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Great Expectations

Tuesday, 10th August, 1965, London

Dear Everyone,

Things are beginning to take shape regarding the Continental trip. We bought a red Bedford CA Van last weekend for £10. Hard to believe! The body work is pretty battered, but that does not matter. We are going round to the previous owner’s place tonight to pick it up. Then, as soon as we can, we will put it into a garage for a check-up. We fully expect to have to pay out about £20 for repairs, but even so it will be a cheap buy. If it falls to pieces on us somewhere on the Continent, we will just dump it or sell it for scrap. I was rather skeptical at first about buying a van for that price, but I think now that we may have got a good thing. Look at it this way; if you bought a van with a fair body for £30, the engine would probably be no better than a battered van for £10, and you can spend the £20 building it up, knowing what you are getting.

You remember that Malaysian chap, Fouad, who was living with us at Camberwell? He came down to London last night from Cardiff and Ade went to see him at Malaysia Hall, where he talked him into coming at least part of the way with us on the trip. He has a month’s holiday in September, so he and a friend, Marroff, are going to travel with us in the van for that length of time. Best part about it, of course, is that it will cut our petrol costs considerably when shared by four instead of two. Sleeping might be a bit of a squeeze, but we’ll work it out.

Ade and I went photographing around London last weekend and must have walked about eight miles in the process. We started by getting a tube to Charing Cross, walked along the Victoria Embankment to the Discovery, the ship that Captain Scott went to the Antarctic in, went over the ship, a beautiful old sailing vessel, then walked up to the Aldwych, where Australia House is. We then strolled down the Strand, with a short detour to take in the Covent Garden vegetable markets. We continued on to Trafalgar Square, then down Whitehall, through Horse Guards Arch, through St. James Park and down the Mall to Buckingham Palace. We then walked up Buckingham Gate to Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square outside the Houses of Parliament, across Westminster Bridge and down the Albert Embankment to Lambeth Bridge. Up Lambeth Road to the Imperial War Museum, then down Kennington Road and home. Where we are living now is quite close to the city, and you can see Big Ben from just up the street.

Thursday, 20-8-1965, Kennington

Ade gave me a letter enclosing my updated International Driving Permit when I got home from work yesterday – so I am all set for driving around Europe. And, next Tuesday is the 24th August, one full year away from home and two days short of six months in England. Our friend Tony, who sailed on the Galileo with us out of Sydney, is back from Spain and staying with us, so we are all going out Tuesday evening to ‘The Surrey’ in the Strand, a pub where they only sell Australian beer, to celebrate. It should be a jolly night all round.

A mechanic checked over the van for us on Wednesday and it seems the only major problem is the valves. Three out of four are giving no compression and the thing won’t start. We’re not going to get far if that doesn’t get fixed. We are having it towed down to a Bedford garage on Monday for a decoke, a new head gasket and whatever else is necessary - it should cost about £20. We also have to replace two of the tyres as they are pretty smooth. If it is going after that we will be off as planned next Saturday, and we have already booked it on the Channel ferry across to Calais. I don’t dare to think what we will do if it is not going. We have it parked at present outside our place in Kennington Park Road and this morning, while we were all getting ready for work, it was side-swiped by a bus. We heard this loud metallic scraping noise and rushed out fearing the worst, but fortunately there was little real damage, just a slightly crunched mud-guard and a twisted front bumper. To tell the truth, it looks no worse than it did before - it was pretty knocked about anyway. If anything, our concern is that if they think it reflects badly on British vehicle standards, they might not let us take it out of the country and into France. You never know! We kicked out the dent in the mudguard, bent the bumper back into place, and went back inside.

I must admit it looks a bit forlorn sitting out there by the kerb. Whoever had it didn’t look after it, that’s for sure. I wonder if it’s ever had a proper service. It can’t be that old, because the earlier Bedford CA’s had a two panel windscreen and this one has a single, slightly curved one with a different grille. Late fifties I’d say, which makes it about seven years old, and considering its state, it must have been a workhorse. Well, it’s about to get reshod and back into harness.

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Posted by Ozac 20:13 Archived in England Comments (0)

Revving the Rattler

Friday, 27th August, 1965

Kennington, London

I am writing this hurriedly as I am in the midst of last minute preparations for the trip. We leave tomorrow morning and there is still so much to sort out. However, it’s mainly just packing; everything else is ready. I finished work yesterday and have taken today (Friday) off, so that I can attend to details. The car is running well; we got it back from the garage on Wednesday. I think it should get us a fair distance anyway. I had two new retreads put on the front wheels this morning, and replaced one of the headlamps. It’s as good as we can get it, so we are just keeping our fingers crossed. We are booked on the 7 pm Channel crossing tomorrow night, so we will probably be in Paris on Sunday. I think we will stay there for a few days and then we will be off to Spain.

