The Johnson family acquired its first car, an Austin A30, around 1964. We were one of the first families on our road in Gowerton, near Swansea, to own a car and my father would have been forty-two by the time he set about learning to drive. In those times if you left the car parked on the road you had to leave its side-lights on, which played havoc with car batteries. I remember Dad was forever charging it and topping its cells up with distilled water. Mam never learnt to drive and always cited the skill as one of her most regretted non-accomplishments. In conversations with her right to the end of her life she (an Aries!) maintained she would almost certainly have made a very good driver. She most definitely made a damn fine driving instructor - as my father often experienced, “You went round that bend a bit fast, Danny!”
Most of the time Dad remained stoically good-tempered with his ever-present advisor alongside; but very occasionally he’d snap, “Do you drive, Mair?”
She would respond dismissively, as though this small fact was simply an irrelevance, “No.”
“Well shut up then and let me get on with it!”
A tense hush sometimes descended upon the front of the car at these times. In such difficult moments, awkward looks were exchanged in the back seat between me and my friend Keith, who was almost guaranteed to be present if we were on an outing to the seaside.
At Easter we invariably headed for the coast, regardless of the weather. If wet, we browsed our way slowly through the town’s Woolworths, hoping climatic conditions might soon alter for the better. Perhaps this was the reason why I felt so genuinely sad when these stores finally closed down a few years back - they were such a powerful icon from my childhood. However, if the sun was shining we’d be on the beach with our buckets and spades, and when Mam told us, teeth chattering, tinged blue and shivering from head to toe, to get out of the sea after an hour’s joyous splashing, we’d always insist we weren’t cold at all. She’d generally have to bribe us in some little way to get us to come peacefully, thereby probably saving us from being hospitalised with hypothermia. If we went to Porthcawl we’d have faggots and peas (this is a meatball akin to haggis and not to be confused with the North American definition for a faggot) in the fair for our lunch, or, Mam’s heavily salted cucumber sandwiches with a chunk of cheese, always ingested with large quantities of sand. There was generally an ice cream or two to be had on an Easter Bank Holiday Monday and if the destination was Porthcawl (Mam’s lifelong Mecca) it could only be a Fulgoni’s cone. Last thing, as the sun was going down and everyone started heading for home there was always a bag of fish and chips, scalding hot, served up in newspaper, always smothered in salt and dripping with vinegar, to be eaten as we made our way back to the car. Lovely.