August. 1979. The yellow Ford Cortina ploughs its way through France and onto Germany. The destination is a house near a patch forest outside Bonn. My brothers and I sit in the back. The seats are uncomfortable. One end sags and we fight over who should sit in the dip. Where the springs bite our buttocks and the plastic covers give off an unpleasant squeak. It’s sticky. Hot. The fan doesn’t work properly. At intermittent times, windows are descended and the strong European air whips around our heads through Normandy, Paris and beyond.
The Cortina’s engine is loud. There’s an unpleasant small that emits from the exhaust. Petrol. Oil. The car’s windscreen is covered in stickers – Longleat, Bristol Zoo, Newcastle United, I’ve Passed The Corona Physical. My dad drives. With an effortless grace his full fingers grip the wheel. His hair lifts in the intermittent breeze like clumps of resin. Mum sits next to him, clutching maps and tissues. Her long legs distend. From time-to-time, she cranks her head back and checks on our perennial needs. Who’s thirsty? Who’s hungry? Who needs a wee?
There is no working radio in the car and we’re all too old for eye spy. Occasionally, Dad sings half out of tune, or tells a bad joke. And we all groan.
“Sorry for living,” he mutters and rolls up his sleeves.
As we pass through rural France, we all guess shop signs and restaurant menus. Pulling out our text book phraseology and trying not to think of French lessons. Dictee and conjugational issues. And we all learn to hate that Cortina. The smell. The uncomfortable seating. The lack of room at the back. The endless shifting to try and get more legroom. The squeak of the seats on our bare legs. The miles that we travel with the drone of the engine. And by the time we reach Germany, my brothers utter compulsion for speed on the Autobahn.
Yes! He says.
“Go faster!” They say.
“Well. What of it?” Dad asks.
“There’s no speed limit.”
“Just floor it!” David says.
“Don’t you dare,” Mum interjects. “I can’t stand speeding.”
“But it’s not speeding if there’s no speed limit.” David barks.
“Quite,” Tim says.
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