Sunday 19 November 2017

Sunday driving

By David Medcalf

Does anyone go on a Sunday drive anymore?.

Institutions come and institutions go. The showband - gone. The bowler hat - gone The leather bicycle saddle - gone.

Has the Sunday drive also disappeared? Is it only persons of a certain age who remember heading off after religious devotions to nowhere in particular? No great plan, no sat nav, no destination. Just hit the road.

Come to think of it, the Medders family was lucky in the sixties to possess the one ingredient absolutely essential for a Sunday drive. We had a car, at a time when most did not. Father was a commercial traveller and his employers permitted private use of the company's vehicle at weekends.

So, on the Sabbath, if the weather was kind, we ventured to explore. It was quite a squash if granny came too but no one minded. The open countryside beckoned and an afternoon free of all serious agenda stretched invitingly in front of us.

The Sunday drive was not like a trip to the beach or a visit to outlying relatives. The seaside or the clan gathering may have involved the same cast of characters and the same automobile - but they were excursions with defined purpose. Totally different.

The whole point of the Sunday drive was that it was off the cuff, improvised, spontaneous. It required no packing of a picnic, no fishing rods or footballs, no specialist footwear, just a warm jumper and the joy of a joint family enterprise, with the promise of an ice-cream or a bar of chocolate at the end of the afternoon for the children if they were good.

Bar the odd bout of pinching each other in the back seat, we were always good, of course we were.

Granted, the Sunday drive was occasionally prompted by some slight element of forethought, some excuse, some spark of curiosity. Are the blackberries ripe yet? Are there boats on the canal? Are freshly laid eggs for sale at some far flung farm gate?

I recall how each spring my mother flagrantly broke the rules of the Sunday drive by bringing a piece of equipment. She packed a trowel to dig primrose plants out of ditches at the side of back roads in the depths of the countryside, looting them to transplant to our suburban back garden.

The practice must have been dodgy, even in 1965, for we had to be sure that no one else was around before this otherwise impeccably law abiding citizen hopped furtively out of the passenger seat to violate the hedgerows. Nowadays, such botanical banditry would be considered downright criminal - if you want primroses, then go to the garden centre where they call them primulas and sell them in plastic flower pots.

The Sunday drive introduced us as children to scenery, dutifully going making 'wow' sounds at the sight of the sun setting over a lake in Meath or of the splendours of the craggy coastline at Dalkey or of the interminable flatness of the Bog of Allen.

However, it was the uplands of Wicklow which were the most frequent haunt on Sunday drives. Da piloted us along obscure rural roads where the trees formed a green arch overhead before we burst out on to the heathery terrain of the Military Road and the Sally Gap. We became back seat connoisseurs of mountain wilderness…

Now that I have a car of my own, I find that the Medders family of the New Millennium never goes on a Sunday drive. Yes, of course we sometimes sally forth but always, it seems, with a set destination in mind. A match which starts at particular time. Or a swim off the strand in Courtown. Or the latest diversion, a car boot sale.

Eldrick and young Persephone do not see the point in pointless motoring. They hide from passing scenery behind the screen of hand held computers. They refuse to be impressed by the sight of rugged cliffs or autumn leaves. For them, the journey is all about the arriving.

Something has been lost with the demise of the Sunday drive and I am incapable of persuading teenagers that this is an institution worth reviving.

Wexford People

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