Roads trips – a retrospective

Having grown up in a small town and in high school, having gone to boarding school in another town, road trips were commonplace.  There are, however, some trips that remain embedded in my memory.  The first that I really remember would have been in 1967.  It was the year after we arrived in South Africa and my father had a new job, necessitating a move from Port Elizabeth to East London.  It’s a trip of about 300km and at the time, my parents didn’t have a car.  A friend offered to drive us to East London.  I remember little about the trip (I’d have been about four and my sister nineteen months younger), except that the car was huge.  The four of us – plus the driver – had ample space.  One thing I do remember – other than the heat and burning the backs of my legs on the shiny vinyl seats – was the bench-like front seat from which I could just about see over the dashboard.  A music play list? I doubt it.  The driver would have been accompanied by anything a capella – if anyone sang.  I don’t have a clue!

Granny and the Mini

The next road trip that I remember, was not long after that, and as my Dad was going for a(nother) job interview – in Grahamstown.  It would have been late 1969 or early 1970 because my granny was visiting from the UK.   By then, my parents had acquired a motor car which was the complete antithesis of the vehicle in which we made that other road trip.  It was a Mini Minor, much like the one below.Source

What you do need to know, is that both my mother and my grandmother were tall women, so I still have difficulty thinking of their folding themselves up so that they could get into that car.

Granny outside her home in Cowley, Oxford. Ironically, this is where Austin manufactured minis and it’s likely that she had worked in that factory during the war. I wrote a bit about that here.

Back to that trip.  Granny sat in the back:  in the middle. She was bookended by her granddaughters.  I have vivid memories of putting my head in her lap and sleeping at least part of the way.  Although I don’t actually remember her singing, I have no doubt that she did.  This was her nightly lullaby.  I sometimes still sing it in my head and Joan Baez’s rendition reminds me of Granny and her beautiful voice.

As I mentioned, road trips were a regular feature of my childhood.  After moving to Grahamstown, there were frequent visits to Port Elizabeth and even one to Cape Town.  Then in my high school years there were regular trips from Grahamstown to East London and back – at least monthly, if not more often – to and from boarding school.  The subsequent series of motor cars didn’t have a radio in them, let alone a tape cassette.  Consequently, there was no such thing as a road trip play list.  I must have sung on some of these trips – especially as a little girl.  I loved singing, but my singing was not loved:

Daddy, what can I sing for you?

His inevitable reply:

Over the hills and faraway….

He meant not the tune, but … literally.

Consequently, road trips included games like “I spy with my little eye….” or counting cars, and more interesting, guessing the origins of motor vehicles from their number plates.  This was long before the advent of the current number plate series, and we could guess province, town and country.  We prided ourselves on knowing that TSN was Sandton (if memory serves).  TJ and TP were Johannesburg and Pretoria, respectively, both in the then Transvaal (now Gauteng).  There was a time I could recite the towns for number plates that started with C(ape) and from A to Z.  The Western Cape has retained this series for its towns and I can still tell you some of them, including that CA is Cape Town (a no-brainer since we lived there for years) and that CZ is Beaufort West.  B, C, D, E and F were all in the Eastern Cape and were, in order:  Port Elizabeth, Kimberley, King Williams Town, East London and Grahamstown.  I did have to check that I was right with Kimberley (Source).  Funny how these trivial things stick.  I wish some other information was so readily retrievable from the memory banks!  Actually, the second car I owned, was registered in Grahamstown, and it was with that CF number plate that my Blue Fiat Uno and I arrived in Cape Town in the mid-1990s.  Not a road trip I remember with any relish at all.

A stop in Parys

Moving swiftly back to happier times, well, sort of, is a road trip made not long after my 21st birthday and on which occasion this photo was taken.

Dad, Mum and I at my 21st birthday (garden) party

That road trip is memorable for a range of good and awful reasons.  It was a 1,000km trip from Grahamstown to Johannesburg.  On the trip up – in a clapped out Datsun – packed to the gills with students – the weather was appalling.  It poured with rain and there was a hole the floor of the car – my feet were perpetually wet.  Of course, the inevitable happened:  the car broke down.  The water pipe connecting the radiator with the engine … well … it burst.  Suffice it to say, we had to stop and have a Heath Robinson repair in Paris Parys, 100km from Johannesburg.  It was already dark and, as I said, miserable.  Even though it was early autumn and should have been balmy (we were all barmy at that point…).  It was pitch dark by the time we hit the road again.  All I remember of the rest of the trip, other than the belching and screeching of the water pipe, was the orange moon at which I stared out of the back passenger window, with frozen, wet feet, and to the sound track to the 1983 (this was 1984) film, Lawyers in Love.

Any of those Jackson Brown songs, particularly that one, take me back – less to the trip – and more to that moon.


Johannesburg-Queenstown, return

Fast forward just about ten years to when I was living in Johannesburg (which skyline still does it for me…):  for the entire year or so prior to leaving that city, and once a month, I’d make the just under 700km trip to Queenstown and back – for the weekend.  At the time, I had a company car and it was the first of “my” cars to have a radio and a cassette deck.  I was in heaven.  Prior to that, I’d had a little 1970-something yellow Renault 5.  The Yellow Peril had no frills, let alone a sound system.  I compensated with my pink walkman portable cassette player and ear phones.  Any how, I digress.  As usual.

Those trips between Johannesburg and Queenstown were accompanied by a pile of cassette tapes.  They were all loud, sing-alongs because I was travelling alone and would leave around 1pm, and drive straight through, stopping once and just to long enough fill the car, the stomach and to use the ablutions, arriving some six and a half hours later.  I have wracked my brains to remember what those tapes were, and the only one I can remember, is Bette Middler’s Some People’s Lives and especially this song:

Spoilt for choice

Having travelled quite a bit for may day job in the last 20 years ago, and living where we do, I’m not so fond of road trips.  I prefer to stay put. That said, there is the odd trip to Cape Town and the-not-odd-enough-trip to places we’ve not been.  We don’t have a hard and fast playlist, and with our not-so-new Chevvy just having a CD player, we both select what we’d like to hear and put the discs in a box.  The selection ranges from The Beetles to Santana, Mango Groove to Edith Piaf, The African Jazz Pioneers and Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand) and a whole lot in between.

There have been times, though, having selected the maximum number of CDs our carrier would allow, it lived in splendour on the diningroom table until our return from a trip.

Post Script

This post was was originally posted in August 2019 as a non-entry to that month’s Top 3 contest.  Because of what I explain here, and because I want to link to this post, here it is again.

Post Script

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