Transported back in time to 1950s… but will anything really change?

Motorbike and sidecar from the 1950s

Boris Johnson fancies himself as Churchill, so there is a passing irony in road traffic dropping to levels last seen when his hero was prime minister.

According to a report in the Guardian, the coronavirus restrictions have sent traffic back to 1955 levels. This is an accidental achievement taken by some as proof that we should mend our ways. The trouble is, it’s been got at a price society couldn’t afford or sustain.

I’ve gone from driving a lot to hardly at all. A trip to Wetherby the other day to go shopping for the self-sequestered in-laws took place on roads so deserted, it was as if someone forgot to mention that the apocalypse just happened.

Still, all this set me thinking about family cars. In 1955, the year before I was born, the Ford Anglia was a popular choice. We couldn’t stretch that far. Our first family transport was a motorbike-and-sidecar, mother and baby me in the wheeled appendage, father astride the motorbike, wearing a leather helmet and goggles and frowning into the sunset (those images added here as a romantic false memory).

By the time my brothers were born, that sidecar combo was long gone. Here are family cars that memory can summon up: the green Minivan that took our family of five on long summer camping holidays to France in the 1960s; a Ford Zephyr with expansive bench seats; a Hillman Husky estate based on the rear-engine Imp; a sky-blue Volkswagen Beetle; and a Morris Marina or possibly two. If there were others, I’ve forgotten them.

My own list goes like this: Renault 11, MG Midget, MG Metro, Ford Escort estate, Volvo 240 GT, Volvo V70 estate and a Seat Leon times two.

Our deserted streets have seen a big fall in air pollution and that’s clearly a bonus and could reduce early deaths from heart and lung disease, although pessimists will be a gloomy nuisance and point out that the virus has the opposite effect.

Thus far into lockdown, people are beginning to ask what we will learn and if life will be different afterwards. The cynical snap answer is life will be as it was – and we will learn nothing, as that’s what always happens.

A depressing thought when depressing thoughts are not needed, so perhaps we will moderate our behaviour. If anyone wants to employ me in York or give a nod to the Lottery gods, I happily will pledge to cut down on driving.

Working from home shows that this can be done, and for a short while it’s fine. I’ve enjoyed my first three weeks or so commuting upstairs to the study, but you do miss the company.

The broad sweep of politics may change, too. The after-effects of the coronavirus should prevent any future Conservative government from suffocating the NHS through cruel choice. What a remarkable turnaround from NHS slashers to big-spending supporters of the health service. What’s important now is to look forward, while not entirely forgetting that ten years of austerity was a political choice.

Damn, saying things like that make you sound like Jeremy Corbyn, last seen shuffling off the political stage saying he was right all along and besides he’s not going anywhere (exit stage left pursued by two election defeats).

Anyway, the Labour Party has a new leader and perhaps Sir Keir Starmer will give the government the forensic once-over it has so far avoided.

But I have drifted from cars. This afternoon, in keeping with sitcom-style cliché, I will handwash the latest Leon instead of visiting the local car-wash place.

I may be a while and I may be soggy.

Leave a Reply