Young Z in Austria

I’m so enjoying the Winter Olympics.  I have to admit, I have limited affection for the Summer ones, being a dedicated non-athlete.  But the panache of the fabulous athletes on snow and ice is a joy to watch and I have been watching every minute I can spare – and the highlights too, so that I can enjoy the best bits again.

I’ve written before about the long hard winter of 1963.  If it had just been a few degrees colder, that’s what the poor South West of the country would have had, rather than the floods – which wouldn’t feel better but actually would be; at least until the thaw.  On the whole, I was a moderate snow-lover.  One of my earliest memories is the holiday we took touring Europe when I was five years old.  Seeing the Austrian Alps was overwhelming and I cried – though I got over it.  There’s a photo somewhere of me sitting eating an orange, dressed in a Fairisle pullover.

This was our my father’s car in 1959, and we flew it over to Ostend, I think, from Southend.  In those days, you could fly your car over to Europe rather than take it by ferry.   I know we visited Belgium, Holland, France, Germany and Austria, but I’m afraid that it’s only Austria that really stuck in my childish memory because I loved it so much, notwithstanding tears at the first sight of so much snow – I think it was the blinding sun that did it.

The car was a two-seater and there were four of us.  I was five and I should think my sister had her eleventh birthday while we were away – it was the Easter holidays anyway and her birthday is mid-April.  I sat on my mother’s lap and a little platform was made for my sister to squat on in the middle behind and between the two front seats.  I suspect that my father and I were the only comfortable ones – I was a small, light child, but my mother said I grew heavier and more bony by the day.

I was such a cute little child, not unusually pretty but, with my long blonde hair and winsome expression, people were drawn to me.  We stayed at the Hotel Sport in Innsbruck – could this be it?  I’m not sure, I’d have to find a photo.  The staff were enchanted by this shy little girl and made a great fuss of me.  I don’t suppose we were there long, but I loved it.  I’ve never been back to Innsbruck since and am afraid to now – I don’t mean literally fearful, but an idealised memory from so long ago would surely be shattered – I don’t know, that looks silly, now I write it down.

The staff called me Alice – I’ve been known as Alice for much of my life; it’s the long blonde hair that does it, or rather did.  I had it cut off some 25 years ago and was able to go around incognito for a few weeks afterwards.  No one recognised me until I spoke.  The next year, our parents left us in Holland with our au pair’s family, and retraced their footsteps to an extent (more about that another day).  When they arrived at the Hotel Sport, they were greeted with indignation.  “Where’s Alice?!!”  They sent back a big bag of chocolates for me and Wink, which were delicious, except for the coffee creams, aka coffee slimes.  They stayed in the cupboard for months until someone finally threw them away.

8 comments on “Young Z in Austria

  1. nick

    Cramming the four of you into a two-seater car for a longish journey sounds like torture! You must have been mighty relieved to reach your destination. Our parents never had a car when I was growing up, in fact my father never learnt to drive. We went everywhere by train, firstly to Torquay and Perranporth, where we had relatives, and later to Spain and Italy. I loved the train journey to Italy, winding through the Alps and then through endless little Italian towns and villages.

      1. Z Post author

        That sounds just about right, Rog! My parents loved it, it was so convenient. You drove to the nice little airport, handed over the car, got back in after a short flight and drove off again.

  2. allotmentqueen

    Um, don’t want to be picky, but winter ’62-63 was the bad one.

    I used to have a boyfriend who had a Frogeye. OH bought a TR6 a few years ago (male menopause thing) which has similar (lack of) space. I imagine your mother was really fed up with you sitting on her knee. It’s all very well for a few miles but then it becomes distinctly uncomfortable.

    Oh how we had no regard for health and safety in those days. Two things I remember – we used to go on caravan holidays and travel was always easier during the evening/night. So we would be put to bed in the caravan and Mum would be in there with us, the caravan would be hitched up and then Dad would drive to the caravan site. Oh, and we had gas mantles for lighting. Can you imagine that nowadays? He could have been towing a giant bonfire behind him! And when we lived in Surrey in about 1965/66 we used to have a Bedford van (don’t know why, we’d always had cars before and since) which had sliding doors and in summer we’d leave the doors open for coolness, and of course there weren’t any seatbelts so luckily none of us ever got hurtled out the door by a sharp corner!

  3. Z Post author

    I’ve been looking it up – it was Channel Air Bus I was thinking of, and I had no idea it was Freddie Laker’s company. They flew from Southend, so I’ve corrected it. But that was the early 60s, so that first time we must have flown Lydd-le Touquet. We’d have had no reason to call on our friends in the Hague, because Wink and I were going on holiday too.

    Of course, 1963 – sorry, I knew that perfectly well but inexplicably typed it wrong.

    My mother was a saint, she really was. She never complained once to me, it was years later I found out what a burden I’d been.

    No ideas of safety, but it all seems to have been a lot more fun!

  4. Pontillius

    I know what you mean about visiting a place from your younger days. I was foolish enough to visit Minden in Germany recently. I was stationed there for 4 years when in the Army in 1955. I remembered what a beautiful old world town it was, with it’s traditional festivals, the strassenbahnwagens (trams to us!) and the people were so friendly. I went for a short holiday in 2010 and the change was unbelievable. It completely shattered my fond memories of the place. I wish I had gone to Skegness instead now!

  5. kipper

    My father bought a Corvette convertible when I was two years old. He put in a little bench in between the front seats for me. I can’t remember the bench but do still fondly remember the Corvette, We all felt sad the day Dad sold it a few years later. It was such a beautiful car and an unforgettable shade of blue.
    Imagine how present day child safety people would be shocked at the idea of little children not in car seats sitting unrestraind on makeshift seats in a two seater vehicle!

  6. Mike Horner

    When we had three young daughters, we had a Triumph Roadster sports car, with a bench seat for three, and two dicky seats in the rumble. Not an ideal family car but we had great fun in it, and come to think of it I published an old photo of it on blog a couple of years ago. Sorry – my memory must be skidding.


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