A life in motor vehicles
This is the true (ish) story of an somewhat chaotic and different life of Mr T with many aspects, some good, some bad, all interesting. as told to me and others over many a convivial moment.
The result is this series of snapshots of the life of an ordinary, yet in some ways extraordinary, man. A man of his times, you may say, but that is not strictly true, as the following tale will show. Certainly it is not a life that would be possible today.
As a lifelong motor vehicle fanatic, it is a story perhaps best viewed through the prism of the many cars and other machines that defined the significant aspects and many great adventures that occurred through his largely unplanned journey.
It is all actually true, limited only by the problems of recall over time and the tricks that memory play on us all. Some names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Standard. This is a brand of motor long since gone, or absorbed into the claws of bigger manufacturers. Anyway, Standards were notable for the Union Jack flags they carried on their bonnets. This car was particularly noticeable, in a time of fewer cars on the road, because it had a name affixed on the radiator in chrome. It was called Susie.
Its owner was Toby’s mother. Geraldine was an erstwhile debutante, clever brave and determined, who after being presented at court, took the opportunity to avoid the vapid life awaiting her in Ireland when the Second World War broke out. She volunteered and then trained to be a nurse, working throughout the war. Post war, she found herself, for reasons now long forgotten, nursing in the military transit camp in Malindi Kenya. With her came her car Susie.
From all accounts Geraldine enjoyed the expatriate life in the sun. She also seemed to have enjoyed the greater freedoms available in contrast to the still stuffy constraints that existed on all women, especially upper class women, back home. Where she actually met Peter, Toby’s father, who was still in the British Army performing his official duties in Kenya, can only be a matter of conjecture, lost now in the sands of time. Anyway, they met, connected, and seemingly fell in love, but Peter, by all accounts seemed reluctant to take the next step. This is where Susie became crucial.
Not one to pine away, Geraldine then threw herself into the lively expatriate night club scene. Susie always being parked outside the various evening venues came to the attention of a reporter from the English language local newspaper. The question was asked, who is Susie? Peter was up country at the time. This came to his attention, and realising what he might lose, he rushed back to propose marriage. That was, thanks to Susie, the beginning of our journey, of a life lived through motor vehicles.
2-Morris minor split screen (Black)
This car was particularly significant for Toby as it actually saved his life. Details of morris xxxxxxxx
Toby St George Matthews was born on April 1st 1950, in Taiping ( A cardinal Aries born year of the tiger). The Matthews’s were married and Peter still in the Army, doing his duty in Malaya. There was a Bandit uprising which the British army had been sent to sort out, hence their presence there.
Geraldine had caught ticktitus on the troop ship when pregnant with Toby, so he was born with Ramsteads syndrome which left him with a terrible scar on his front that is still obvious today. Typically just to be different, he began his life in the only available emergency facility, a chicken incubator. Luckily he survived and thrived, a toughness which would prove very useful later in his life. He was the families 126th XXXX Toby St George, and as it turned out, the last one, although that was not apparent at the time.
The family first lived in army quarters in Taiping, but were also posted to the Cameron Highlands to contain the uprising there. Toby was transported, before the era of child seats, hidden in the laundry basket in the boot of the black Morris Minor (still called Susie). This was a security precaution, in case of attack or ambush. It turned out to be a very wise move. One day the bandits did attack whilst the family was in transit. Bullets raked the car, but he, and they survived unhurt, saved by the sturdiness of the car and the thickness of the laundry basket. They do not make cars like that anymore!
3-Atco motor mower-green, chocolate brown Humber and an old Rover
The first vehicle that Toby actually remembers was a study Atco motor mower driven around the grounds of Monks Gate by the head gardener. He drove it with precision and style, sometimes allowing a visiting Toby to sit next to him. He executed perfect turns at each end of the vast lawns, leaving the perfect array of freshly mown and rollered stripes. A magnificent performance every time. The Atco had impressive blades in front, cutting the grass and shooting cuttings into a collection basket. Sturdy rollers were under the seat. It was a magnificent beast.
Monks Gate was Geraldine’s grandmother’s estate in Suffolk, now long demolished. Her chauffer, Mr Green drove her about in an immense chocolate brown Humber. A wonderful raconteur, she took to her bed aged 80 and something and died at 100 and something, been waited on hand foot and finger by a retinue of servants. As a small boy of 4 or 5 Toby was fascinated both by her and the motor mower. He maintains to this day that the thrill and the power of the mower was the spark that generated the passion for machines that brought him so much joy, and got him into so much trouble in later life.
