Part 2 of A Bit of This, and A Bit of That – Remembering 1978

My friend Wendy standing beside my “new” Vauxhall Viva 1966 model. It was light green in colour. Possibly her Austin in the background. Taken at YWCA Wolverhampton in November 1978. Our first winter outside Australia.

Charlotte Hoather was kind enough to comment that I left my last post on a cliffhanger, and since I had a bit of fun writing it, I thought I would continue with the story. And thanks again to Derrick Knight  for inspiring me to dig out the letters I wrote my mum, so we can be sure I have my facts right. Well, to the extent that a twenty-three year old abroad discloses anything to her mum back home.

So now I recall that the catalyst for leaving London was that the hotel increased it rates without notice. Luckily, having prepaid a week in advance I dodged the rate hike, but I was still faced with finding another abode. Meanwhile Wendy needed to go to Stafford to see a man about a car. On the night before our departure we met an Aussie guy who invited us to spend the weekend with him and another girl in Wales. First thing the next morning the four of us hired a car and set off. I remember it clearly. We asked for directions to Wales and were told, ‘Go to the end of Cromwell Road and turn left,’ and so we did, and there was a big sign saying “Wales” and we followed that until we came to Bath where we stopped off and did the tourist bit in the Roman remains. That night the four of us shared a room in a B&B in Llanelli and practised pronouncing it Clanethli. We went dancing that night and some nice young Welsh man was chatting with me, and I kept smiling and saying ‘mmmm’ because I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about and eventually he said, ‘you didn’t understand me did you?’ So I fessed up and he leant in and said nice and clear, ‘I really fancy you.’ It was the third time the poor bloke had said it. So I answered, ‘Oh! Mmmm, gee, mmmm, thanks. Oh! There’s my friends,’ and took off. But he was lovely to listen to, even if I didn’t know what he was saying.

The next day we drove Wales south to north, and as I wrote to Mum, ‘there’s a green land for you,’ but as well there was a lot of snow around and it was bitterly cold. In the afternoon the other two dropped Wendy and me at the YWCA in Wolverhampton as it was the closest to Stafford on the route we had taken. The accommodation turned out to be so nice and so reasonable that we based ourselves there for a few days. We were very taken with the “facilities”, as you can see from the photo modelled by Wendy.

We discovered that Wolverhampton had lost a lot of its letters. At the pub, the lads (another local expression we picked up) pronounced it something like “Wolvromt’n” with a round cheeked sound as if they had a mouthful of pebbles, and then a flick up at the end. We didn’t quite manage that, but we did manage to lick them at pool, which took them by surprise as they were used to the girls just being adoring by-standers.

By this stage I had decided I wanted a car also, and on our first morning we went off bright and eager to buy two, and by the evening we returned downcast. No one wanted to know us with the money we were offering. But we persisted, and I ended up with a little Vauxhall Viva, 1966 model, genuine one-owner  “only ever driven to church on Sunday” – you know the story. If that was true, then she never garaged it, as it had an attractive panel of rust along the bottom of the doors, and the decorative tail fins were hanging by threads of more rust.  I paid 60 pound for it, which was rather a lot at the time, but compared with rail fares it was economical. I drove it to Yugoslavia and back a couple of years later, but that is an entirely different story. It had a habit of snapping the clutch cable, which was simply a length of wire that ran from the clutch, through the floorboard and up to the transmission. There was a little nipple on the end which would always pop off the cable. I became a dab hand at driving without a clutch. You just have to listen to the revs, do a little tap dance on the accelerator, and ram it into the next gear quickly. Wouldn’t try it these days. Too used to automatic transmission.

Wendy was a bit more cashed up than me, and ready to go to Europe immediately, so she hung out and got a decent deal on a 1971 Austin 1800. It needed mechanical repairs – but I bet you’ve guessed by now that the “lads” at the pub were mostly mechanics, and were chuffed to do those for her on the cheap.

By this stage we’d been in Wolverhampton for ten days, and I was starting to run short of the ready. When I say that, I mean for my budget for the year. I always had savings for future years’ travel, remembering I was on a five year visa. When travelling, my go-to manual was Arthur Frommer’s Europe on $10 a Day.According to the link, by the time the guidebook finished in 2007 it was up to $95 a day, which is still fabulous value. Of course, treating the budget as Australian rather than American Dollars did trim another little bit off the living standard 🙂

If you followed this story from part one, you will recall I was heading for Aviemore in Scotland to get work for the winter season. By now it was the end of November, and my destination was another four hundred miles away, with no promise of a job at the end of the drive. But I didn’t want to stay in Wolverhampton either. So is the next stop Michael’s Nook Country House Retreat? (the reason I wrote this post in the first place).

Heck no! More in the next post.

20 thoughts on “Part 2 of A Bit of This, and A Bit of That – Remembering 1978

  1. Pingback: Leaving Michael’s Nook Country House Retreat | The Reluctant Retiree

  2. I loved this, you were so daring. I have an Uncle who lives near Wolverhampton, my Dad grew up in Wales and can still pronounce the Welsh language even though he left at 17 for a job in Manchester. How on earth did you cope with the driving or do Australians drive on the same side as us?
    Looking forward to the next part and why you ended up in the Lakes

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Charlotte – so pleased to hear from you and love the upbeat tone. Yes, Australians also drive on the left, however when I took the car to Europe I was faced with driving a left hand vehicle on the right side of the road and THAT was a challenge.
      Everyone expects with a name like Gwen I should have some Welsh but no such luck. Although I managed to learn up to the fifth letter in the Welsh alphabet after a big night on the Scrumpy Jack, but perhaps that’s a story I shouldn’t explain in too much detail 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: An Introduction to Michael’s Nook Country House Retreat | The Reluctant Retiree

  4. Pingback: Part 3 of A Bit of This, and A Bit of That – Remembering 1978 | The Reluctant Retiree

    • Would you believe I never made it there. Didn’t even get to Scotland. Ended up in the Lakes District which I loved. And I know about those embarrassing outfits. Around 14 or 15 I sewed myself a bright purple crepe pantsuit a la what Abba wore, and trimmed the tunic and pant cuffs with gold braid. And I went out in it – what was I thinking?

      Liked by 1 person

    • He just seemed terribly pleasant and respectful. We were standing at the end of the bar as I recall, watching the dancers. I felt a right fool when I realised what he was saying. I was mortified I’d made him repeat himself three times! That takes fishing for a compliment to a whole other level.

      Liked by 1 person

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