I think of myself as a ‘risk averse’ old lady. I don’t like travelling in cars, planes, buses, trains – and certainly not on the back of a motorbike or scooter, with or without a helmet. Maybe it’s because my mother, Patty, was ‘a nervous wreck’ most of her life and passed it on to me. Certainly in my youth she tried, not always successfully, to keep her daughters from doing something that could possibly backfire and harm them.
Now, I will admit to riding on the back of a motor scooter in the late 50’s or early 60’s without a helmet (it was legal then), even when the weather was poor and the roads slippery. When it looked like I might be riding bare-headed more often, I did buy a helmet but it was second-hand and who knows how effective it would have been if we had ever had an accident? My scooter-driving friend, Dennis – a photographer – was a reasonably careful driver, I guess, and we never had the opportunity to find out about the efficacy of my second-hand helmet. The last I remember of seeing and talking to Dennis, he had his heart’s desire – a little, old Morgan car – and was in the process of photographing a car collection belonging to some Lord or other. I sometimes wonder what ever happened to him.
Back to Patty for a moment. When Judy and I were 5 and 3 (I’m the older), we both had bikes which we used to ride on the sidewalk up and down Sunset Avenue where we lived and, daringly, around the corner into what I seem to remember is called Maple Avenue – where, incidentally, my first grade teacher, Miss Meyers, lived. But, I was still only in Kindergarten when the following happened and I don’t want to get ahead of myself!
Judy was riding her bike. She went off down the street and around the corner – and out into the main road (Maple Avenue) traffic. Someone snitched to Patty. Judy had her bike taken away and so did I! They were taken away for ever and we were never allowed bikes again. I obviously still hold a grudge! I didn’t go in the road and nearly get hit by a truck!
(Years later we found our uncle’s bike in Ethel’s cellar and rode it around the neighbourhood when Patty wasn’t looking. And, even later on, I used to visit my friend, Judy Weed, and she and I would take turns riding her bike down a hill. It was great fun until, one time, the handle bars suddenly came loose and I lost control, ruining my brand new pair of stripey pedal-pushers.😩)
Elsewhere I have written about the (to me) horrific flight we made to England in 1958 – the cause of my non-flying-forever-after-life. Except, feeling exceedingly guilty that Julian could never go on holiday abroad because I wouldn’t fly, one day in the late days of the 20th century, I suddenly said, if you want to go to Italy for a holiday, I will fly!
We decided the destination would be Florence and booked two return flights via Ryan Air to Florence. We drove to Stansted and did all the things one does before getting on a (quite small) plane. I am not a believer but I prayed the whole way there clutching my St Christopher medal!
We had a lovely time in Florence, stood in queues for hours to visit the Uffizi, walked across the famous Ponte Vecchio, looking at all the (enormously expensive!) wares in the shops, spent a day in the Boboli Gardens, behind the Pitti Palace, enjoying the views; went to gorgeous Sienna and sat in the Piazza del Campo; and spent our last day in Pisa, where the airport is. Somewhere I have a photo of Julian holding up the Leaning Tower (just like every other tourist who visits Pisa.)
We ended our stay in Italy at the airport which is also the train station. Though we had survived the flight to Italy, I wasn’t so sure about the return journey, especially when I found out that there are trains going from Pisa that I could take towards home! I had my credit card and was very tempted but……thwarted by the fact that the trains that day were all on strike! The only thing that made that flight interesting is that a relatively unknown British politician, of whom I had actually heard, called Boris Johnson, was on the same flight. I figured that we would be unlikely to crash with someone important on board —- then thought of all the famous people who had gone down with airplanes!
I prayed all the way back!
The first time I saw Julian, he was onstage in an amateur production by the West Wickham Operatic Society of, I think, La Périchole by Offenbach at the Churchill Theatre. A friend was playing violin in the orchestra and gave me some tickets to see it, so I drove Veronica and her best Vicki to Bromley to see it. In the chorus was a young Julian – whom I would love to say I saw and fell head-over-heels in love with, but sadly I didn’t notice him at all!
I tell you this because I hated the drive (possibly 20 minutes) because it was on the motorway and it was in the dark. I have never got over my dislike of motorways – the cars around you are going too fast – nor of driving in the dark.
