was real motoring.
Around 1955 I bought a new BSA 500cc motorcycle from Lloyd Cooper in Queens Road. Overhead valve this time with telescopic front forks and swinging arm rear suspension. Somewhat improved on the 1933 example. Throughout it’s time it carried me solo to Royston in all weathers, took us both down to Somerset, (before the M4) to camp for a fortnight , and carried my tools and installation equipment in a side car made from a bought chassis and a homemade matching board box; all over the place. We even took two passengers to Sarrat and thereabouts for a pint or two. No complaints really, except for the weather. There was no hiding place from the rain and snow and my all-weather dress was not of the highest quality or performance. Four wheels cried out to me.
A friend told me of a Austin 10 saloon that he had for sale, and when I viewed it I knew immediately that it was not likely to be a reliable work horse. So I bought it! I had “come across” a pair of 10″ chrome headlamps which I installed on metal brackets on either wing and then turned my attention to the engine and bodywork. It was impossible to remove the cylinder head; as the studs and nuts had welded themselves into one solid chunk of rust. So OK, leave the engine alone. But I could not ignore the bodywork rust. Both doors swung on a centre pillar, and on the passenger side, this had come away from the chassis completely. If both doors had been opened together, they would have pulled out the top weld and fallen off altogether. As I had to travel down to Chertsey the next day I tied both back door handles together with a piece of wire across the back of the front seats. And off we went! Two thirds of the way there, the front passenger door opened, swung back and reactioned the rear door open, this door followed the front door as it shut in a forward direction and broke of the traficator that had come out in sympathy. My apprentice had noticed that the tax disc and holder had flown out of the gap whilst the door was open, so the first job was to hunt in the grass of the verge for it..Success! More cable was employed to tie the back door together again and the front passenger door was also tied to the consul. We were mobile again, and not particularly late either. The journey home was a crossed finger job, but we made it. I spent the evening drilling holes around the on-side door and screwing it to the pillar and roof. This wreck took us down to Somerset again for a holiday, but we did take the precaution of packing our holiday needs in cardboard boxes in case we needed to abandon the car and post them home. Once again, we made it.
The actual date escapes me, but we had to find a replacement for the eccentric Austin. It came in the shape of a quite pretty Hillman Minx soft top. When first viewed I noticed it had a score mark across the ‘screen where a worn wiper had scratched it. No problems! It will polish out. But it didn’t! Driving into low sun with a matt arc across the eye line made for interesting motoring, but everything else seemed to be OK. Four of us travelled to Sheffield to watch a Cup match and my brothers friend fell asleep in the back and broke his dental plate on the metal struts supporting the vinyl roof. This car was more sneaky that the other vehicles! I discovered that we also had a fairly advance rust infestation underneath, and by the time it was sold it had more fibre glass than steel. We once again travelled to Somerset and filled up late in the evening on the A4 on the way down. All was going well when a horrible bang was accompanied by a complete loss of vision. The vision partially returned; to the accompliament of another loud bang. Investigation showed the bonnet had become unlatched, lifted in the wind, hit the top of the windscreen, where it was held by the hinges so it bent backwards. On stopping, it had dropped and latched again, but the bent bit at the back now stood halfway up the windscreen. The remainder of the journey was completed peering over the top of this obstruction. I had checked the oil but not latched the bonnet securely, and it took advantage of me! When we arrived I took off the bonnet, borrowed a blanket from our landlady, placed both on the floor and jumped on them. No problem, but the car did not look quite so pretty. I also blew out all the bearings on the A!. My uncle towed us back with the only problem occurring in Courtlands Drive when he went one side of a bollard, and I went the other. We changed all the bearings in a little asbestos garage at the back of Station Road. Perfect. When this vehicle was sold I suspected it would bend in the middle and collapse at any time. We saw it around Watford for years. Always recognisable due to the “parting” on its bonnet.
Then came a Morris Oxford. A big car, with column gear change and a front bench seat larger than our sofa. This was a nice car, but expensive to run.
Our first new car was a light blue Vauxhall Viva. A little bit larger than a Mini and it was very nippy on a small engine. But the build and quality control were very poor. With nice quarter light features; it was disappointing to have the locking handle fall off in my hand on first operation. The gutter above the driver’s window leaked water down the actual glass, and when taken back for repair the salesman reminded me I had not bought a £12,000 car! We did not keep it for very long!
