My aunt provides a useful corrective to our versions of the past, an alternative interpretation of the memories that are recalled, an incisive questioning of vague stories, sometimes a blunt contradiction of assertions. Sometimes, though, my aunt will share insights and recollections that are completely new.
“Your Dad must have talked to you constantly when you were in the car with him, he must have pointed out everything you passed and told you the make of every car. You could name every car.”
“I could?” I had no memory of such conversations, perhaps they were so commonplace that they were not notable.
“Yes. We took you out one day when you were young and you told us what every car was.”
The recollection was credible, among children I would always have lined up with those inclined to geekiness, a member of the ranks of the nerds.
“I remember Uncle John explaining the Somerset car registrations to me: Y, YA, YB, YC, YD. Once he had told me, I drove him mad one evening when we were going somewhere by saying, ‘there’s a Somerset car, and there’s another one, and there’s another one.’ I think he wished he had never told me.”
Pondering my aunt’s story of me being able to identify all of the cars we passed, I wondered how many I really knew.
Perhaps there were not so many cars to name in the 1960s, how many makes were there? British cars dominated the market, foreign models were not so plentiful. I do not remember any Japanese cars and the only German cars I recall are Volkwagen Beetles and Mercedes Benz. Undoubtedly, there were dozens more, perhaps it was just that they were not so common in our small corner of Somerset.
Not only did the range of cars seem much less diverse, the design of the cars seemed much more diverse. The make of an oncoming car could be discerned long before it passed by, who could not recognize a Ford Anglia, or a Morris Minor, or an Austin Cambridge?
In retrospect, designs seemed much more about distinctiveness than about function, certainly they were not designed for their aerodynamic qualities.
Diversity of design seemed accompanied by a diversity of colour. The paint schemes of Twenty-First Century cars seem rather dull, rather uniform compared with the colours used in the 1960s. Two-tone paint schemes no longer seem to be in vogue.
A boy out with his aunt today might find naming every car much more challenging.