Friday, 27th August, 1965
27.08.1965 - 27.08.1965
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!
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.