We had a good celebration at ‘The Surrey’ on the 24th, and all got rather stung, but we managed to make our way down the Strand to Charing Cross and get the tube home. I had a dreadful hangover all the next day. Australian beer is so much more potent than the English stuff.

First thing after leaving here in the morning we have to pick up Fouad and Marroff, before heading for Dover. We have told them to keep luggage to a minimum, otherwise there just won’t be enough room to sleep in the van. We have ‘borrowed’ a double mattress from the flat to put in the back, which they can bunk on, and Ade and I have our inflatable mattresses, which we can put across the seats. It should work out, unless someone’s a big snorer.

Well Saturday is the day. Watch out for the Red Rattler. Sunshine here we come!

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The Red Rattler

In England in the sixties, the Bedford CA was everywhere. It was a hugely successful, homegrown commercial vehicle used to deliver just about anything, from mail and milk to stray dogs and stretcher patients. The campervan model was known as the Dormobile and if we’d had the money we would have preferred that, but the plain CA was a good choice nonetheless and had ample space, though admittedly our first plan had been to get a retired London cab, mainly because they ran on diesel - cheaper than petrol. We couldn’t find one and went for the Bedford instead. The first CA’s were produced at the Vauxhall factory in Luton in 1952 and the last rolled off the assembly line in 1969 – 17 years and 370,000 vehicles later, a true British success story. About the only thing that seemed to change over the years was the windscreen and the grille. I don’t have a clue what ours had been used for, but the interior was pretty spartan, so it must have been somebody’s work-bus, and they had certainly run it into the ground. Still, £10 – amazing!

Looking at that picture above, I’m sure that was its good side, as it would have been the side facing the kerb when it was hit by the bus. I note the rather utilitarian seat I am sitting on in the cabin; I can’t remember if it tipped forward, but it must have been easily removed. The doors slid back, which was fantastic when it was hot, as you could keep them open while you drove along and get a breeze through the cabin. No seatbelts of course - you’d never get away with it today. If you braked suddenly, the doors slid forward and banged shut with such force that whoever was driving had to shout “Stand Clear of the Gates” whenever he put his foot on the brake pedal. This was a catchphrase we borrowed from the recorded voice in the lift at the Earl’s Court tube station, which gave that order as the grille gates crashed shut - a most enduring memory of that particular place. In the Red Rattler, as at Earl’s Court, if there was no warning, life and limbs could be at risk.

I think this photo was taken in a vegetable patch somewhere in northern France - looks like silverbeet in the foreground. Fouad is on the left, then me, then Marroff. This must have been early days, as the van actually looks clean; we would’ve washed it in London, and maybe touched it up with a bit of red paint - it doesn’t look too bad here. Nice tyre on the front! We were just going to keep it going for as long as we could, and if it got us back to London … Great! If it didn’t, too bad! Whatever this vehicle had been up to over the years, it was surely headed for the scrap heap before we picked it up, dusted it off, and gave it its last chance for glory. Did it live up to the challenge? Read on, and remember to… Stand Clear of the Gates.

Ozac 2012

Posted by Ozac 21:06 Archived in England Comments (0)

Bonjour and Buenos Dias

Saturday, 4th September 1965

Madrid, Spain

After a week of hectic travelling, we are today taking it fairly easy, and are just wandering leisurely around Madrid. As I write this, I am sitting outside the Prado, the famous art gallery of Madrid, and have just seen its great collection of masterpieces by painters such as Goya, Velasquez, Titian and Rubens. They were fantastic. Madrid is rather a dusty, irregular sort of city, and I don’t like it anywhere near as much as Paris, where we were a few days ago.

We left London last Saturday, and the car has been going well ever since. We have clocked up about 1000 miles in it now without any trouble, though it is losing a little in performance. It drinks up a lot of oil, but we knew the rings were bad when we started. I hope we will get a few more thousand miles out of it. After a smooth Channel crossing, during which we played cards all the way (seasoned travellers that we are), we spent the first night in Calais. When we drove off the ferry we got a bit lost because of the lack of clearly lit signage and started driving round in circles. We kept meeting the same vehicles at different crossings, and looking behind us saw a procession of other cars following us. I don’t know why they thought we knew where we were going, but rather than be the Pied Piper we pulled over to let them pass and spent the rest of the night where we were.

