Monday August 8, 2016
A trip in a stepdaughter’s Renault Mégane Convertible during the recent spate of warm weather put me in mind of the first journey I ever undertook in baking heat. The summer of 1976 was, as the saying goes, ‘the hottest since records began’ and this was obviously a cue for a trip to the seaside in our 1964 Mini. Before the journey from Southampton to Bournemouth, a picnic had to be assembled, map books stored in the passenger door compartment and the seats had to be wiped with a damp cloth - rear seat passengers in short trousers, vinyl upholstery and blazing sunshine is never a winning combination. At last, we were ready for a journey that looked set to be the equal of John Mills & Co in Ice Cold in Alex, although we had to endure the perils of the A27 and A31 rather than the Sahara.
The Mini’s dashboard boasted an aftermarket MW/LW radio but this seemed to play nothing but Don’t Go Breaking My Heart on a permanent loop. However, the real challenge was not the works of Elton John and Kiki Dee but a pressing need for cool air. The traffic stream contained several recent models that were fitted with dashboard ventilators but the possibility of a family car equipped with air conditioning would not have occurred to any of us; forty years ago this was largely the province of Rolls Royce class cars. Motor and Autocar would occasionally have advertisements for in-car ‘fridge that ran from the battery but that would only work if you were lucky enough to own a vehicle with a cigarette lighter socket.
By the time we were finally west of Southampton, passengers and driver alike would have exchanged our bungalow, our colour television, plus father’s collection of Del Shannon singles, for one of those decadent newer Mini 1000s that came with winding windows. Some younger readers may wonder about the degree of ventilation afforded by the sliding panes in a 1960s Morris Mini in the midst of a heatwave and I am here to tell them that the key phrase is ‘limited’. Still, at least we were on holiday and not having to travel to sales appointment in a company Cortina 1600L while clad in a polyester suit.
And, better still, our Mini was a ‘Super De Luxe’, which meant a water temperature gauge was a standard fitting. Throughout the journey we all paid close attention to the needle, watching as it ominously hovered over the ‘H’ section of the dial as that meant the real possibility of joining the ranks of overheated vehicles that festooned the verges. Cars from Leyland, Ford. Vauxhall and Chrysler UK – all had their bonnets raised, with entertaining (to passers-by at any rate) clouds of steam billowing forth. Sometimes there was an AA or RAC Escort van in attendance and on other times there was a frustrated driver booting the offside tyre. Once, and I remain convinced that I did not imagine this, there was a motorist and a New Forest donkey both kicking a stricken Triumph 1500.
But after many trials and tribulations, we were finally at the seaside for a picnic of sandwiches that had fermented in their plastic container. At the end of Ice Cold in Alex John Mills rewarded himself with a pint of Carlsberg but we liked to think that our Space 1999 lollies from a Commer ice cream van in Dorset were equally well-earned.