Journey past

Jul 19th, 2010 | By | Category: Personal Columns

One can almost hear the riposte, “It’s far from what you were raised to”, but the good lady of the house and our daughter have gone to Vienna for three nights.  It is a far remove from the past, but the intensity of experience may not match those moments from far off days.

We had an old Austin Cambridge, (I knew it was old, there was no letter at the end of the registration number and this was England in the 1970s) it was slow and steady and very spacious. The back doors had windows that wound down and triangular shaped quarter-lights in the curve of the back door that let in air without causing discomfort to everyone else.

The quarter-light was my plan to stay awake.  We slipped away from home at just after midnight; the three children sat in the back with pillows and told to go to sleep.  We rolled through the deserted streets of the little town nearby to our village and I unclipped the quarter-light and gently pushed it open.  I had figured that I could lean against the door with my pillow, appearing to be asleep, while my elbow was pushed out through the quarter-light into the cold night air; the chill would ensure that I did not fall asleep. We were heading deep into Cornwall in August 1973, it was five years since I had been in the county, and I was going to savour every moment of this holiday, including the night journey westwards.

Of course, at twelve years of age, staying awake through the early hours of the morning doesn’t come easily, especially in the back of a big car.  Inevitably, I fell asleep and woke with a numb elbow, somewhere in Devon, before dozing off again to wake again in broad daylight.  What mattered was making the most of every moment of that holiday, one which I still remember in great detail.

There are moments when there seems to be a heightened awareness of things, moments when the layer of time between things long past and the present reality seems very thin.  There are moments when you almost expect to see people as they were in the scenes that replay in the mind. Those Cornish days replay in the mind with a cinematic quality.

How many moments now have the intensity of a childhood memory, every sense alive to the overwhelming reality of the surroundings? Travelling to Cornwall in an old Austin Cambridge does not compare with flying to Vienna, but can the prosaic surroundings of a European airport  compare with the heightened reality of a night drive through the West Country?

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  1. I like your idea of sticking your elbow out the window to stay awake. It reminds me of a priest relative who went to Lourdes and BECAME paralysed. He gave up his seat on a long distance train and stood in a draught between carriages. When he arrived he couldn’t walk. He remained that way for some time, immobile from the waist down.
    It took months of treatment before he regained the use of his legs. (Or perhaps everyone else got sick of making him cups of tea.) The cure took the form of some odd concoction mixed up in a cauldron by his mother, in which his legs were bathed.
    All very odd.
    There’s also the story of the family friend who caused a stir outside the grotto at Lourdes. (I know, I’m spoiling you today.) She was volunteering as a broncardier – helper/wheelchair pusher – and it being a hot day, sat down to rest in the just vacated wheelchair she’s been pushing. She fell asleep and sat there for ages. Finally, she woke with a start and stood up suddenly and unsteadily, feeling flustered and not quite sure where she was. You can guess the reaction.

  2. Worthy of Flann O’Brien!

  3. I can still remember the smell of the leather seats in the Austin Cambridge, There was somone in ‘Ham who had a white one with the stripe on the side in red and deep red leather seats……The frame of the quarter light was in chrome in those days too….you are right about those childhood memories….

  4. Someone from Long Street?

  5. I slept the whole journey.

  6. You were eight!

  7. I love the way random smells can suddenly spark these memories, it’s lovely to remember what purity felt like.

  8. Ian ,no it was one of the Vigar family from Henley……an older couple, I cannot remember their first names though……

  9. I have just suggested on Twitter (@irlpol) that the injuries to those climbing the Reek should be set against the “miracles” of Knock, in the interest of regional and religious balance. Agreeing with Blackwatertown.

    Incidentally, in relation to Lourdes. I have bathed in the spring, but have been very taken aback by the stewards who seemed to be obsessed with covering me with a towel on the way in and the way out. Have they never been in a male changing room. And these “baths” are already segregated. Still haven’t fully figured it out.

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