In 1966 I began working at the Sun, so my transport needs changed. No longer here there and everywhere, just the need to clock-in on time down at West Watford. I did sometimes use the car but it was mainly a push bike early on. This was when I discovered that Leavesden Road was up hill in both directions. The bike was also useful to get onto the estate during the period when an incomplete M25 diverted all the traffic along Kingsway. (A415), making the estate a near, “no go area”.
This year also saw our first holiday abroad. The mode of transport changed to airborne. But not very high! A Vickers Viscount from Southend flew at just the level where all the turbulence was, and did it producing a terrible noise in the process.
Next came the purchase new, of a white, Mark 1 Cortina. I had absolutely no problems with this vehicle and eventually sold it to my brother with a clear conscience in 1968.
In 1967 the destination was Tenerife, and the vehicle was a De Havilland Comet B. Higher, faster and much less noisy. We decided there might be some future in travelling by air.
Margaret had changed her job to work at Stanborough Motors in 1967 and we had the choice of their stock; with some background information as to condition. Our first choice was a Grey Rover 2000. The first quality car I had owned and a joy, once I had sorted out the front brake callipers, which had a tendency to stay partially on. Seems I was not the only owner to have this particular problem.
It is relevant to note that we had several attempts at two wheeled transport at that time. A moped for Margaret, and a Lambretta scooter for me. Neither of these were a success, but a Honda 50 motorbike served both of us well. I would take it on shift work at night and Margaret during the day down to St Albans Road. She was later given permission to take whichever car was identified by the boss, and arrived home in some beauties.
The years up to 2002, when our current Honda Civic was purchased was filled with lots of ex Stanborough cars. They were all quite reliable, if a little on the dull side, so we were spoiled for choice.
The one worthy of separate reference is a Light Blue Triumph. This carried us and Mother-in-law across the channel and all the way through France to the Spanish border. With a large waterproof box on the roof rack to transport a fortnight’s goods, we went from camp site to camp site to occupy an already erected tent. This was a way of life not previously dreamt of by Ma-in law. Neither was an earlier expedition to Anglesey in a towed trailer tent. It was the week of “The Big Storm”. (The one that sunk Edward Heath’s boat on the south coast). We had not been airborne in a tent before, Although we did land approximately where we took off from.
I have exceeded the dates over which these mini histories are intended to cover. (Up to 50 years ago) But using the editors prerogative I am going to list other methods and means of transport we have enjoyed up till the present time. No particular detail on the reason or destinations, just how we used it;, and the experience.
It was in the late eighties that Margaret arranged for me to have a private flying experience for my Birthday; it was to take place in a small single engine Cessna; from Leavesden Airdrome.
These were the days before Harry Potter had been invented and the whole area filled with a Business Park, and Dwelling Units. (Factories and houses). I climbed up and sat next to the pilot, who did a quick run through of what seemed to be a whole lot of instruments, levers, pedals and other means of control. After being strapped well in; with the requisite helmet and earphones in place, he pointed out a large button marked “Engine start”; and told me to press it. A couple of “whumps” and the whole plane appeared to throb. Taking over, my pilot opened the throttle and we moved forward, steering with the delta like Yoke. He spoke briefly on the radio, pointed out the end of the runway and told me, “You have control”, and took his hands off the Yoke. Nice! I managed to steer to a point that seemed to satisfy him, where he told me “Push slightly forward and hold it on line down the centre of the runway, and pull back gently when I tell you”. Another brief radio chat and then he opened the throttle, and off we roared. When shouted at, I pulled back gently, and we were airborne! As easy as that. He fortunately only let me use the Yoke whilst he operated the pedals and throttle as we turned about and headed across the A41 towards the Gade Valley; with its river and canal winding along at the bottom; beyond Whippendell Woods and Cassiobury Park. It gave me a whole new impression of the local topography, with high and low points that did not seem to exist from a ground level aspect.
As I turned our plane back towards the Leavesden runway, and I was amazed that it appeared to be on top of quite a large hill. Following instructions as to Up/down, and Left/Right, we arrived at the glide path; (he told me), and I had to relinquish control for the landing. He seemed quite busy for a while as we first dived, then floated to the ground, with barely a bump.
This was an transport experience that has lived with me for well over 40 odd years. I wonder if I could fly an A380?
My second birthday treat was strictly at ground level. Very close to it, or so it seemed at times. I was strapped into a stripped down and race tuned Escort. These are very fast, nimble, noisy and frightening little beasts. And the driver was a perfect match, in his enormous safety helmet to complement mine.
