Thanks to my Dad having a good job which involved some dealings overseas, I was lucky enough as a kid to spend three weeks travelling around Germany in the back of a Jaguar Mk II.
It was the Summer of ’69 and I was coming up to six. Dad bought the car specially for the trip as we needed something more spacious and comfortable than the Triumph Herald he used for work.
The Jaguar was racing green, with dark red leather upholstery and walnut trim. I remember getting in the back of it for the first time and, although my interest in cars didn’t extend beyond my sister’s purple ‘Hot Wheels’ toy (with its bright orange track), I was very excited about our new vehicle. It had a special smell, for a start. The back seat, where I’d be spending a lot of time, felt like a luxurious sofa, and the best part was that there were these little flip-down, wooden, semi-circular ‘trays’ inserted into the back of the front seats, a bit like you have in aeroplanes. These alone made me want to always eat in it, just for the pleasure of pulling them out and enjoying the novelty of a little James Bond-style gadget (or so it seemed).
So we drove all over Germany in this lovely, characterful car, staying in a variety of houses and hotels along the way. I remember one old Bed & Breakfast place in the middle of a busy town, maybe it was Nuremberg, and it was the first time I’d slept under a continental quilt. I missed my English sheets and blanket. There was a thunderstorm and I had a wobbly tooth. My sister scared me with tales of how some people tied one end of a piece of string around a loose tooth and the other to a door handle and then slammed the door to pull it out. In the background, as she explained this horrific extraction method, the skies rumbled and the lightning lit up the room like a camera flashcube. That night I had bad dreams about teeth and doors and suffocating under demonic Deutsch duvets. But a few days later my tooth fell out naturally and painlessly - and, amazingly, it turned out there was such a thing as a German tooth fairy, who kindly left a pfennig under my pillow the following morning. I was most impressed.
Some time after the German road trip the car started to play up and wasn’t practical to drive any more. My Dad left it at the end of the road with the intention of doing a bit of weekend tinkering to get it back to roadworthy standard, but… ahem… he never got round to it. (A similar fate befell a rotting boat, a stringless violin, a valve TV and numerous other objects. Our home was like a shrine to unfinished projects.) After some months - or maybe years - the Mk II became home to spiders and ivy and probably several families of mice. When bits of it started falling off and the neighbours threatened to petition for its removal, he finally advertised it for sale in the local paper. Soon a bald man in a sheepskin jacket came round to the house, gave him a crisp blue five pound note and towed the Jaguar away. He was going to use it for Banger Racing, he said. We didn’t mind the idea of our poor neglected car getting a new lease of life on a muddy race track, with black and white numbers painted on its bonnet; it seemed quite thrilling.
It never turned up on the Banger Racing circuit, though. That autumn we saw it being driven proudly around town, all resprayed paintwork and shiny chrome, by a bald man in a sheepskin jacket. I bet he loved those flip-down trays too. Maybe he’d even drive it round Germany one day? If ever there was a car for the Autobahn, it was that one.
Mind you, my Mum had kept something from the car as a memento before we parted with it. She unscrewed the beautiful silver jaguar ornament from the long bonnet and replaced the traditional handle on the inside of our front door with it. It stayed there for years and was a great conversation piece: “What an unusual door handle! It looks like one of those bonnet ornaments from a Jaguar car!” “Yes - that’s exactly what it is….” Luckily it never got used for pulling teeth.