The old Rover with running boards belonged to his father. He reversed over Toby’s first bicycle with training wheels to much dismay.
4-Morris Oxford- blue
Uncle Dick, was the Viscount Charlemont, Toby remembers him as a very kind man, not particularly tall but with an undoubted presence. He owned vast apple orchards in Kent, and more importantly for our story, a new Morris Oxford. Toby was the next in line to inherit the title, although in the end it slipped sideways when he was 15, much to his relief at the time.
The Morris developed an annoying rattle when cornering, and spent an inordinate amount of time in the shop as mechanics desperately looked for the source of the noise. Toby was no longer, temporarily at least, his favourite nephew when the problem turned out to be nothing more than a marble, hidden by Toby in a small ashtray fitting. Naughty boy, but I am afraid typical!
5- A series of Hillman Minx’s and other cars.
As was standard in those days Toby was sent away to boarding school Upcott House, at 8. This seems almost cruel now, but then it was standard practice, especially if ones parents were serving overseas. This was before the advent of cheap flights and excellent international schools, so contact with parents, who were now in Germany, with his little sister, was limited mainly to letters and the occasional visit. He was, of course, in love with matron.
The interest in motor vehicles grew and grew. He was fascinated by what the other boys fathers came and went in – e.g. Rolls Royce Silver Dawn, and the 1940 / 50`s charabanc busses that were commissioned to take the boys on school trips to Dartmoor and the Devon beaches.
Toby particularly remembers the Headmasters black Morris Minor. Some Sundays the boys would walk 2 X 2 to Church. As the car swept past the walking boys the masters would shout “Caps off for Mrs. Earl”. Failure to do so would result in detention or the whack. Toby mainly remembers, not the whacks, but wishing could have ridden in the car. To this day he will always raise his hat to a passing female.
Less excitingly but just as important, the Hillman Minx’s were the cars driven by his Matthews grandparents who lived in Hayle Cornwall. He usually stayed with them when not at school, and was transported up and down for holidays and treats in these cars over the years. He was also sometimes picked up by his father’s Rover 75 (auntie type). Both cars were a sight for sore eyes.
6-American and German cars and a Morris Oxford.
Visiting his parents in Germany was a huge car filled experience. There were the American cars with huge fins and lots of heavy chrome belonging to Yankee soldiers whom he pestered into letting him wash so he could indulge his fascination with them. Then there were the German cars to look at, Mercedes and Volkswagens. Also, of course, the Morris Oxford that his father had painted in the army workshops, in sky blue – still called Susie.
7-Austin Somerset- blue
The Matthews’ returned to England and were living in East Coker Somerset. By 13 Toby could wait no longer. He purchased a banger for £5 out of the local paper and had it delivered to the nearby saw mills. He allegedly taught himself to drive on the way home, something that would not be possible now on our busy roads and in surveillance culture. There was of course, I am sorry to say, a deep belief that he held that the rules did not actually apply to him.
The experience was short lived though, as he was spotted driving by his mother’s cleaner, Mrs Whatsit. Retribution was instant and terrible. He was not actually put off driving though.
8- Austin 7- Ruby, black in colour.
In time the aristocratic Geraldine came into her inheritance, and the family moved to the grand house and grounds of Hewlett’s Mill, up the road from East Coker. About this time Toby, probably prematurely, had also discovered the joys of sex. Whilst the rest of us were in the grip of a rather rigid society, as wealthy inhabitants of the “big house” Toby and his sister were granted freedoms and indulgences that were beyond what was probably normal at the time. For Toby anyway, the continual stream of girl friends that he frolicked with, became linked with the current motor vehicles, theirs and his. To this day, although the names have faded, he can remember the cars they drove in detail, and usually what he was driving at the time. He later began to carry a blanket in the boot of his car, not losing any opportunity for alfresco sex that presented itself.
At 15 Toby was by now attending co-ed Millfield School. He repeated the Austin Somerset trick with the Austin 7, this time paying £7.10 for it. Retribution was again terrible and Millfield immediately suspended him. He was sent forthwith to Yeovil tech, where he met