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118 EVERGREEN Autumn

118 EVERGREEN Autumn (continued) roadside digger — by means of sign language and the help of a local policeman while bemused villagers looked on. In 1968 another Ford Corsair was hoisted aboard the Bergen Line ship Leda and we sailed from Newcastle to Norway, overtaken by a midnight storm. Almost everyone was seasick — even my father, an experienced ex-Merchant Navy sailor. I was nearly tossed out of my bunk; not that I cared, I felt so ill. My mother, stomach intact, was one of only a handful of passengers who joined the Captain for breakfast in an eerily deserted dining room. When Leda stopped rolling and cruised with delightful rocksteadiness up the beautiful Bergen Fjord, I suddenly realised I had Dover was the starting point for the family’s Swiss adventure. DAVID HUNTER scarcely felt better in my life. Dazzling sunshine, blue water and lush green islands made our first view of Scandinavia look like a tropical landfall, but once out of Bergen we knew we were in fjord country. Amid magnificent scenery most of the roads were surfaced with loose gravel. This was ruinous to car paintwork and slitheringly dangerous; never more so on than on the notorious Stalheim Hill, as near vertical a drop as I have ever experienced in a car. But my mother kept the heavily-laden Ford in a straight line and we survived to celebrate with bigger meals than we had ever seen. When we ordered chicken we got a whole one — each! Sea trout meant just that: a whole sea trout, which is a lot of fish for

2017 EVERGREEN 119 three people. Dessert was no escape from the calories: the trifle came in a washing-up bowl-sized dish. My father never quite lost the extra weight he put on in Norway! A long drive to Austria was next in 1969: a delightful return to Alpine air and beautiful music. By 1971 I had a full driving licence (and an International one, which looked like “papers” forged by POWs in The Great Escape), so I was entitled to take the wheel of the stately grey Wolseley we drove to Italy. We sat in Florence, overlooking the Ponte Vecchio in a romantic dusk, braved the hectic traffic of Rome and the infernal heat of the Autostrade del Sole where Ferraris and Maseratis zipped past us at a shocking 120 miles-per-hour, and came at last to spectacular views across the Bay of Naples and the haunted, sun-struck streets of Pompeii. My mother liked to drive barefoot, especially in summer, and there were many days during our hot trips across Europe when she didn’t wear shoes at all. The Italians and the French thought her cool and chic, the Spanish, to whom bare feet signified poverty or penitence, thought she was crazy. But once behind the wheel, no vehicle was beyond her capabilities and no drive beyond her endurance. She nursed a variety of big cars through heat, thunderstorms, and bewildering traffic jams. She negotiated the rugged mountains of Spain, swung us over Alpine passes, and roared down the blistering length of Italy — all with superb driving skill, elegant style and tireless good humour. High above Monte Carlo she stripped off her dress just so she could say she had driven the Grande Corniche road in a bikini! Occasionally we became lost, almost never on major roads (one of us was always navigating from a sheaf of maps) but sometimes in the towns or cities as we tried to find our hotel. Somewhere deep in France

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