We leaped out onto the Brands hatch GT track and he proceeded to do all the things that would have got me banned on the public roads, if I had lived long enough to get to court. He called out the famous names of the various bends as we approached them, and we were through them before the info had time to sink in. I queried that we were going to slide off the track on one particularly recklessly driven bend. The helmet reassured me that we would roll over before we slid off. It was that sort of experience!
When I had finished shaking, I was strapped alone into another vehicle. A Formula Ford this time. It was a smaller version of the much larger GT. racing cars of the day, with little more than a powerful engine, four wheels and a means to accelerate, steer, and very rarely, slow down. The briefing was just that, extremely brief, and I was off. I cannot say in all honesty that it was an enjoyable experience! Courtesy from other road users was thin on the ground, and they all seemed to have faster cars than mine! I remembered my previous query reference sliding off and rolling, and with no protection above chest level; it did little for my confidence or persuade me to put my foot down. I did however have more time to appreciate the various bends and dips. By the look on some of the other passing drivers faces, I was not an entirely welcome track mate.
This was a transport experience I have no ambition to repeat. I would not have missed it, but once was enough! It did remind me somewhat of my little metal pedal car when I was a child. Perhaps not a lot. It was extremely noisy, draughty, and let’s face it, dangerous. And I could not put my feet through the floor to shuffle it round 180 degrees!
Our early holidays were mainly around the med, and only the departure points and improving planes over the years differed. Our first long haul flight was to South Africa to celebrate our Silver Wedding Anniversary in 1981. Departing from Heathrow; which had grown and extended somewhat from the days when we used to cycled down there, we arrived half a day later in Johannesburg completely disorientated. The ongoing transport was by Mazda 323 self drive hire car which took us out towards the East and a private game reserve near Nelspruit. Here we were “sailed” across the Veldt in a Land Cruiser to meet the local inhabitants. Magic. The large bonnet of this same vehicle provided the bar for Sundowners, (G & T’s), under the magnificent African evening sky. The biggest sky in the world, we believe.
Having driven through Swaziland we reached the Indian Ocean coast, and via Durban, East London, and Port Elizabeth arrived at Oudtshoorn, where our transport had very long legs, a long neck, feathers, and an dodgy attitude. Ostriches were only still when a bank cash bag was placed over their heads. Remove the bag; and they were off, ready or not!
Along the Garden Route to Cape Town; and another new, and somewhat worrying means of transport. The Table Mountain cable car started off with a gentle rise across houses and all sorts of suburban landscape, and appeared to be heading straight for the cliff face. At what seemed the very last moment, the cab leapt upwards towards the top landing station, almost; it seemed, within touching distance of the rock. A jerk and released barrier saw us standing on firm ground and admiring the tremendous view. Then it was time to descend. The cab just dropped off the edge; apparently in free fall, only to level out and sail across those same houses to the terminal. I suspect another trip would have seemed run of the mill.
Perhaps the most significant change is in transport rules; then to now. When we were there, signs decreeing, “Slegs Blanks” were rife in the cities. This was before apartheid was abolished and they spelt out “Whites only”. Difficult to believe in this day and age.
Our next trip to Africa involved visits to Kenya and Tanzania, and two flights of note. The first; in a Cessna single engine turbo prop, carried 12 of us from Mombasa to Kilimanjaro airport through thunder heads and sleet, having a tremendous view of the volcano on the way. One of the drawbacks of air travel is that it is a considerably faster than beurocracy that goes with it. Customs and immigration control was the reason for the stop we were told, and after walking for what seemed miles, we went through a departure gate about ten yards from our point of entry, and got back on the same plane. After more splendid views we arrived at Arusha airport. We were placed in a room labelled Departure Lounge. A complete misnomer! We fortunately soon boarded on an eight seater twin engines Cessna and noisily took off once again. I was sitting almost on the Pilots lap and had a great view. We saw great streams of migrating animals and the circular Masai herdsman’s huts. Flying over the Great Rift Valley was an experience we would not have missed, before seeing in the distance a dirt strip with an adjacent shed. We arrived at speed, dived down close to the ground and then climbed and banked sharply, turning 360 degrees, and landed, surprisingly smoothly. When queried as to the manoeuvre we were told it was to get rid of the animals, and then get down quickly, before they came back.
The shed was the terminal building, and sheltered our driver from the sun. We were soon off to our overnight stop across the Serengeti plain. This had been real flying, and made the fiasco at Kilimanjaro less important.
