Random Memories,Part one: Ground Zero

If it’s going to have to begin somewhere, then here would be a good a start as anywhere.

It wasn’t that I hated going to the caravan park in North Wales. After all, most people in the North West of England had been there at some point in the last thirty-something years. It was just that, well, the novelty had run out around three years ago and I was never one to break the hearts of my poor parents, by informing them that the holiday sucked. Not that such a description officially existed, we’re in the good old 1970’s here, and I’m eleven…I think.

So once again we were in the car, hurtling down another motorway, on route to Presthaven Sands Caravan Park, just outside the one-sheep village of Gronant in Flintshire, Wales. Mum and dad were in the front seats of the car, a big, dark-blue, Australian-American Ford Fairmont. Honestly, the thing must have been around twenty feet from bumper to bumper. Dad did always have taste that bordered on ostentatious.  In the back were the three of us: ‘Pippin’, our aging golden cocker-spaniel, myself and a leg of lamb – it seems wrong to not grant a role to poor old ‘larry’ ,he was only there  if only in part.

I think we’d already gone past ‘Face Mountain’, which I’ve since realised is not a mountain at all and to be honest, it doesn’t really look much more like a face than any other hill. Essentially, if you squint at a hill surely they all look like someone with a bloody big nose! Of course, there’s always the chance that we hadn’t actually reached not-really-face-mountain yet, as I shall reveal later, things got a bit messed up.

Dad did always have a bit of an active sense of humour. Sometimes, he’d dick around with the steering and we’d weave in and around the round, I seem to remember him doing this on Ainsworth Lane, there’s nothing spectacular about Ainsworth Lane so I suppose the prospect of ram-raiding the Co-op with a massive bitching car would have been exciting for all involved. So, it was not that much of a surprise to me when we started frantically weaving in and around on the motorway. We went from the inner lane to the outer lane and back again a couple of times, at seventy-miles-per-hour. Finally, dad managed to get the car back in control, for about a second and then we were off again.

I distinctly remember shouting ‘Dad!’ believing that he was still, dicking about. I think that I remember him also yelling back something about ‘We’ve lost both tyres!’  I think I remember an experience similar to being on a really tremendous roller-coaster. A highly scary ten-seconds’ worth of being thrown around a bit. I do remember a period of darkness and waking up with Larry and Pippin both on my face. I really need to clarify Larry’s razon d’etré. Well, you know in the 1970’s when people used to cook things and if they were not eaten that night then your mum would save them for ‘butties’ (sandwiches) the day after? This was Larry’s reason for being in the car, when we got to the caravan, we were going to consume the rest of Larry on bread. I should probably add that Larry was in a roasting tin, well, before the car decided it had experienced enough of life in the fast lane and made a bee-line for the embankment.

Where was I? Oh that’s right, kind of hori-vertical in the back of dad’s ostentatious car with a leg of lamb and a dog in my face. Hey, it’s not as bad as it sounds, some people pay for that kind of animalistic rough-housing, I got it for free! Mum and Dad are very English in the way that they reacted,  “Are you alright?” they reassured each other and within  a minute or two got around to asking me, I think it was me, Pippin never was much of a barker and his English language skills were truly shocking. Larry, as we all know, was a bit on the deceased side of things so I am going to assume that they were indeed asking me if I was okay?

I said ‘yes’ then seemed to lose the ability to speak. As I don’t remember saying anything until later that night. We more or less fell quite gingerly out of the car as we had all seen car crashes on television and expected the thing to blow up any second. Is it wrong to admit that I was somewhat miffed when the car just simply sat there doing nothing apart from looking a bit inclined? Oh, well. Another car pulled over onto the embankment as we were ascending the minor slope from our car. The driver looked kind of flushed in the face, perhaps because he was so damned fat, sorry but this was the 1970’s and people were either fat or thin, no in-between, it was a simpler time, when even the word simpler didn’t seem to exist (unlike today!).

He recanted the story of how he had seen us and what had happened and even now I think back and scowl at the way he identified with us – ‘scuse me, it was our bloody crash! By something of a miracle of luck we must have crashed very near to one of those emergency telephones that are scattered every-so-often up and down the length of U.K. motorways and Dad called for the A.A… he must have needed a drink! (insert laughter here!) Quick service too, as within an hour or so they had arrived, two of them. One on our side of the carriageway had turned up in one of those vehicles with a crane / winch type thingy for retrieving our car from its mooring place on the embankment. And on the other side of the carriageway was the vehicle in which they were going to transport us to our next destination, d-oh! In hindsight, to do what he wanted they should have arrived in a bloody hearse.

The dominant member of the A.A. rescue force seemed a nice man, very thick glasses, mid-length, sandy-brown hair, a bit of a pot-belly but nowhere near as pronounced as his partner’s. All-in-all a photogenic MVP for the automobile association…unless they actually wanted to attract people in which case, they’d probably need someone a bit more, nicer looking. As I say he was a lovely charming man, reassuring us that we were ‘lucky not to have been killed’. He put it to us, that seeing as they had parked on essentially the other side of the motorway, all of us would have to do a bit of light exercise by ‘froggering’ across all ,  six lanes of fast-moving motorway traffic, to their awaiting vehicle.

