I’m thinking of getting a new car. Not because I’m into cars (I’m not) or want the newest, most trendy model available (I don’t) but simply because we can’t all fit in mine anymore.
My two teenage sons are now so big and tall and have such long legs that they just can’t relax comfortably inside my wee Mini. Even with the front seat back as far as it will go and my driver’s seat as far forward as safely possible, it’s still an almighty squeeze getting them, and all their kit, in and out twice a day during term time. And school holidays are no easier either because then there’s usually a couple of dogs and assorted friends included in the Mini mêlée too.
Nevertheless, no matter how much of a squeeze it is and how uncomfortable it might be for them on long journeys, with their knees touching their chins and less leg room than an economy seat on EasyJet, I have no time or sympathy for complaints. My response is always the same, and a bit like a scene from Monty Python.
“This is LUXURY compared to when I was your age!” it usually starts.
You see, one of the great disadvantages of coming from a disproportionately large family is that you can’t all fit easily — if at all — into one car.
With eight children, all bar one at school age, my dad (and the rest of us) found the school run virtually impossible. Even though seat belts weren’t obligatory in the 1960s, which meant that we could heave and squeeze and sit on each others’ knees without fear of reprimand, it was still a huge struggle cramming everyone in, along with school bags and gym kits and instruments and lunch boxes.
We tried it a few times in his Opel Commodore, but it was a dangerous and perilous ordeal resulting in much weeping and wailing (us) and gnashing of teeth (him). I even recall one journey spent with my legs dangling out of an open window, in order to allow room for my brother’s trumpet for an orchestra rehearsal.
So naturally my dad had to come up with a solution — and quick — if we were all going to continue going to school and to survive each white-knuckle journey with all our limbs intact. (Personal pride, however, had long since gone out of the window.)
Unfortunately there were no such things as People Carriers in the 1960s. The only solution was an oversized Bedford transit van which his friend who was a butcher was selling.
To seal the deal, he helpfully agreed to customise it to make it more comfortable for family use. By “customising” it he simply gave it a (thin) lick of paint, removed all cuts of meat and assorted body parts from every visible nook and cranny, slewed out all the blood and intestines with a bit of bleach and gave it a quick once-over with an air freshener.
Hardly Pimp My Ride.
But at least there was enough space for all the kids and all their trappings and for dad’s golf clubs, too.
The only thing that couldn’t be contained was my horror.
I’ll never forget the day dad rattled it up the driveway.
There, quite clearly showing through for all to see beneath a thin top layer of spray paint, were the words ‘Your Friendly Family Butcher’ and next to it, a picture of the cartoon characters Pinky and Perky, dressed in stripy aprons and peak caps, carrying a string of sausages.
Barely concealed, and no amount of Tipp-ex could conceal it. Believe me, I tried.
So, while the rest of my class were pulling up to the school gates in normal, nice, comfortable, everyday and not-at-all-ridiculous cars, we clattered up in a clapped-out van which had a roll-up exit, blood-stained makeshift benches for seats and a comedy caption emblazoned on either side. My boys have heard this story so often now, they know not to complain. Or they’ll hear it again.