On another trip, the arrival by air in Hong Kong was a revelation for our first visit. The old airport of Kai Tak extended into the sea at one end and was approached from the other end by seemingly flying below the windows of tall apartment blocks, turning left at the traffic lights at Mon Kok and continuing down Hung Hom High Street before touching down and braking hard. The next time we arrived in Hong Kong a new airport was built on an enlarged island with a road and rail bridge link to the mainland. It is called Chep Lap Kok.
We travelled on the most famous ferry in the world. The Star Ferry runs between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island and really has little to commend it beyond it being famous! With a tunnel bored under the “Fragrant Harbour” we understood is was mainly a tourist attraction now.
Moving on to Queensland Australia we took a trip on the very impressive catamaran Quicksilver to the outer reef. Skimming across the blue sea at a considerable speed was exhilarating. Margaret managed to pluck up enough courage to Snorkel when we arrived and determined that five minutes of terror were probably worth it for the sights seen.
Only transport associated, not actual travel, we ate in the middle of a roundabout called Newton Circus whilst on Singapore. A novel experience, with traffic buzzing all round us.
Margaret had a novel, and horrible form of transport on the return journey when a young child behind kicked her back! This occurred for most of the 13 hour journey. “He is only two, he does not know what he is doing” said his mother when challenged. Our retort is not publishable!
Bangkok presented us with another new means of transport. “The long tailed boat”. It consisted of a long narrow canoe shape hull with half a dozen pairs of seats. Near to the back was mounted a huge, oily, old, un-silenced petrol engine; from a lorry we suspect. With a long prop shaft sticking out at an angle over the transom behind it. We motored along “Klongs”, which were river streets with temples and houses on stilts; there were even streetlights on tall poles, to a floating market where we could pull up at the side of vendors and purchase food or clothing; or nearly everything. The journey back was just as noisy and it was a relief to sit in the relative quiet and wait our turn to get off. Our enjoyment was really in retrospect!
We travelled on the mighty Mekong River. It is 2,700 miles long, but we only travelled from Chiang Rai in Thailand across to Laos; which must be all of a mile. The boat was not a thing of beauty, and niether was what we saw of Laos!
Thailand equals Elephants, and Mai Ping was where we found them. We were soon climbing up via a loading platform and sat side by side as the beast rocked and rolled through the jungle and along river beds, guided by a mahout sitting on its head and pulling on its ears. The beasts recognised when they were nearing a feeding station and lowered their heads and went for it. A bit frightening. We have decided that as an experience it was great, but as an alternative means of transport, not even on the list.
Our arrival in Lima, Peru introduced us to the fact that city travel had its own dangers, be it by various types of local wheeled transport, or shanks pony. On our day of arrival the locals; with a bee in their bonnets of some description, were rioting in the main square; breaking car windscreens and pulling up flowers from the beds and throwing them at the Presidential Palace. “Don’t leave the hotel, send the Bell Boy if you desperately need anything”. Welcome to Peru!.
Ongoing, our arrival at Arequipa airport was dramatic. At 7,000 feet above sea level the air was so thin that the lift was severely reduced and the landing speed was far above that we had previously experienced. The streets appeared to be a little less lethal here though.
Following a bus trip to Puno, our next mode of transport was very much out of the ordinary. It started very early in the morning when we were transported to the shore of Lake Titicaca (13,000 ft above sea level) and loaded on to a Reed boat and rowed to a Reed Island, complete with Reed huts, where we were introduced to people that lived permanently on the piles of Reeds that had eventually sunk to the bottom and anchored their Reed island. Apparently water percolated up and rotted most things, including feet and lungs. Another trip on a reed boat saw us sitting on what was a very soggy deck and being serenaded by a group of youngsters in another boat. They sang “Twinkle, twinkle little star” or some approximation, then held out their hands. After paying the pipers, we sang back at them and they soon cleared off.
Next came a train ride. Peruvian and very memorable. It was a narrow gauge arrangement and it was to take us across the Alto Plano, a journey of close to ten hours. First it ploughed through the market area, scattering the vendors who had set up their wares actually on the lines, then miles and miles of grasslands with no sign of habitation whatsoever between the halts. With apparently no shock absorbers whatsoever it bounced and rolled to the extent that the next carriage; viewed through the connecting door, disappeared altogether at times. Eating a meal on paper plates and using plastic cutlery was almost as difficult as trying to match plastic beakers of rough wine to our lips. As we approached our destination of Cuzco we were told to draw the curtains as the locals would throw stones at us. “Why”; we asked. “Because that is what they do” we were told.
