Is this a peculiarly American concept? I’ve never considered a road trip as anything other than getting from A to B and back again. There is however one particular journey that sticks in my mind.
Many years ago when I had only been driving for about a year my father had to make the pilgrimage to Scotland to visit his mother. A journey of 370 plus miles that filled him with dread, not the drive but the prospect of spending time with his ageing mother who frankly could be a bit of a nightmare. I don’t think it was entirely her fault, she was housebound or flat bound to be strictly accurate which probably meant she had to vent at somebody and boy could she put you straight. As a child she was always very nice to me but my father had outgrown the less desirable suburbs of Scotland’s capital and I don’t think she appreciated it.
I struggle to remember the exact circumstances but I do recall that he had not been well in the week before we were due to go, him and me, just the two of us. I guess I was along for moral support although to be honest I was no match for the sharp tongued diminutive scottish widow. I think the forthcoming trip was directly responsible for his sickly condition and as he was in no fit state to drive I embarked on the longest journey I had ever undertaken having driven no more than probably 30 miles in any direction from the parental home usually in my employer’s Morris 1000 van.
To be allowed to drive the powder blue Volvo 144 to Scotland was an opportunity not to be passed up. We set off, as we always did, at some stupid o clock time several hours before most decent people had stirred from their beds. This was a precedent that had been set because the parent worked nights and his modus operandi was to be awake when the rest of us were fast asleep.
I set off cautiously, headlights blazing into the early morning inky blackness. I knew from a long list where to aim for, Kings Lynn, Sleaford, then Newark and the A1 North, on to the outskirts of the big city. After that I would require directions. It’s a long way to the A1 and my father slumped on the back seat under a blanket only raised his head enough to enquire where we were when I stopped to buy petrol somewhere north of the Trent Bridge. This was considered to be a bit of a landmark in our family as it was the joining point of the Great North Road, only 275 miles to go. It’s very boring driving with no one to talk to and I felt rather let down as my father dozed in the back and I listened to the radio at low level in the front. I loved driving the Volvo though, it was a car not to be messed with, big and definitely tank like the gear stick seemed to be about a yard long as it came up from the floor from under the dashboard to meet you. Big seats too, I remember how comfortable it was but it did have a tendency to wallow in the corners. Driving on the long straight A1 the sun comes up on your left as you go north. I loved the way the colours of the sky changed filling with light, first the blues then the increasing glow of orange red as the sun appeared over the horizon. There were some compensations to being up so early.
We arrived at the outskirts of Edinburgh several hours later, according to Google it takes about seven hours, in those days it took longer as there were fewer dual carriageway sections. I had to stop, I had reached the limit of my geographical knowledge. Help was required.
Once awake the directions came thick and fast as if he had never been away and we were soon pulling up outside the tenement block where his mother had resided on the first floor for much of her married life. It wasn’t a great place, the railway cut was but a few yards from the front door and on the other side a flour mill coughed smoke into the atmosphere but I liked it. I was too tired not to. She was everything I remembered, irascible one moment and charm personified the next. My poor father couldn’t cope, it proved to be a very short visit. So I let him drive home.