Fond memories of my dad’s Zephyr Zodiac: an indication of times gone by - Ian McMillan

As a non-driver I’ve never seen the point of personalised car number plates; I guess for me they’re just the metal equivalent of those business cards that people used to hand out at networking events.
Poet Ian McMillanPoet Ian McMillan
Poet Ian McMillan

On the other hand there’s a number plate from my childhood that brims with personal stories, so much so that it’s almost a minimalist memory-chest, not only of the car it was stuck on, but also of the person who drove it and the people who sat in it.

The number plate I’m thinking of is UHE 8, belonging to my dad’s shiny blue Ford Zephyr Zodiac which he bought in the early 1960’s and for me, probably because of the name, always felt like something from a science fiction film; a mode of transport you might use to whizz the family in their spacesuits across megacities where gravity was optional and light was always artificial.

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Reading about the Zephyr Zodiac, it was meant to symbolise just that: a version of modernism that was full of limitless possibilities, throbbing with promise and ready to leave the boring old 1950’s behind.

The driver was meant to envisage him or herself (usually a him, in those far-off times, to be honest) bowling along a wide highway with the windows down and something like The Beach Boys playing on the car radio.

The reality was a bit different because frankly my dad would never have got up to anything even vaguely near the speed of light, not even the speed of candlelight.

Because he’d been in the navy for a couple of decades he was convinced that everything went at the speed of a ship. That’s a very slow ship in choppy conditions. Third gear was Warp Factor 8 for my dad.

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I didn’t mind that though because the greatest things about the Zephyr Zodiac were the trafficators; indicators that were little pointy arrows that popped out from the body of the car to tell those drivers behind you where you were going.

They were like a kind of magic, as far as I was concerned, and on our Sunday afternoon drives I tried to get my dad to turn down country lanes just so that I could see the trafficators working.

As a lad who was into the romance of space travel I was convinced that any vessel that took astronauts to the moon would be fitted with trafficators to let passing aliens know that the descent to the lunar surface was about to begin.

Of course thing about something that is shiny and new and modern, particularly when it’s a car, is that is soon becomes tarnished and a little rusty and all those promises about the kind of lifestyle you’ll have when you drive the car or sit in it as a passenger turn to so much dust.

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The metaphor for all that deep thinking, as far as our family was concerned, were the trafficators. My dad kept the car far too long, all the way through the optimistic 1960’s into the uncertain 1970’s until a point where the front passenger door wouldn’t close properly unless he tied it up with string, and the trafficators got stuck in the up or down position, neither of which were any good to anybody.

Sometimes my dad tried to encourage them with WD40 and he almost took me up on my half-serious suggestion of using the door-fastening string as a pulley to haul the trafficators up and down.

The future, eh? You always end up having to use string to fix it.

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