The River Seine, from the second level of the Eiffel Tower

The River Seine, from the second level of the Eiffel Tower

On the Sunday we drove down through Amiens and Beauvais and were in Paris that afternoon. It took us a little while to get used to driving on the left hand side of the road, but by now it is almost second nature. Paris is a beautiful city, truly ‘magnifique’. We spent all day Monday wandering about; the Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, along the Seine, Notre Dame, up the Eiffel Tower - tremendous view. We went to the Louvre and of course saw the statue of Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa, among many other great masterpieces. I really love Paris, everything about it. It is the cleanest city I have been in too. I hope we can go back there before returning across the Channel to England.

The Tuesday morning we drove out to the immense Palace at Versailles, the palace of the last kings of France. I was more impressed by the vast grounds and the gardens than the interior, but it was all well worth seeing. That afternoon we drove on, heading for Spain. We slept Tuesday night by the roadside and on Wednesday drove through the Valley of the Loire with its beautiful Chateaux (I have sent you a postcard of the one we saw at Chenonceaux). Wednesday night we were not far from the Spanish border (outside Bayonne), and we struck bad weather for the first time. We had thunderstorms all day Thursday as we crossed into Spain and travelled along the coast to San Sebastian and Bilbao.

The Spires of Burgos Cathedral

The Spires of Burgos Cathedral

We then turned inland and after climbing into the mountains we reached Burgos that evening. It has the most wonderful Cathedral I have ever seen, with an amazing atmosphere, and we parked the night in the square beside it. The surrounding town is beautiful as well.

England and France have been somewhat ruined by tourism, but Spain for the most part remains untouched. Little is ‘put on’. The rugged beauty of the landscape, the small peasant villages, the proud, severe architecture of the towns, is Spanish to the core. Its cobblestone streets, its communal water troughs, its bullrings and colourful posters, are everyday Spain, and it’s really grand to be here again.

Yesterday we came down from Burgos (where El Cid was born and is buried) through the walled city of Segovia, with its Roman aqueduct and Alcazar (castle), out to the El Escorial palace, which we had seen from the train on our way to London from Granada six months ago, and finally to Madrid, with its hectic traffic. Tomorrow we are going to the bullfights and will leave Madrid on Monday morning to go to the south of Spain. We plan to make a return visit to Granada, then back into France, heading for Switzerland and Italy.

Plaza de Toros, Madrid

Plaza de Toros, Madrid

It is good to be on the road again, though it took a few days of getting used to. The weather today is really excellent, and I expect it will get a lot hotter as we move to the South.

Sunday 4th Sept.

- We have just come from the bullfight at the Plaza de Toros, here in Madrid. It was absolutely marvellous. I know there is something cruel about killing bulls for sport, but the colour, the excitement, the roar of the huge crowd, Ole’s and all - it was really a tremendously elating experience.

Tuesday 6th Sept.

- We have just reached Granada and I am finishing off in the P.O. there. This favourite city of mine is just the same as before, only the weather is so much hotter. We must have had 100F today, and the radiator boiled twice. 1600 miles so far and the Bedford is starting to play up a bit. As we approached Granada it began to get this loud clunking noise under the floor and we had to nurse it into town and find a garage. Turns out we need a new universal joint, which fortunately won’t cost much, so we might get a bit further. We are getting a general service as well. Tomorrow we will visit the Alhambra, the magnificent Moorish palace that overlooks Granada. We missed it last time because we couldn’t afford the entrance fee, and it is the main reason why we wanted to come back here on this trip.

Alhambra, Granada

Alhambra, Granada


Posted by Ozac 22:53 Archived in France Comments (0)

Montage

Paris to Barcelona

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Eiffel Tower and view towards the Basilica of Sacré Coeur, Montmartre

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Cathedral of Notre Dame, Ile de la Cité, Paris

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Chateau de Chambord, Loire Valley

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Road stop, France, heading towards Spain

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The Alcazar of Segovia (left) and the Alcantara Bridge, Toledo, Spain (right)

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The Morning Markets

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Ade and the Red Rattler

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At Alhambra, Granada (above) and the view across the city (below)

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Village water stop, southern Spain

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Hilltop castle and cave dwellings

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Antoni Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona, as it was in 1965

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The five of us

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Posted by Ozac 03:50 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Adios and Buongiorno

Thursday, 16th September, 1965

Italy

I am writing this as we travel on the Autostrada from Rome towards Venice, so I will probably post it there. Sorry that the letter is so long in coming but we really are moving all of the time and with half the driving up to me it is very difficult to do much else. We are cramming too much in, I think, and not spending enough time where I really would like to; only two full days in Rome. But Fouad and Marroff are on a time limit, and Ade and I cannot afford to keep the van going by ourselves. It drinks too much oil for one thing, and that’s expensive. We will probably be back in London in a fortnight, making five weeks on the Continent. We have decided not to go on through Yugoslavia to Greece, and from Venice will be heading back towards London, via Switzerland, Germany, Holland and Belgium.

