The car that followed us everywhere and parenting, 1960s style

There were two constants that occurred whenever we loaded up the car and set off on another long summer holiday of my childhood and youth – when you looked out of the back window of our car, there would be another car right behind us, and during the holiday all of the “parents sayings” would emerge.

The car that followed us everywhere was Ralph and his family, grimly determined to stay within a maximum of twelve inches from our rear bumper for the next two weeks, for Ralph had absolutely no sense of direction whatsoever, his map reading skills simply had not developed beyond childhood when half the world was coloured red on the classroom wall and he could not have pointed to his home city on a map of England without having at least a couple of guesses – it doesn’t really help your cause when you’re trying to navigate all the way to France if you can’t actually point to your starting off point without having to guess.

So the navigation was left to our dad and the decision on the location of our summer holiday every year was taken by our dad too, we’d often turn up at Ralphs house on the Saturday morning of our great holiday journey for Ralph to ask “Where are we going then Frank ?”

“I’ve booked a fortnight in Northern France Ralph”
“Oh good, I’ll follow you then…”

He followed very close to our car so that at times our two cars looked like one, if we needed to ask Ralph something we had no need to stop for you simply had to wind down the window and speak to Ralph in the car behind as if he were sat behind you on a bus.

Or better still get our mother (Joyce) to communicate soundlessly with Ralphs wife (Joyce) in the car behind for of course all mothers could talk to each other soundlessly simply by means of mouthing the words and liberal use of hand gestures.

”  ………………………….  ” our mother would mouth to the car behind and her hands would wave and weave in the air in mysterious gestures known only to women who had worked in noisy clothing factories where shouting at each other was unproductive but you could communicate with a woman sat on a sewing machine twelve rows away just by gesturing with your hands and mouthing the words.

” ………………………..  ” Joyce would reply and our mother would turn to our dad and say “Ralph says can we stop for petrol soon ?”

When the two Joyce’s conversed with each other, outsiders could only hear a maximum of 50% of the words and that would be on a day when their hands were tied behind their backs, indeed our dad and Ralph often commented that without hands the pair would be struck dumb.

They also had an extraordinary perception of their place in life’s great tapestry, and of others places, and woe betide (one of their favourite sayings) woe betide anyone who stepped outside the boundaries that they had placed them in, “Who does she think she is ?” being one of their most commonly mouthed and signed statements, it wasn’t a question.

“Who does she think she is ?” would be targeted, for example, to a woman who had ordered a Babycham in a scruffy pub at lunchtime, for clearly that woman would be stepping outside the boundaries of half a lager and lime in a lunchtime pub, Babycham being reserved for those evenings when you “Pushed the boat out” in a venue club like Batley Variety or Wakefield Theatre Club, “Who does she think she is, pushing the boat out like that ?” would be mouthed and signed across the table and either one of the two Joyces would nod towards the miscreant, a look of disgust on their faces – and the thing is, they wouldn’t even know who the poor woman was for familiarity was no hinderance to their put-down mechanisms.

I’d ask my mother for some loon pants on holiday, or maybe a tie-dye t-shirt, something that had to be bought in a holiday town boutique rather than from Brian Mills catalogue before you went and all I’d get in response from the two Joyces is “Who do you think you are” and a folding of the arms and a nod in my direction from the two of them, and indeed, who did I think I was ?

It was worse if I asked our dad, “Where do you think you are ?” he’d always reply without fail, “on your fathers yacht ?” a reply that I could never, without fail, refrain from replying to with “Well yes, I do actually” to which a clout around the back of the head would follow.

And so our annual holidays took on the same familiar script every year, there would always be a car just inches away from our rear bumper and our parents would deny our every call for willy-nilly spending, come lunchtimes we would be abandoned on a beach while they went to the pub and hours later they’d return with a bottle of cola and a Mars Bar for us, and every evening we’d either be locked in a caravan or taken to another pub and left in its garden until throwing out time with the occasional cola and packet of crisps coming our way, parenting seemed to be so much easier for my parents generation than for mine, your children could easily be left in a pub garden with all of the other kids, completely unsupervised and without the need for climbing frames and ball pools, or entertainment of any kind.

When I think of the small fortunes I’ve spent on holidays for my children to places like Centre Parcs, or foreign holidays where we had to make sure there was a kids club and/or lots of stuff for them to do it almost makes me cry, especially when a well placed “Where do you think you are, on your fathers yacht ?” would easily have stopped their moaning and nagging for something to entertain them – wouldn’t it ?


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