In the 1970s, there were jokes about the M5 motorway being a rustic road. Perhaps it was because it ran into the West Country, through Somerset and into Devon. The stereotype of West Country people was of milk smock wearing, straw-sucking yokels.
Driving up the M5 at the weekend, there seemed almost a confirmation of the stereotype. A Ford Ranger or similar vehicle was heading northward, its rear door was open and bales of hay projected into the open air. There were dents in the paintwork at the back and a large dent in the side. It was the sort of sight that might have been familiar in the 1970s, but the vehicles in the 1970s were generally old and battered, the pick up at the weekend was a “68” registration, which, on my reckoning, made it no more than two and a half years old. Where was the owner of such a car heading with bales of hay?
The 1970s people would have been delighted at having the sort of money required to buy a high quality, expensive pick-up. The sort of vans that would have carried bales and have been used for all sorts of other work in those years were considerably less stylish.
My uncle had vans that lasted for years. They began with a dark green Morris Minor van, perhaps it had been a post office van that had been repainted, perhaps it had been a GPO van (in memory, they were green before they started appearing in yellow). There were two seats at the front and the back was flat and open. There were no seat belts and no-one would have ever asked how many children there might have been sitting in the back.
The Morris Minor finally succumbed to the strains to which it was subjected and was replaced by a white Bedford 6 cwt van. Again it was the sort of model used by the GPO, but their vans were yellow and it seems unlikely that anyone repainting a van for farm use would choose white as a colour, every clod of mud and splash of cow dung were conspicuous.
There seemed always to be something homely about those vans. They were like an old pair of shoes, no-one was worried about how worn they were, they felt comfortable, there was no cause for worrying about their treatment. Perhaps it was such a sense of ease that the pick-up driver was seeking, a recapturing of the age where function prevailed over fashion, a time when the task one did was more important than how one appeared.