My wife picked up a book she knew would please me (not at a car boot sale).
It's an illustrated 1960 book called "Touring Abroad: A Practical Guide to
Carefree Motoring" by Tom Wisdom. It seems older - certainly quainter - in
many ways than books I've got that date from the 19th century.
Its faded cover shows a blissful scene of leather gloved hands on the wheel
of an open car looking down a long tree-lined road - empty but for two other
cars, one going the opposite direction - a scene I recall from happy days of
being driven and a little while later driving myself on the Continent. The
musty old text conveys the sense of freedom, economy and unalloyed pleasures
I now associate with cycling and walking.
"Travel is cheap - where shall we go? Let's take the car!" is the opening
sentence inside that still intact glossy cover. Its second chapter - "In the
Beginning" - kicks off "In the latter part of the 19th Century, railway and
landowning interests had successfully throttled the development of
mechanical road transport, both steam and petrol. Pioneers in this country
bought mostly French cars. The prejudice was immense. Speed traps abounded,
and speed limits, some as low as 5 and 10 m.p.h., were enforced by local
For someone who once enjoyed cars it makes poignant reading, as you see how
the world enjoyed by the relative minority with time and money to spend on
motor touring. This was just before the explosive spread of autodependent
retailing; before suppliers and retailers had caught onto loading a big
proportion of their transport overheads onto their customers; before the
train/tram created world of metroland was overtaken by far the greater
sprawl of autodependent suburbia beyond town fringes and across whole
counties as villages turned urban and reached out to each other on ticky
tacky Wimpy Barratt tentacles under the prompting of England's rural idyll.
(Thank goodness for our immigrants, my inner city neighbours, for whom "the
country", though rich with childhood roots, too often meant grinding
poverty, and who may save our cities by continuing to regard them as the
locus of civil and business life.)
Published at a time when the full meaning of the Suez crisis, hardly 4 years
earlier, hadn't registered, Wisdom's book vibrates with joie de vivre amid
black and white snaps of one-car landscapes before motorways spread, sign
banks proliferated to point the way to major league congestion. I'm not
being nostalgic - of course we had jams and smog in those days but beyond
these a mighty network of places opened up to the carefree motorist. It's
rough for those who still seek to extract pleasure behind the wheel, hustled
by advertisers tapping into these hardened veins of transport hedonism.