Poop Poop

Image source: Wikipedia

Image source: Wikipedia

It was in 1908 that Toad, that incorrigible, obsessive Toad, first burst forth into the consciousness of an unsuspecting public.

And with him came the representation of a whole new hobby, a passion then mint-new: that of driving a motor car.

“In an instant (as it seemed) the peaceful scene was changed,” writes Kenneth Graham, in his classic Wind In The Willows. “and with a  blast of wind and a whirl of sound that made them jump for the nearest ditch, it was on them!

“The ‘Poop poop’ rang with a brazen shout in their ears, they had a moment’s glimpse of an interior of glittering plate-glass and rich morocco, and the magnificent motor-car, magnificent, breath-snatching, passionate, with its pilot tense and hugging his wheel, possessed all earth and air for the fraction of a second, flung an enveloping cloud of dust that blinded them and enwrapped them utterly, then dwindled to a speck in the far distance, changed back into a droning bee once more.”

That was Toad’s first fateful encounter with a motor car: the meeting would change his life and drive him to crime and ruin and wearing a washerwoman’s dress.

Yet he was not the only one to fall deeply in love with these early motors. Driving was not just a business of getting from A to B and beating the traffic: in those days it was a pleasure-pastime, before motorways, when you were the fastest thing on the road.

I browsed a bookshop I have never browsed before, today. And stumbled on a perfectly preserved record of what it must have been like, before the motorways, when one set out of a drive for a bit of a lark, to explore and see what one could see.

In Britain, when you break down, one of the main rescuers is the Automobile Association.

While they arrive in great big repair vans fit for purpose, it has not always been thus.

No: the AA started at the Trocadero, in London’s West End, where those who could afford this bewitching new sport formed a group to promote the interests of the motor car driver.

Their first patrols to aid those who were broken down took place in 1908, on weekends only, on two of the major leisure routes: the roads to Brighton and Portsmouth. And those early knights of the road were not motor powered: rather, they rode on bicycles.

They grew with startling rapidity, By 1914, 83,000 members were recorded. They swiftly became part of the establishment, so that in 1953 when a new monarch was crowned, it was the AA who provided all the road signing, parking and traffic control arrangements.They had offices in all the most important gateways to England and Wales, as well a comfy pad at Le Touquet.

The AA issued a manual, of course. A ‘road book’, of England and Wales.

It included everything Toad might need: a gazetteer (geographical index of towns),  maps and town plans. And ‘itineraries’ – routes from one place to another, with affable descriptions of gradients and scenery likely to fly by.

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In the bookshop today I found a pristine copy of one printed in 1965. And as such, it is a snapshot of days gone by.

In this England, there are but 375 miles worth of motorway; town plans are free of the development which clogs them these days, and roads are not purely numbers but routes with personality. In the world of AA 1965, the six great A-roads are still known by their names: Great North, Dover, Portsmouth, Bath, Holyhead and Manchester.

Open its pages and you just have to slow down, and read the comfortable itineraries prepared for adventurous Toads everywhere.

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If motoring was thus now, I might live in my car.

As Toad might say: “Poop, poop!”

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53 thoughts on “Poop Poop

  1. What a wonderful find. It’s especially interesting knowing all the places mentioned, isn’t it. I was in Chiddingfold for lunch last Wednesday. The Crown is worth a visit if you are passing, but make sure you raid all piggy banks first.

  2. Fabulous piece. I remember the AA motorbike patrols saluting as they approached a member’s car on the road, each one of which was identified by a large chrome and enamel badge attached to the radiator grille.. On the map of London, that you feature, I noticed a place called “Peggy Bedford” P.H, just to the West of London Airport. What is “Peggy Bedford”?

  3. I remember reading, years ago in a biography, of how difficult it was back in the early days. People would set out on one of those drives, take too long, and have a horrible time trying to get home in the dark with no headlights. Was it Jennie Jerome who had to perch on the hood with a lantern as her husband creeped along in the dark? I can’t remember. But what an adventure!

  4. I have been a member of the American Automobile Association for a very long time and still enjoy picking up the “Trip-Tiks” with all the routes and descriptions. Not as colorful as those shown here, but, fun just the same.

  5. We went on Mystery Rides with my grandparents, regularly. Tooting around from town to town to see what we could see. No destination required in order to enjoy the journey.