Cusco is known as “The Navel of the World”. The Inca world, that is. And many spectacular and somewhat hairy coach trips were made to see some of it, but we were here to catch another train. After shunting backwards and forwards several time across people’s back yards in order to gain sufficient height to get out of the valley and over the mountain, we settled in for a more comfortable ride than the last one. No Chickens, Sheep or Llama’ passengers this time. After three and a half hours we reached our destination and transferred to a small bus to climb the Hiram Bingham Highway. On an un-surfaced track; and very close to the edge at times, we climbed 2,300 ft more in less than four mile to a level of 17,300 feet above sea level, and our goal, the jungle city of Machu Picchu. Not a part of this history but if you get the opportunity, GO SEE IT.
On our return to Lima, Peru we decided to “Eat out” and were recommended to try Restaurante Pacifico at Miraflores. When our Hotel arranged taxi arrived; the concierge carefully wrote down the number, make, drivers name and the time. The journey was somewhat frightening, with seemingly uncontrolled traffic movements by everyone on the road and continued warnings to keep the doors locked and stay back from the windows. Whatever is Spanish for “Muggers” was continually mentioned by the driver. On arrival we were met and escorted into a magnificent glass fronted dining room with the Pacific breaking onto a beach on its other side. This entry is not a “good eating” recommendation, suffice to say we were very satisfied with the evening; until the earthquake struck. The glass walls shook, the tables danced, and not a few diners screamed. We had paid, so made for the exit, where we were met by our driver. We travelled back, with him manoeuvring round large rocks fallen from the cliffs, lamp posts and power lines laying in all directions in the road, and abandoned cars. Our driver was not going to stop under any circumstance. Never mind the aftershocks, it was the muggers that provided the threat. Our next journey when we arrived back at the hotel was directly to the bar, by foot, and quick. We had previously noted a warning in the lift on the way up that told us not to use it when subject to a “tremelo”. Quite how you determined that before pressing the button we were not sure.
Still in Peru we travelled many miles on the Amazon and its tributaries in a boat of no particular distinction. Landing originally at Iquitos the stand out point here was the length of the airport name above the door.”AEROPUERTO INTERNATIONAL CRNL. FLP. SECADA V.IQUITOS PERU.
The only way into this jungle city is by air, or a boat trip 2,300 miles long up the Amazon from the Atlantic Ocean. With the river level 45ft above normal due to the melt water from the mountain snows having been increased by the El Nino weather that year, we found that many walk-ins to properties could only be navigated by boat. With a reported 2,000 different birds inhabiting the Amazon Basin, several boat trips provided sight of many of them. The tiny Humming Birds were the most fascinating. It is difficult to separate this experience from the actual transport utilised, but I always considered this ordinary launch to be “The Bird Boat”. By the way, this same vessel also showed us Fresh Water Dolphins and lots of different fish, including Piranha.
A tour took us to Chile and the transport memories here was again, not the actual vehicle, but the road. Actually it was on the way out of the country and on a new road, (then) that we crossed the Andes, stopping on the seventeenth of twenty seven hair pin bends to watch tiny lorries zigzagging across the graduated ravine. A number of us were travel sick, which made it even more memorable.
The end of this trip was in Argentina where they had just suffered a financial crash that made ours seem relatively insignificant. The coach condition reflected the national situation. It was described by one in our party as being involved in a car bombing, “Carrying the bomb”.
A flight to Iquacu above the River Plate was spectacular, and demonstrated the layout of “grid system” towns and cities very well. The object of the visit was to view the ‘falls. 275 of them on a convex crescent several kilometres wide, caused by an geological slip fault 200 feet deep across the river system, and the new transport form was a speed boat that took us right below one of the falls. I can honestly say that pleasure was not the aim, or the result of the game. Survival perhaps, not assured, but prayed for. We got out, battered and soaked, and were immediately the prey for millions of mosquito’s. Like the earlier Machu Picchu, if you get the chance, see it. But stay on dry land!
On to Buenos Aries, where no new transportation options were available, but a coach trip to “The Estancia Santa Susana” out on the Pampas, saw a number of us climb into a big wooden wheeled truck and with a splendid view of an even larger horses backside, get trundled round a field. The driver was; I am sure, a very demented gaucho by the name of “Garrincha” or “little bird”. He was very thin, but we don’t know if it was his legs, nose or something else that gave him his name, we do know he loved having his photo taken and was facing us more than his horse.
