Sali Mustafic meets Sallyann Sheridan, whose recent novel 'If Wishes…
In the post-war days a job for an assistant invariably came with accommodation and a car. In my case the living was No.1 Bird’s Nest Cottages, Sid Road owned by Farmer Bob Fry of adjacent Sidcliffe Farm and the car was a Land Rover which, judging by the milometer and its general condition, must have been one of the first off the production line. Yet I came to be very fond of it and it was ideal for some of the places I had to reach.
The gear stick was about a yard long and selecting a new gear was said to be like stirring a pudding, but next to it was a lever topped by a red knob which when depressed gave access to another set of ultra-low gears which were then selected by another shorter lever which sported a yellow knob; 8 gears in all and very useful for cross-country work. Comfort – there was none and the suspension made for a bumpy ride. In fact when the boss’s wife ran over her time for delivery of their first born he borrowed it back and took her for the roughest ride he could find. I believe it worked. Seating in the cab was spartan, just a cushioned bench, but with passengers aboard it could be very sociable. Leaving surgery on my round I pressed the accelerator to the floor and there it stayed so that speed was a product of the incline of the road. Going down Straitway Head my ambition was to hit 70 by the time I reached the bottom end. The humped back bridge by the Toll House on Sid Road was much humpier in those days and I regularly tried to leave the ground at the top of the convexity. On two occasions I succeeded and landed with a bone jarring crash just before the corner.
But suddenly on the day the boss’s wife decided she wanted it to pursue her new found interest in dog-cart driving and showing. So I was shunted on to the firm’s other car, a Morris 8. Now the Morris 7 I though was a pretty little car but the Morris 8 was ugly and boring. This particular car had an unusual quirk. The front passenger seat lacked any attachment to the rest of the car. One time I drove Farmer Bob Fry to a cow on the top of Salcombe Hill and as I shot away with him in the errant seat he, plus seat, rolled back legs in the air into the back of the car. Luckily he had a sense of humour.
In those days windscreen wipers swept only a pitifully small area and screenwashers had neither been thought of or deemed necessary, so I made my own. Wound powder came in small plastic puffers. So when one became empty, I filled it with water and then, setting the wipers a wiping, I leaned out of the window and squirted across the driver’s wiper.
Eventually I saved enough for a deposit on a Triumph Herald. My very own car, with its ingenious forward lifting bonnet which, having no wheel arch, meant that it had the turning circle of a London Taxi Cab. It was a beautiful fun car to drive and could outrun many more expensive cars. They came in only one colour, British Racing Green. From then onwards, with the encouragement of the Tax Man, I changed cars every two years, through the Herald 12/50, the wonderful 6 cylinder Triumph Vitesse range, all that British Leyland and Ford could offer, right up to my present Mini Cooper Special. In the later days of my career I also ran a smallholding on the outskirts of Plymouth. So it came about that Mr Tax Man allowed me three cars and I had, as well as a Landrover, a Ford XR2 and that wonderful car the Ford XR4. They only made it for about two years and then stopped production. I think Ford realised they were giving away too much for the price. It had many new devices, including one of the first on-board computers, but the main asset was its top speed of 140mph. Soon after its arrival I said to my wife would she like to take it for a spin up the motorway. I sat as a passenger enjoying a rare chance to view the passing countryside, but suddenly realised it was passing rather rapidly. After looking at the speedometer I said to my better half, “do you realise you are doing 120mph?” She didn’t. Then when my sheep were being shorn I had to go, early morning, to Torex to hire a long cable and I went in the XR2; but in the afternoon return trip I was in the XR4. The young manager looked at the car and said “you’re a flash chap. How do you manage it?” I replied, “It’s quite easy. You just work all the hours there are for 35 years and then you just go out and buy it”.
I think the difference between those early days and the present day cars boils down to two factors. First – brakes. Before the advent of the ABS braking, when you hit the foot brake hard you never knew how you were going to end up, certainly not in the direction you hoped. Then there is power steering. If we had to forego that invention today I think we would find driving very hard, but we would probably be a lot fitter.