On “getting packed”

True, it was only a small car, the Austin A40 was a very small car by todays standards, like Fiat 500 small, one of the first “hatchbacks” it didn’t really have a proper boot either and so its true, there wasn’t much room in the Austin A40.

None of which prevented our mother from trying to package the whole house inside the Austin A40 on the Saturday morning of our departure for the annual summer holiday to Cayton Bay.

Ned and I were always up early on the Saturday of our departure, up early, washed and well scrubbed and then dressed in our newly washed “best” clothes for the journey we were told to go and sit in the car and behave while our mother “got packed”, in other words wait for hours outside in the small car while our mother tried to cram the whole contents of our house into two small suitcases.

It caused consternation every year from our dad,

“You can’t take the cushions off the settee”
“You know how hard those caravan seats are, the kids can sit on them in the car”
“And why have I got a kettle in my suitcase ?”
“Remember last year, remember how filthy their kettles were, I’m not using their kettles again”
“…and beans, I’ve got tins of beans in my suitcase”
“You want us to eat don’t you ?”
“But they have a shop…”
“I don’t like their beans, they’re not Heinz, I’m taking my own beans”

And so the packing would continue right through the morning, us kids sat outside in the car impatiently asking every three minutes if we were ready yet and earning a clip around the ear’ole each time, and our dad pacing the path ‘twixt house and car impatiently looking at his watch every three minutes and asking “Is that it then ?” every time our mother came out of the house with more stuff to put in the car, only for him to get a clip around the ear’ole off her and a “Of course that isn’t it, I haven’t packed MY stuff yet”.

It took hours and hours to “get packed” and our mother treated the “getting packed” routine as if it were a military operation, she had been washing and ironing clothes for weeks beforehand and putting them away for the holiday, me and Ned had spent the whole of the week prior to our holiday wondering if we really could get another day out of our oldest pair of underpants, the underpants that weren’t going on the holiday with us, the old off-white ones full of holes with the elastic waistband in tatters, those underpants had seen sterling service over the years and were always taken from the back of the drawer for the week leading up to “getting packed” for the holiday, likewise an old t-shirt, a pair of shorts with darned-up holes in the arse and socks that were barely socks anymore so full of holes were they, nothing went to waste in our house for when an item of clothing was worn away beyond repair then it was stuffed to the back of the drawer for use during the week leading up to the holiday when all of the other clothes would be in the wash and embargoed from wear.

So Ned and I would sit on the narrow back seat of the Austin A40 and within minutes of starting to pack the car with every one of the house contents our dad would declare that the boot was full and there could be no more stuff taken to Wallis’s Holiday Camp that year only to be shoved out of the way by our mother and for her to declare that there was “bags of room” on the back seat for more stuff, well actually mother there wasn’t bags of room on the back seat for me and Ned were sat on the back seat and there wasn’t bags of room even when we weren’t sat on the back seat.

“Here, put this on your knees” she’d tell me as she reached over the front seat and handed me all of the bedding off one of the beds upstairs.
“They provide bedding in the caravans” our dad would plead
“I’m not using their bedding” is all she’d say as she returned to the house to strip another bed.

Shortly Ned and I would be invisible, buried under a mountain of “stuff” from the house and every square inch of space inside the A40 would be crammed with something unnecessary until finally she would declare that the house was now empty, the car was full, and she was ready to leave for Cayton Bay.

By this time even our dad would be sat in the car, string-backed driving gloves on, a packet of Players Gold Leaf cigarettes on the dashboard and a transistor radio hanging by its strap from the rear view mirror having been expertly tuned in so that we could almost hear the Light Service, only to lose reception the first time he went around a corner.

“Get in the bloody car woman” he would shout through the open window as she locked the back door

“I’m coming, I’m coming, who’s been packing all morning ?” and finally she’d climb into the front seat and pull the car door closed

“Thank god for that, can we go now ?” our dad would ask sarcastically
“Ooh, hang on…” she’d cry, jump out of the car again and dash for the house
“What the bloody hell now ?” he’d shout from the car

She’d return with two pints of milk that she’d picked up off the back doorstep

“What do you think you’re going to do with those” our dad would ask incredulously
“The milkman left them, I told him to stop the milk but he left these” and she’d wave them in his face
“You’re not putting them in the car, if they spill on the floor they’ll stink for weeks”
“I’ll hold them” is all she would say

And she did, for the next four hours while we drove all the way to Cayton Bay in the bank holiday traffic she’d sit there in the front of the car holding two bottles of milk in front of her as if they were bottles of nitro glycerine.


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