It was our first car. The picture, Merry Hill Road, Bushey, shows the previous owner, a close friend, emerging from it shortly before I bought it. It was some months later when I took the risky step of offering my ageing parents a ride. My mother was even more nervous than I and my father, who had never himself driven, firmly cautious on my behalf. The project was prickling with peril.
We started from their Devonshire cottage and headed through narrow serpentine lanes to the coast. I forget where. The road suddenly narrowed and I slowed. Ahead, it dipped out of sight, the final hill down to the seashore. I saw the dangers and said I was going to park the car by the stone wall in the tiny lay-by just ahead and we would walk down.
First, I eliminated the risk of having to turn the car round after others had parked; I turned it then and there. The driver’s door was now very close to the wall and I injected a little innocent drama into the situation by pointing out that, because of our close proximity to the wall I would be very clever and, like themselves, exit from the passenger door. (This model of the Morris 8 had only a single door on each side.)
We walked down. The day was of that of utter perfection, gentle breezes and all. We had a cream tea. My mother said again and again that it was all so lovely, my father rolled up his trouser legs and took off his socks and, gingerly over the pebbles, walked stiffly into the water, ankle-deep.
It was all over. We were approaching the car. No-one else had parked. At the passenger door, the key in my hand, I stopped. The brain was spinning with two problems: first, how was I going to tell them that we were locked out, and, second, how were we were going to get in. I had failed to notice that the passenger door on this model did not have a keyhole.
There were no cries of dismay, nothing beyond my mother’s quiet remark that she was longing to sit down and my father’s tut-tutting. His style of the tut-tut resembled the sound of a lusty baby at its mother’s breast. It was followed by ‘What are you doing?’ I was giving my jacket to my mother and edging sideways along the tight gap between car and stone wall with the stonework snatching at my shirt. I slid the key into the lock, undid the door and opened it the few inches until it touched the wall. I inserted my head and shoulders. From then onward it was a lengthy matter of inching from outside to inside. Halfway, I found myself stuck, unable to move either forward or back. I think it must have been the closest I ever came to panicking. I tried to concentrate on sensing the slight actual motion at each twisting of the trunk and urging of the waist, each grunt. Finally, there came a little plop! of freedom and, sweating somewhat, I reached and lifted the locking device on the passenger door and pushed it open. I lifted the front passenger seat forward on its hinges to make the rear seat available and croaked at my father, ‘OK. Hop in!’ With the front seat returned to its normal position I managed what I hoped was a winsome smile up at my mother, and beckoned.
Driving back, there were cockney-style jests from my father such as ‘no more of that malarky, my lad!’ and, from behind, my mother’s occasional and gentle murmuring of ‘Oh, do take care, won’t you’ and so on. Waving goodbye to them as they waved from their front gate I was a sober and far wiser young man.