I have already told you about the love of my Dad’s motoring life, his Hillman Minx De Luxe, Registration Number BLT 141B. He gave it to me after he retired, and I had it for about two or three years. Here is a picture of it in the car park of the old Savoy Hotel in 1980, on our wedding day. That’s why the picture’s so shaky:
Here I am driving this 1964 car, as it gradually began to get rustier and rustier :
It was in this Hillman Minx that, back in 1968, Fred was returning from Wigan down the M6, when, because the motorway was still in the throes of construction, he failed to see the tiny hand-painted direction signs, and finished up in a building site in Birmingham, having missed his turn off in Stoke-on-Trent. That sounds incredible, but he’d never been on a motorway before. Wigan is a town in Lancashire and is indicated by the Orange Arrow. My Mum’s parents lived there. The other towns and cities are in capital letters. Fred was aiming at Burton-on-Trent near Derby, which is south east of Stoke:
He was driving the same car in Leicester (south east of Derby) when he got lost and was forced to ask a policeman the way. Realising that he was dealing with somebody from out-of-town, this eminently sensible officer told Fred to avoid a rather horrific one-way system by driving fifty yards the wrong way down a one way street, while he promised to turn a blind eye to the whole thing.
It was again in this very same Hillman Minx that, three years later, Fred again missed his way in that very same city of Leicester, and went the wrong way up another one way street. Instead of being able to solve the problem by the previous method, however, Fred was forced on this second occasion to extricate himself from the situation by executing a three point turn in the face of a rapidly advancing four lanes of densely packed vehicles.
I have vague memories too, of getting lost as we went on holiday for the first time to the Yorkshire coast at either Bridlington or Scarborough. We stopped at, I think, Pontefract, somewhere near a power station, to ask the way.
The man that Fred approached spoke with an accent which was completely incomprehensible, and after a few frustrated minutes, Fred just drove off at top speed, angrily spinning the wheels on his rather sedate family saloon. At the time, he insisted that, against all the apparent mathematical odds, he had managed to find the local village idiot at his very first attempt.
Incidentally, above, you can see the Britain’s Lead Soldier version of the village idiot which usually reaches £200 at auction.
Nowadays, I think, in calm retrospect, that the man’s Yorkshire accent may well have been beyond us. It is difficult, though, even to best guess the location of these events. Perhaps it was near the huge power station at Ferrybridge where the A64 to the east coast Yorkshire holiday resorts left the main A1 trunk road, as it would have been at that time. The power station was demolished a long time ago:
Whenever Fred left his car anywhere unfamiliar, such as when he was away on holiday, or for any length of time in his own local area, he would always immobilise it by removing part of the carburettor . On occasion, Fred would even immobilize the car when he parked it on his own drive. It was years after his death that I realized that in this apparently bizarre zeal for crime prevention, Fred was only carrying out the orders that he would have been given in the early part of World War Two, in 1939-1940, when it was a serious criminal offence to leave a vehicle without totally immobilising it. There was a very real fear of imminent invasion, and the arrival of Nazi paratroopers, many of them disguised as nuns. And even in 1975, the Soviet Spetsnaz forces would have drunk a bottle of vodka each in celebration to have found such a fast and classy vehicle as a 1964 Hillman Minx. Here’s their badge in case your car is ever stolen. Spetsnaz are everywhere:
This Hillman Minx was THE car of Fred’s life. He had it for more than sixteen years, before, around 1980, he passed it on to me as a newly qualified driver. I in my turn used the car until it failed its MOT test by a very wide margin, some £300 when my annual salary was £500. I then duly drove it back from Nottingham to Woodville, where my family lived. Fred was then able to drive “that Hillman” as he always called it, on its last ever journey, the short distance from 9 Hartshorne Road to Donald Ward’s scrapyard in Moira Road. Here it is, complete with Victorian bottle kiln: