It must have turned a bit tedious after a while. As a toddler, whenever my mum took me shopping I’d ask her to identify any car that I didn’t already know. She had to do the identifying because I was a long way from reaching a cat-sat-on-the-mat level of reading, so there was little hope of my understanding the often rakishly italicised script of a Sunbeam Rapier or a Ford Consul Classic.
“Cars were the only thing you were interested in – goodness knows why,” she recalls. The “goodness knows” was because there was no-one remotely mechanically minded in my immediate family, my father a French teacher who would eventually specialise in the 18th century French philosopher Denis Diderot, while my mother, brother and step-mother were all teachers and lecturers.
So the interest must have been baffling. But it was duly fed with Matchbox toys, rides in the family car to induce sleep and inspecting the vehicles of assorted relatives. Less tolerated was the habit of humming my way through gear changes when out walking.
None of the cars owned by relatives was of particular interest – that’s me in my Aunty Edna’s Ford Anglia – and our family cars would be considered grim today. The first, which I don’t remember but rode in after I was born, was a Jowett saloon. A wannabe Morris Eight but with twin cylinders rather than four, its stout hill-climbing ability befitted a car manufactured close to the Pennines. My parents called it Flicker, “FLK” being part of its numberplate; I don’t know whether this was also because it took a part-time approach to starting.