Mum, bless her, was a bit concerned. Dad seemed up for it, indeed, although my brain had not yet matured to that point in life where it knows what a calculated risk is, let alone bloody well doing one, I was semi up for it too. To be honest, I was not that sure that the dog would be so easy to encourage into the expedition / suicide mission! And Larry would simply not make it…with him still being all dead, Larry just didn’t buy into the whole team spirit side of things!

Thankfully for all our sakes, and to the downfall of the glamorous A.A. chap, the Police turned up next with a little present for said A.A. chap, a right-royal bollocking. See, mum had got to the Police first and ever-so-calmly informed the officers what this cracked bastard had proposed – legging it across six motorway lanes, with a dog! The Policeman was only slightly flabbergasted before turning that colour which lobsters go if you cook them for long enough!  This was the unexpected highlight of the day as the young policeman tore metaphorical strips of our beloved reckless cretin.

Apparently, cones should have been placed up to fifty yards in either direction of the recovery vehicle, the man should have been wearing a hi-vis jacket (well his teeth were yellow) and as for imploring us into his suicide plan, well that just wasn’t on, until that day I’d never heard a policeman swear before let alone ask the A.A. douche if he was ‘fucking joking?’ I remember holding mum’s hand as we waited for the passenger vehicle…next to one of the busiest and fastest moving motorways in the country, ah, happy times!

Suitably chastised, the idiot contacted his sidekick on the other side of the motorway and asked him to come over to our side. The other man concurred and within ten minutes was with us and being dressed down by lobster-cop. We were ushered into the passenger vehicle – a converted Ford Transit pickup which sat three of us in one seat…and a dog. I distinctly remember the man apologizing to us for his colleague suggesting that we play hopscotch across the M…damn I just can’t remember which motorway it was. I remember mum saying something deeply profound to me, along the lines of: “Aw, aren’t you good. The girls would have been crying and kicking and screaming by now, but you just took it all in.” The irony still kind of grates on me now almost forty years later.

Something like an hour later, we were back at home in good old Bolton, fresh with the tale of our day to my awaiting sisters. They had decided not to come to Wales with us that weekend, presumably staying at home and spending time with their respective boyfriends was preferable to the exciting new sport of motorway gliding, go figure! Mum opened up the conversation nicely when she commenced: “You nearly didn’t have a family today…” Nice, and up goes the Azrael Block! I don’t know what else was said, I’d kind of zoned out. I do remember suddenly realising that yes, we could have died, as if this was the first time that thought had penetrated my lethargic brain.

Meanwhile, Dad had been on the phone and had ordered us another car in which we could go down to the caravan after all. I made my case that I decided that I didn’t want to go, and was duly ignored. We bloody well went anyway. Did we have a good time those few days? No, but I discovered I had a minor penchant for emotionally manipulating people who had played a bit part in almost killing me. After seeing an almighty electronic organ in a music shop I decided that it might help my recovery if I was bought one of these devices…and a month later it arrived. I had two lessons then sacked it off and Dad took over the role of murdering tunes on it for the next ten years, maybe I hadn’t manipulated him at all and he had bought the organ for himself?

Many years later, I think I was in my thirties, mum and me had a conversation about the crash and how I had utterly hated to go back to the caravan that night and forever after. She defended the decision to go by arguing that if we hadn’t had gone that night, then we might never have gone again…big deal, I hated going anyway.

At some point in time it was announced by either one of them that we had in fact turned over three times in the car that fateful day. I simply do not remember this. Which leads me to believe that either

  • We never turned over and someone’s imagination has been at work, or
  • My brain had done the Azrael thing and simply blocked this out from my conscious memory

Bugger! I say that because at one point when I was in my late twenties I happened to be driving my Dad’s Cortina Mk 5. I really loved that car. It was an early summer’s evening and I was driving to Chez’s house in Halliwell. I opted to take the Tonge Moor Road / Folds Road route, which features a lovely swooping corner. I hit some oil and before you could say autonomic recall, as this car was veering off to the side of the road and back again, for a microsecond or two I was back in the back seat of the Fairmont, bumping around and panicking again. Ace, the phrase ‘total recall’ seemed most appropriate. I don’t think that we did turn over three times, or even once. Did I mention that on one holiday all members of my family forgot what bloody day it was and were really upset at the prospect of having lost a day? I don’t get that logic either, we lost nothing. Well apart from me losing the ability to sleep for a fortnight when my brother-in-law-to-be would come back to our tent pissed out of his skull, fall asleep and then snore on an international scale!

Believe me, it took meeting my beloved Christine, to get me to want to go on any kind of holiday again after my childhood vacation terrors!




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