There were lots to see in Buenos Aries, the home of the Tango, but they do not, even loosely, come under the heading of transport.
On then to Brazil, which provided some more ways of getting from A to B. Another cable car, in Rio this time, across a slum area to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain. This was a big beast and carried more people than I thought was safe, we counted eighty, but it is still going after many years, so it must be alright. The view across the city was interesting, with our next destination showing five miles away right on the other side of the city. This was reached via a rack and pinion railway with coaches at a permanent 25 odd degrees (a guess) angle. At the top we stood below the massive feet of Christ the Redeemer and looked back to where we had earlier stood on Sugar Loaf. This is an impressive piece of statuary! But difficult to photograph. Getting far enough back to get the head in was not an option! We had been given two other alternatives of travelling to the top of Corcovado. (Where we were now). A hire car, that was expensive and went the long way round, or walk/scramble up a pathway. The down side of this last option was the likely hood that we would be waylaid and robbed. It was stressed as not being a guarantee, but a lot more than a possibility.
Maybe not earth shattering, but a four storey lift serving the levels of one of the stands in the Maracana football stadium makes for an impressive ride, and view. Holding at that time 200,000 spectators, this stadium saw a John Barnes goal that thrilled the world. It certainly did me. Again, what a view!
We were here for “The Carnival”, but this does not fit into the theme. But nevertheless, if you get the chance, GO SEE IT!
In the USA the transport was not mainly unusual, that is until we reached “The Grand Canyon”. The first of two options was a ride on a Donkey down “The Bright Angel Trail”, to the bottom of the canyon. We asked if it was safe and were told. the stable consisted entirely of “safe” animals. They had all done it before! Only successful beasts were on offer. The failures were not in a position, or condition, to try it again. So we chose a Bell Jet Ranger Helicopter instead. We were weighed and labelled and had to put all our loose change and camera cases in a safe in the office . We were sorted by weight that put Margaret and I together with four Germans. Firmly strapped in we had large earphones plonked on our heads. This helped to deaden the whimpering sounds that came from the German lady cowering next to me. With a great deal of noise we lifted off and crossed just over a pine forest. Suddenly we had lost the trees and only the side and bottom of the canyon was to be seen. It was surreal. I will not attempt to describe the view! It unfortunately was soon over and a gentle landing allowed us to stand on solid ground and relive what we had just seen in a quieter environment. The German lady looked very relieved and had stopped whimpering.
On our many trips to India we have become used to public transport that we would find unacceptable back here in the UK. The local buses are often wrecks and so crowded at times that getting off; where you wanted to, becomes a big problem. The conductor hangs on the outside and blows his whistle, presumably in some form of code, to warn or guide his driver. In many cases the roads are awful; which adds to the fun of being carried in a rattling sardine can. Value for money is good though, if you are tough enough. One of the alternatives are Tuk Tuk’s. These are three wheeled, enclosed vehicles, constructed from the front wheels, forks, handlebars and engine of a two stroke bike. Only two passenger seats; but claiming to have three modes of turn. Left, Right and Over. With a good driver they are both fun and excellent value, if a little jolty.
I think I have covered most of my personal transport experiences. Many shared with Margaret. Suffice to say that Air transport has improved in comfort and speed over the last 50 or so years. Our return from India in an Airbus 380 earlier this year does not bare comparison with the first foray to Benidorm in a Vickers Viscount.
One last recall. A trip to Venice saw us in a Gondola party propelled by a guy in a straw hat and striped shirt with a long oar. One older lady in the party called him by the name of an STD, and told us, with some authority that the water looked dirty due to its high affluent content. Despite this, a trip under the Bridge’s of Sighs and Rialto, and along the Grand Canal are thought of with some pleasure. We could not understand why the same “clued up” lady asked us to take a photo of her and another lady companion. Never mind the “STD”. or the Gondola. or the buildings, “just our head and shoulders.” was the request.
I have had several suggestions as to other inclusions in my list of transport modes, such as Trolley Buses and Trams. I have also considered other youthful methods, likes home made scooters and even sledges, but have decided to look forward instead to everyday supersonic flight, perhaps a “beam me up Scotty” form of transporter, and even further into the future, the completion of London Cross Rail project!
Dateline, 19th December 2018.
These are my personal observations and memories, and do not reflect the positions held by the Kingswood Residents Association or its officers.
Please do not copy or transmit any or all of this article without permission.