Cathedral and Campanile, Pisa

Cathedral and Campanile, Pisa

From Granada, where I posted the last letter, we drove down to the Mediterranean Coast at Alicante, and then kept to the coast all the way to Italy, along the Costa Brava in Spain, through the French Riviera, Monaco and to the Italian Border. We then drove on to Pisa, where we parked for the night near its famous leaning tower. We had some real Italian pizza for dinner in Pisa and then, while playing cards in the van before turning in, the four of us had this almighty row – over nothing really, but I had to stomp off for a while to cool down. Next day to Florence, which is a fabulous city, full of the most beautiful art treasures - it is only the flocks of tourists which take away from it. Wandering with Ade through the narrow streets in Florence, I ran into a friend from Sydney University, Germaine Greer, the girl who played ‘Mother Courage’ in that production of the Brecht play in which I played ‘the Chaplain’. It was an amazing coincidence. I just happened to look to the left into a deli we were passing and there she was, spooning down a carton of flavoured yoghurt. We recognized each other instantly and the three of us spent the next hour together at the piazza in front of the Duomo. Germaine is taking her PhD at Cambridge, and is spending her summer vacation in Italy.

Piazza del Duomo, Florence

Piazza del Duomo, Florence

From Florence we drove on to Rome, the Eternal City. Absolutely tremendous! The Coliseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Victor Emmanuel Memorial, its churches and its piazzas, its people and its confusion, and of course the Vatican. Our first day in Rome was the 14th, the day the Ecumenical Council reopened. We got to St. Peter’s Square just as the opening Mass of the Council had finished and the thousands of bishops were emanating from the basilica. You never saw such a scene; car after car, bus after bus, all packed with bishops of every race and nation. Hundreds of them just wandering about looking for taxis, as if they were no more important than the next chap, and of course they weren’t, as the next chap was probably a bishop too. That afternoon, for the success of the Council, there was a solemn ceremony and penitential procession of the bishops at St. John Lateran, led by the Pope walking under a canopy carrying a monstrance. The Pope then said Benediction at the altar set up on the steps of the church, before blessing the crowd and then going into the basilica with his cardinals. We had an excellent view of the proceedings, as we managed to park the van in a good spot early, before the crowd was too great, and watched it all standing on the roof. We were extremely fortunate to be present at such an occasion.

The Vatican

The Vatican

The inside of St. Peters is an unbelievable sight. You walk in the main door, and you stand absolutely stunned by its magnificence. The nave was all set up for the Council. We visited the Treasury, saw St. Pius X body in its glass coffin, and Michelangelo’s Pieta. The Cistine Chapel was closed unfortunately, because of the Council, and we were a little disappointed at not being able to see that.

Driving around Rome is like driving in a continual Luna Park dodgem - confusion is the order of the day - the traffic cops haven’t got a hope. Still, we did alright and came out unscathed, but I don’t know how many dozens of times we drove round and round the Coliseum - we always seemed to end up there. It is a toss-up which I like better, Rome or Paris, but I think Rome has a slight edge. I am looking forward to Venice now - we should be there late today or tomorrow morning. The old red rattler is still pulling its weight, though it shows gradual signs of weakening. After we had the universal joint problem fixed in Granada we had a puncture in the south of France. It seems to have a hiccup every thousand miles or so, but other than that and the fact that it drinks oil like petrol and occasionally boils, it is not going too badly for a £10 van. We have clocked up some 3500 miles now over some pretty rough and mountainous roads, and we still have a way to go yet.

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Posted by Ozac 18:56 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Montage 2

Florence and Rome

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Florence

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The Ponte Vecchio

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Il Duomo (left) getting all the attention from the adjacent crowd in front of Ghiberti's famous Baptistry Doors (right)

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Michelangelo's David (copy) in front of the Palazzo Vecchio

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Rome, towards St. Peter's Basilica, from the Victor Emmanuel Monument

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In St. Peter's Square, with not a bishop in sight

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The Forum Romanum, with the Colosseum beyond

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The Trevi Fountain (left) and the Interior of the Colosseum (right)

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The Spanish Steps

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Posted by Ozac 22:00 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Arrivederci and Auf Wiedersehen

Friday, 24th September, 1965

London

Well it’s over! We arrived back in London last night by train, after the Bedford had finally packed up 9 miles out of Frankfurt, Germany, on Tuesday night. It just stalled at some traffic lights and never started again. The valves were gummed up like they were when we bought it. We could not afford to have it fixed again and it would not have been worth it anyway, considering the money we could have sold it for in England, so we just abandoned it there in a parking lot at Langen in Germany. As far as I know it is still there. It did a damn good job for the £10 original purchase price; it got us 5000 miles over often difficult roads and up some very steep hills, with very little trouble except at the end. It was certainly a worthwhile buy, and I saw just about everything I wanted to see for now.

