An illustration of times past, when drinking in the English country Pub meant just that. When father and son built a relationship, a relationship not learnt at mother’s knee.
Cast your mind back, if you’re old enough, and see if you can remember this scenario. It could be anywhere in the country and it lasted some forty years, from the nineteen twenties to the mid sixties.
Just before six o’ clock on a warm summer’s evening, usually at the weekend, when insects are high on the wing, chased by swallows and swifts. The time of day when the delicious fragrance of pasture and meadow flowers in full bloom bestow their bouquets.
Now picture the Country Pub, stone clad, ivy covered, with an inviting red glow emanating from leaded windows. The front door is unlocked from the inside and gently propped open by a kindly, ruddy faced and somewhat portly gentleman of some fifty odd years.
Suddenly the first car arrives. Inside, the driver staring fixedly ahead, pulls up sharply between some roughly drawn white lines, as close as possible to the now open front door. The passenger, a petrified boy of perhaps ten years unfolds his hands from his panic-stricken eyes and stares at a brick wall, inches from the front bumper.
The driver, obviously the thirsty father, turns the engine off, smoothes his hair into a semblance of respectability and alights with some alacrity. He is oblivious of the cigarette ash cascading down his sports jacket and rumpled flannel trousers as he makes a beeline for the open front door. With a series of judders the overwrought engine eventually shudders to a standstill. From under the bonnet a faint wisp of steam escapes, accompanied by various ticks and the aroma of hot oil as it drips gently from assorted vents in the engine onto the car park.
Within a few minutes other cars arrive, all roughly in the same manner and all parked as close as possible to the pub door for quick access, complete with freaked out sons and the occasional terrified daughter. Very rarely do they contain the mothers of these children at this ‘early doors’ time. These whole family groups role up later, with much more decorum.
Usually it takes about fifteen minutes for the first Vimto and straw to emerge, carried by a much less stressed father. The handing over of the said victuals is always accompanied by the immortal words, ‘Won’t be long.’ It’s a fallacious statement, both parties know it, but it’s mandatory nevertheless.
As time goes on the lad gets bored, remember there were no car radios, let alone Play Stations in those days. He has studied the wall and determined the number of bricks or stones that fill the windscreen. He has accounted, with as much knowledge as he can muster, the types of vegetation that the wall sustains and dug as much gunge out of his nose as is humanly possible.
By the time the next Vimto arrives, father is so full of sweetness and light, and half-full of best bitter that a bag of crisps may also be on the menu. The aforementioned ‘won’t be long’ humbug is again enthused and back goes father to continue his replenishment.
The lad now knows that it’s safe to move over into the driver’s seat and enter the world of Stirling Moss and Silverstone. The seat is adjusted, the rear view mirror, if there is one, is tilted downwards and throaty rasps start emanating through pursed lips until the sound of a Jaguar’s highly tuned engine is judged to be just the ticket.
Foot flat down on the accelerator, the lips convulse with paroxysms of vibration and floods of half digested Vimto and crisps cover the windscreen. The steering wheel is wrenched from lock to lock as the gear stick is forced into gears that it wasn’t designed for and a scream is unleashed, denoting the screeching of tyres, as each corner is encountered. Feet are stabbing at pedals like a demented tap dancer as double de clutching manoeuvres are executed whilst death defying four wheel drifts through Woodcote corner are fought with the expertise that only a ten year old lad knows. And he knows them because he’s learnt them from his father on the way home…but more of that later.
It’s about this time that cars containing families arrive. They drive in with much more propriety than the first flush. The cars are parked so that the families have a view of the meadows and distant hills. Tractors still plough the occasional furrow with flocks of rapacious birds following in their wake. The unmistakable fragrance of haymaking assails their nostrils. The whiff of hot oil and burnt rubber is not for this category. Not for them the paltry study of brick walls and what grows out of them.
