I suppose they went through France to get anywhere else, but it was certainly a country they loved. I remember them bringing me a beautiful pair of shoes back from Paris – wouldn’t have been a bad idea to buy them to grow into, because they barely fitted from the start and actually were quite uncomfortable to walk in, but I didn’t say a word – partly because they were lovely shoes, partly because I really was so excessively polite and wouldn’t have wanted to complain, partly because I’ve always been absurdly frugal and didn’t want them wasted.
They loved driving through the mountains and they loved the Mediterranean coast. As Mago said in the comments yesterday, in those days the Côte d’Azur was not all a holiday Mecca and there were many coastal villages to explore. They also loved Nice and spent a few days there relaxing on each visit.
A couple of memories – at a seafront bar having a drink in the early evening, friends walked by. They all greeted each other, more drinks were ordered and they sat chatting together. It wasn’t for at least half an hour that someone said “Hang on, we didn’t know you were coming to Nice? We usually meet like this in Lowestoft.” Nothing will ever beat my Honeymoon Coincidence, but that wasn’t bad.
The daughter of friends married the son of the then director of a major London auction house. They met for a drink by prior arrangement one evening. The young wife was Bohemian by inclination and wore sandals, black leggings (not that they were called that then), a casual top and had slightly grubby feet and hair after a day on the beach. After an hour or so, goodbyes were said with the explanation that they had a dinner engagement – *young wife* needed time to bath and change, said the bridegroom. She looked surprised, reckoning she was fine just as she was. H’m. At that point my mother, at least, started to suspect it wouldn’t be a lifetime partnership.
My mother was always appropriately dressed, which sounds dull but wasn’t – she used to look lovely but – I don’t know quite how to say this without making them sound like crashing snobs, which they really were not. The only people they were disdainful of were those who showed off their wealth. It didn’t matter whether you had money or not, you should never let anyone feel awkward and you should treat them all the same. Having loud, extravagant parties, flaunting a lot of flesh when anyone who might be embarrassed was nearby, giving any impression you thought you were better than anyone else whatever your circumstances, brought out feelings of contempt. Wearing a ‘kiss me quick’ hat in Blackpool was fine, flashing more jewellery in Paris than anyone else was not. At all times, courtesy and consideration to hotel, shop or any other staff was paramount. By the early-sixties, they already felt the French Riviera was losing its shine by becoming a whole lot more glossy and fashionable, and they stopped going there. I suspect it was the reason they loved using the sports cars on the Continent where no one knew them: they were anxious not to show off.
There were still many other lovely places though and, as I said, my father particularly enjoyed driving in the mountains. They had crossed the Alps by a particularly hair-raising road full of hairpin bends and I’m not sure how my mother took it. She had a tendency to carsickness at the best of times. But they reached their destination in France safely and spent the night at their hotel. I’m afraid I haven’t the faintest idea of the town. My father always drove, by the way, because my mother never did master a clutch and always drove an automatic. They had a new Daimler Dart, which they’d seen and ordered at the 1959 Motor Show (I have no idea what colour it was, nor if this was the model) and this was the first long run. The next day after lunch, they got in the car to get on their way again. At the first junction, the brakes failed. There was nothing. My father swung the wheel and turned the corner, tyres screeching. Fortunately – wouldn’t you know it? I may not have been there but my benediction held, I’ve always been lucky, even by proxy – there was a slight upward inclination, my father was able to run the wheels against the kerb and the car stopped.
It turned out that an urgent message had been received from Daimler at home, that there had been a fault in manufacture. The pipe carrying brake fluid was slightly long and rubbed every time the wheel was turned. It lasted them through the mountains, but that was it. Being hot and worn thin, it collapsed and the fluid drained out.
Still, no harm done, except possibly to my mother’s nerves.