After leaving Rome we took the route back up through Florence and across to Venice, which is really the most spectacular city you can imagine. You have to park your car on the outskirts, as there are no roads whatever in the central area; just narrow alleys for walking and of course canals. In Venice, ‘taxis’ are launches, and ‘buses’ are small ferries. Gondolas are on the smaller canals, but are mostly for the tourists. Nevertheless they are extremely picturesque, and are what makes Venice ‘Venice’. St. Marks Square, with the Cathedral, Campanile, Doge’s Palace and pigeons is a most relaxing spot on a hot afternoon and everyone was doing just that. The absence of motor traffic makes the whole atmosphere of the city relaxed and slow moving. It is such a beautiful city, so colourful and different, and a completely new and unforgettable experience, no matter how many photos or films you have seen of it.

Looking across to San Giorgio Maggiore

Looking across to San Giorgio Maggiore


The obigatory photo in St Mark's Square

The obigatory photo in St Mark's Square


The Venetians

The Venetians


From Venice we drove on to Milan and then north, through the Italian Lakes district and into Switzerland. We drove over the Simplon Pass, which the car took slowly but very well - perhaps its finest moment. There were snow covered peaks much like those I had seen in Nepal and then we were over the other side and down on the shores of Lake Geneva. We followed the shore around through Lausanne and to Geneva, then north again to Berne and Zurich before crossing into Germany. In Germany we visited Heidleberg before coming to the abrupt halt near Frankfurt. We all pushed the car for a while, down the main street of Langen, trying to jump start the motor, but without success, and eventually had to give up and run the old rattler into the parking lot. We had asked a lot of it and it had pretty well met the challenge, but it had just had enough. We made our decision, packed our bags, left most of the gear behind and headed for the railway station.

The train journey was at night, through Germany and Belgium to Ostend, and though not terribly long, was rather sleepless. Changing to the Channel ferry was chaos as usual ; third time across the Channel was boring; getting off was even more chaotic, and then, thank God, a fast, comfortable train trip to London. We are staying in Tony’s place in West Kensington at present. I don’t know what Ade is planning, but I think I will look for a place on my own again.

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The Run of the Red Rattler

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Posted by Ozac 16:32 Comments (0)

Back to Earth

Sunday, 3rd October, 1965

Baron’s Court, London

I am back in a single room again, but it is far, far bigger than the one I had before. It has big bay windows and is quite a sunny room, when there is sun. Actually, the weather here in London since I arrived back has been very good for this time of the year. Ade has been staying on with Tony until he gets something. He is going to share with a Malay student again. He was very lucky in getting his old job back, as they had not replaced him in the month since he left.

When I met Germaine Greer in Florence she gave me the address of a friend of hers in London, Brian Tapply, who I knew of in Sydney but had never met. He produces plays for a group in North London, the Tavistock Players. So last Friday I rang him up, and I got a part in his new production, ‘The Duchess of Malfi’, starting rehearsals on Monday night. It is not a professional company but is of good standard, and the advantages are that I will get back into practice again, I will be meeting people who know how to go about things here and I will be seen. It will tie me up until the end of November, so I will have to get another daytime job. Anyway, the thing is, it is a step in the right direction and it is certainly better than just sitting around.

Love to All, John

Postscript:

About a month after returning to London we received a call – from Interpol. They said a vehicle registered in our name had been found in a parking lot outside Frankfurt in Germany and they wanted to know what we knew about it. Was it stolen? We came clean and explained the situation, and how we had come to abandon it. That cleared the matter up for them and they seemed satisfied, but said that the local authorities in Langen were very upset that a British vehicle appeared to have been dumped in their backyard, leaving them responsible for its removal. Having provoked ‘an international incident’, we were suitably chastened, but what could we do at this stage, and that was the last we heard of the matter. But the old Red Rattler, British to the core, except for its universal joint, must have been unceremoniously paraded through the streets of Langen once more on its way to a German scrap metal yard, and has probably had many reincarnations since as a Volkswagen, an Audi, or even a Mercedes Benz. Never let it be said that we did not do our bit for a united Europe.

Ozac 2012

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Posted by Ozac 17:56 Archived in England Comments (0)

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