On the way back, as we approached the turn-off for West Malling, I was trying to remember the rules about the countdown markers posting the way off the motorway. I remembered that there should be signs of three slanted lines, then two, then one…..but I couldn’t remember how much space came after the one slanted line before I should move left….and went to my left too soon! Nothing bad happened to us, no one saw me and reported my mistake, but, obviously, I’ve never forgotten it!
A few days or weeks later, Julian walked in to the wine bar (as mentioned in a previous post) and I knew he was Mr Right (and he felt the same about me – except that I was Miss Right.) His aunt, Jackie, was the chef at that time and, when I found out who Julian was and that she was his aunt, I went into the kitchen to do some snooping. When she said he lived in Bromley, I was worried! How was I going to see him if he lived so far (20 mins up motorway!) but she assured me that Julian loved driving and would be happy to drive to West Malling whenever we wanted to meet.
It was true – and he still loves driving. I, on the other hand, have happily given up driving and intensely dislike going even a short distance in the car – even as a passenger, though I do have to get places from time to time and then will sit nervously in the passenger seat. This year I have missed out on a trip to Norfolk, one to Cornwall and a third to north Wales but I don’t mind. If Julian’s away, I don’t have to cook – I happily make do with salads, bowls of porridge, or eggs on toast.
And now for trains. As with all other means of mass transport, sometimes I get very nervous when I’m travelling on a train. I can clearly remember a train I was on one evening which was going from Victoria to West Malling. As the train was zooming along between Bromley and Swanley, it seemed to me to be going much more quickly than normal and I started worrying that the train, somehow, was not being driven but was ‘a runaway’! When it stopped at Swanley some few minutes after I began to panic, I decided to get off the train and phone Julian to come and get me.
I walked out of the station, along the station road, found my way onto the main street but not one phone box did I find! (This was in the days before many people had mobile phones – and I certainly didn’t). I walked further and further and finally found a phone box. I rang Julian who, thankfully was at home, and explained my predicament. I don’t think he was at all sympathetic and by this time it was beginning to get dark and cold and I was beginning to realise what a ninny I had been. Luckily, Julian does like driving so he came and picked me up and I was so pleased!
I have often felt this panic when travelling on a train but seldom when on a coach – but, a few years ago I took a coach from Broadstairs to London and sat behind the driver. (Why there? I had forgotten my glasses and hoped that Julian could catch up with the coach so he could give me them when we stopped, but that didn’t work – so I bought some when I got to London).
Anyway. As we were speeding along the road I couldn’t sit and read so I looked out the window at the side and ahead, out of the windscreen. I realised that the driver wasn’t actually watching the road the whole time but was looking down and to the right….I think he was reading texts or maybe watching something on a screen – or maybe neither of those things but he had some sort of tic that made him do that. Whatever, I was doing the old praying thing for an hour or so before we reached some part of London where the traffic kept us going at a snail’s pace.
To continue with this aversion to risk I will name a few more things I haven’t done, knowing how nervous I would be.
I was invited to fly in a hot-air balloon – no way!
I was invited on an all expenses trip to Las Vegas when my daughter and her husband went back to celebrate their first 10 happy years. Nope!
And, more recently, I missed out on the trip to Brands Hatch to watch Julian speed round the track which was a present to him for his 70th. I just couldn’t face the journey there and back plus the worry of watching speed-demon Jules in a fast car!
On the other hand, even in my 70’s I have travelled long distance on trains and have driven back and forth to places 50 or so miles away (but never on motorways). When I was still in my youth, Julian used to insist on driving us to places like Northumberland and Cornwall for holidays and I did visit several caves (Wookey Hole, Blue John) without fainting at the thought of tonnes of earth and rock being overhead!
But, of course, I have been a smoker (but not for the past 40 or so years), a drinker (but surprisingly for members of my family, very moderately) and an eater of red meat and butter, cream, sugar, salt white bread and e-numbers and have reached a rather healthy 78, with most of my own teeth, no high blood pressure and at a reasonable weight.
I must have been doing something right! (Or maybe it’s just luck.😁)