    Poop poop!

  6. Dear Kate, your posting today helped me remember the days after World War II and gas-rationing ended when Dad and Mom, my little brother, and I would go for a Sunday ride around the countryside.

    How well also I remember the first vacation we took together. I was 22, getting ready to enter the convent, and my brother was 19 and had bought his first car–a Chevrolet. We drove from Missouri to Colorado and up to Pike’s Peak.

    On television at the time, Dinah Shore–a singer/actress–had a 15-minute show sponsored by Chevrolet. At the beginning of each show she’d sing, “See the U. S. A. in your Chevrolet. American is asking you to call!” (Or something like that.) And here we were the four of us seeing the U.S.A.! What a wonderful memory. Thank you for eliciting it from me today.

    And thank you also, Kate, for visiting my blog while I’ve been away for six weeks. If you have one or so postings that you’d especially like me to read, please let me know. Peace.

    • It is always a pleasure, Dee, tp pop in and see how you are doing. Your writing is unfailingly compelling, and I love to hear your perspective on things.

      Your road trip sounds absolutely wonderful.

    • I am an obsessive collector of literary trivia, Kathy. I love tales of Dr Johnson and the piles of tatty tomes which filled his house. Somehow today it looks rather pristine in comparison. While I’m no Johnson, I do love ‘ideas’ books: and there is no better place to get them than from a shop where other s have read and deemed these books worthy of passing on.

  7. Oh, Toad. I am not a huge fan of Disney’s short adaptations, except for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, which was until its demise, my favorite ride in The Magic Kingdom. There was something about the non sequitur of the trip through hell that appealed. The appeal of the early motorists? Completely understandable.

  8. My father loved driving–tho’ much more safely than Mr. Toad–and we spent many Sunday afternoons wandering along little back roads just to see what was there. When I was a teen, getting a drivers’ license was the universal rite of passage. I’ve read that American teenagers aren’t so interested in driving now–cell phones and social media have replaced the automobile. I think they’re a little crazy, but then I’m a senior citizen and my views are obsolete.

  9. When the Lovely Miss TK and I moved from the east coast to the west coast, I decided to drive cross country just to see the U.S. I did it in five days and thoroughly enjoyed it. Teresa did not accompany me as she was taking care of the final details in Savannah, GA before she flew to San Francisco. Great memories.

  10. I like GPS and my husband likes a good old-fashioned map. He will still go to AAA to pick up a “paper map” to take with us on our frequent jaunts. It isn’t unusual for us to comment on how a road or bypass has changed from what we remember on a previous trip. Despite our really intense traffic and the cost of fuel, we still love to spend time driving and just exploring a bit! I am certain the book you found is very interesting. I love to look at old books that tell the story of a city from a different era!

  11. Three cheers for Toad and Graham and AA – and an extra one for Kate!

    We’ve been known to enjoy our little road trips and, like others who have commented, use a GPS, a map, and carry our AAA card as well. Though no riders in bikes have rescued us, we have been saved and towed and such on several occasions over the years. Such a wonderful post, Kate. I’m put-put-putzing around these days, like Toad in his motorcar, taking forever to get to posts, even my own, but always find something new and entertaining here on your side of the pond.

  12. I am of sufficiently advanced age to remember all the joys and hazards of some earlier motoring days – when the country roads here were so country that a child of eight could be entrusted with driving for quite long stretches, Utter magic. No AA to speak of, though!

  13. Intro of motor car New York City early 1900′s seen as a boon to end pollution. “End pollution ?”you might ask. Well a horse drops 22 pounds of poo poo a day and with a city with over 10,000 horses – do the math. I wonder where they put it all. Perhaps sent it to Washington DC government offices where apparently it still remains.

  14. Those detailed itineraries are fascinating! But what is even more fascinating is how you meld a tattered discovery in an old bookshop with a literary character, and create such wonderful stories! Thank you Kate :-)

  15. I can remember my Uncle’s Yellow AA books that he kept in his Austin Cambridge – my Father didn’t drive. I still prefer the adventure of the hidden byway or backroad. I hate motorways and only use them when there is little choice. I probably knew 75% of the backroads of Hertfordshire and Essex at one stage but I’ve not done nearly so much driving over the last few years.

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