When I was little, “road trips” were an alien concept to me. You couldn’t possibly glamorise a day jaunt to the Kent coast in a sun yellow Ford Escort with four siblings and your granny squashed in beside you.
My parents ran a pub – “seven days a week, 364 days a year,” as mum used to intone – which meant extended escapes were out of the question. So I was breathless with glee when my friend Polly, who lived in a big house down the road, asked me to go to Cornwall for the summer with her family.
By far the most thrilling aspect of the trip was the news that we children would sleep in their station wagon’s boot over everyone’s clothes, while their parents drove through the night.
The car’s ample back seat had been pulled down, transforming the boot into a three-berth bedroom, as Poll’s brother Toby was coming too. This was the 1970s, after all, some years before seat belts were a legal requirement. It was just so romantic to snuggle into sleeping bags as we set out at dusk from our hamlet near Westerham. We carefully divided our stash of Spangles and Pink Panther bars and reclined over coats and boots and towels and kites.
There was something glorious about feeling miles of disappearing road through tiny reverberations in your spine. And about giggling with my best friend… Yet half my attention was on the conversation of the parents in the front seats.
Polly’s mother and father were sleek Seventies’ people. Her mum – a one-time model and talented singer – had painted the floorboards of her bedroom silver and gold and wore hand-sewn gypsy blouses with long skirts or flares. Her father was a senior partner in a large firm of chartered surveyors and a keen amateur photographer, taking breathtaking black and white photos of bleak landscapes.
Their chat buzzed of London life, architecture, fashion and the complex relationships of others in their circle. I fell asleep longing to skim off that aura of sophistication and sprinkle it all over my own skin.
At first light, we woke near Zennor.
Our low stone holiday cottage which we found in a log cabins site stood alone in a sweep of meadow, half a mile from the sea. It was only later in life that I was told it had its own cult status, having been used as a location in Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. The air smelt of salt water, gorse and freedom, and I had one of the best weeks of my life.
Polly’s dad took a photo of us, sitting on the cottage’s outside steps in Tana Lawn print skirts, heads bent over a shared book. I always want to crawl back inside that holiday snap, to feel 10 years old once more, to fall asleep in the snug boot of the car as it purrs across the British Isles.