The father leaves the car and ambles across the car park, leaving his wife and children to their vista and returns in quick time with the requisite bottles of Vimto, bags of crisps and a medium dry sherry for mother. Occasionally he will bring his own half pint of bitter with him and actually stay with the family. This scenario however is unusual; the call for the Gent’s only bar is compelling even for the most downtrodden husband.
At this point in the evening’s production the next round of Vimto is normally brought out by the early starters. This is characterised by respective fathers weaving passages, through the now more congested car park, with only a hazy idea of the placement of their own car. It is often a circuitous route which necessitates a call at other cars in order to find their own. Quite often their own cars are never found and consequently boys find bottles of Vimto thrust through the car’s window by complete strangers. It is not uncommon for some boys to end up with three or four bottles and conversely of course, some with none. It is, as ever accompanied by the ‘Won’t be long’ gibberish.
Eventually, of course the father has had his fill. The realisation that home beckons is often brought on by the sight of his offspring peering in through the window in a forlorn, waif like manner. The fact that he is well into spending next week’s house keeping/gas/electricity and even mortgage money is immaterial. He bids the ensemble a fond farewell and after a lurch to theGent’s lavatory or sometimes the Ladies, proceeds with varying degrees of animation into the fast gathering dusk. He stands swaying gently outside the door and surveys the cars, then eventually makes a concentrated effort to walk steadily and with purpose to the one he perceives to be his. More often than not his son, being used to this performance, has to go and rescue his father from the far reaches of the car park and guide him back before a felony is committed involving the taking and driving away of a stranger’s car and the kidnapping of the chap’s petrified wife and mother in law.
Eventually the right car comes into focus and father girds his loins for the drive home. The car has, if you remember just completed a full Grand Prix at Silverstone and apart from the driver’s seat being covered in spilt Vimto and crisps, is now pushed as far up towards the sticky steering wheel as possible and has been turned onto full right lock. All this, plus the fact that the windscreen is covered in spittle and the gear lever is in first gear, goes completely unnoticed as father engages the starter and the car performs a stunning bound forward into the brick wall, modifying the dents on the already dented front wing.
The offspring learns lots of new words and perhaps earns a cuff around the ear at this stage of the proceedings and scrunches himself into a ball, ready to dive into the footwell if the need arises.
It is however, a well known consequence that six pints of best ‘Bitter’ bestow an automatic driving mode in this phase. This was a natural phenomenon which due to new laws and a changing perception seems to have been lost on today’s generation.
Never mind that, in those halcyon days the drive home was always incredibly exciting for sons of a certain age and it was the whole reason for accompanying father in the first place. A time to unite with a parent when the rest of the week was a ‘seen and not heard’ existence.
In those days, the Austin Seven and Morris Eight could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be thought of as fast, but could in the hands of a chap with a few pints of best bitter under his belt, certainly be made to perform in various ways not intended by the manufacturer; especially by impressing the young sprog, when the inducement to impress is most buoyant.
Instead of the son zooming around Silverstone at astronomical speeds we now have father zooming through the countryside at speeds sometimes approaching forty five miles an hour.
Being flung around the countryside by a father showing off his driving skills on these memorable drives home, adds another facet of the offsprings education, other than controlling out of control cars. Earlier he had learned a little more about the types of vegetation that grow out of brick walls and now he learns balance, more words not in common usage, two finger saluting and last but not least, bowel control.
My father showed me marks on such things as stone bridges and iron railings that his father had caused by inducing overzealous four wheel drifts. I showed my children where chunks have been taken out of telegraph poles and kerb stones where my father had under estimated braking distances and no doubt my children will show their children particularly large gaps in various hedges which I made during courageous forays, on the way home, by provoking the limits of tyre adhesion.
Upon arriving home the motor car is parked, scratched, dented, bits of flora and fauna hanging off the door handles and bumpers and steaming like a burst boiler. Father and son eventually get out and stagger to the front door. This is when the last and probably most fundamental piece of advice ever conveyed from father to son is imparted,
‘Needn’t bother to tell your mother…she wouldn’t understand.’