Driving Down Memory Lane

Uncle Derek and Auntie Jean.

During my childhood, mum had one surviving brother, Derek. He was older than her by nearly twelve years and had served as a captain in WWII, escaping from Dunkirk amongst other events, although he said nothing of this part of his personal history to me. He was thus treated with a certain amount of reverence; he was no ogre, no, he was a funny, intelligent and successful man and had his own business, ‘Townshend’s Castings’, based in Surrey.

Three or four times a year, this business brought him to the West Midlands, visiting foundries and the like, and for me these visits were something of a punctuation to the familial year. You see, when visiting, he would take my mum and myself out for dinner, to a restaurant, or pub, something that otherwise never happened. Of course, this meant that he would drive us to wherever had been chosen, pipe in mouth, with gorgeous aromatic smoke wafting and mingling with the leathery undertone of the interior upholstery. An additional draw which almost always added a delicious note to the occasion was that Derek’s wont was to change his car on a regular basis.

My earliest memory is of a six-cylinder Wolseley, probably a 6/110, at some point in the late 1960s. Next came a Volvo Amazon, the first overseas built car in which I travelled, followed by the business’ diesel Ford Transit Mk1 (ah the magnificent view from up high) and then a 1965 Triumph 2000, in white with a red leather interior, this latter feature still being my top choice inside a car.

None of the cars were new at the time. Certainly, Derek seemed to have a policy of picking up good quality used cars of a certain pedigree, but he certainly had a penchant for six and eight pots as, after the Triumph, in 1976, there arrived an ‘L’ registered, mustard-coloured Rover P6B.

From 1974 until 1981 we holidayed with Derek and his wife, Jean, sometimes with the addition of their adult aged children John and Julie, who were to me very cool, internationally travelling students with long hair and fashionable clothes. Of course, such numbers dictated an additional car. This was, for many years, Jean’s trusty and lusty 1969, Triumph Vitesse Mk2 saloon, complete with Webasto sunshine roof, thus cementing my enduring love for these cars, even if it didn’t come with an appealing pipe smoke aroma.

The Vitesse succumbed to galloping chassis rot in 1979 and so was replaced by another Rover P6B, this time a ‘K’ registered, automatic example, in red, with a black vinyl roof. A two-car family was something of an extravagance, but two cars with V8 engines was glorious.

Derek and Jean really enjoyed these Rovers, so much in fact that for the remainder of Derek’s life, neither owned another car, instead opting to have their beloved Rovers restored back to pristine condition, over and again. I wonder where I got the restoration bug from.

Derek passed away in 1993, Jean in 2020. If there is a heaven, I’d like to think that they may still be found wafting along country lanes, laughing, looking for that extra special hostelry in which to spend a convivial hour or two.