In the street outside sits a cream-coloured Morris 1000 Traveller, lovingly restored, proudly polished and driven occasionally.
In the 1970s, one of its pale green counter-parts was our family car, as it provided an accessible space for dogs and luggage. Seeing that model sparks such memories for me – of learning to drive; of my father leaving it unlocked outside Heathrow, to find it disappeared on his return – taken away by police who must have been terrified when our big dog reared up in the back!; of the car piled high with luggage, bicycle on the top, for my first term at University.
And a very big journey, undertaken in the summer of 1970, when my father and I drove through Europe to Oberammergau for the legendary Passion Play, which takes place every ten years to fulfil a vow made nearly 400 years in thanksgiving for surviving the plague.
Only qualified to drive the previous year, I was not planning on driving much, but my father had left his driving licence at home (“I don’t need it, do I?”, he asked innocently, when we were halfway to Dover for the ferry); so I drove through every border, in case we were stopped and papers scrutinised. Yes, there were borders then. To my chagrin, we were waved through everywhere; obviously, I was too innocent!
Another issue we had to address was that the passenger door lock was broken; every time we stopped, we solemnly circled the car, pretending to lock every orifice – and nothing went missing! Perception was all. Or was it that they saw us and thought it unlikely for there to be anything worth nicking among our possessions? Or was it a much more innocent, law-abiding age?
The AA had organised a route for us, devising a journey without many motorways, going through Belgium and Germany, down the Rhine and returning home a different way, touching Austria, Lichtenstein and Switzerland and dawdling through France and visiting the Battlefields. Hotels were booked for us in major towns, putting map-reading skills to the test; arriving at approximately rush-hour in each town was not a good idea, even though there weren’t as many cars in towns as there would be now. I had a German phrase off pat, well-practised. With what I believe was a good accent, I would ask the way; not so clever when you can’t understand the answer.
My mother, never keen on travelling, stayed at home to look after dogs and farm. My sister, working, flew out to Munich for the weekend for the play; and what a play! Such an extraordinarily inspirational experience, even though the words were in a German we had no chance of knowing; but of course we knew the story. Moving, powerfully so indeed, when a clap of thunder echoed around the hills at the Crucifixion.
Audiences now, I believe, stay in nearby towns and hotels outside the village. We were billeted actually in the village; our hostess had been in the play in 1960 but as a married woman, she could no longer participate – or at least, that’s what we understood. Such a pretty village. The theatre itself, a huge concrete hall, a roof over our heads but the stage open to the backdrop of the hills and to the elements so the actors had double costumes, one for wet and one for dry weather.
During the breaks (the play took place over two days), you could spot the apostles, wandering around, drinking in the bars, eating in the cafes, St John riding a bicycle; how did you know they were apostles? They were all bearded.
A six country odyssey in twelve days, thousands of miles driven, seminal and searing experiences daily – a journey of a lifetime – brought vividly to mind seeing the car outside, and because of this being 2020, another Passion Play will be performed to thousands in Germany again. Easy to get to now, with no border checks, at least for this year; perhaps by 2030, we’ll have come to our senses again, and partner Europe once more.