The other day I got hold of a copy of J. B. Priestley’s celebrated “English Journey” (Heinemann/Golancz, 1934) wondering whether the great novelist would reveal the make of car in which he drove about the country for the purpose of writing it, only to find that he used motor-coaches and trains! He made this pilgrimage in the autumn of 1933 and no doubt ‘bus-buffs will recognise the coach-service by which Priestley travelled, in comfort and speed that surprised him, on the first leg of his trip, from London. via Camberley and Winchester, to Southampton, in a coach as comfortable as any gigantic £3,000 motor car.
Actually, I did learn that, if Priestley had left it at home on this occasion, his car at that time was a Daimler — I seem to be having a dose of Daimlers at present! This comes out when he describes a visit to the Daimler car and ‘bus factory in Coventry, where in 1933 he tells us that about 4,000 workers were employed there, allowed to smoke for three-quarters of an hour in the morning and in the afternoons, working on not strictly mass-production methods. It is amusing to find in this book a famous man-of-letters referring to “. . proud young Double-Six Daimlers”. And later in the book he does use his car, but driven by a chauffeur, his description of a fog on the journey back to London from Norfolk is a graphic account of a horror that has largely receded. — W.B.
Finally, for this month, in “Bugles and a Tiger” by John Masters (Michael Joseph, 1956), that perhaps best-of-all books about life at Sandhurst and in the old Indian Army, the author tells of how he bought a 1932 Dodge with 1938 Californian licence-plates in 1938/1939, and drove it alone across much of the American Continent. From Port Jarvis on into New England the temperature was twenty-eight below zero and the Dodge had no heater, or if it had, its new owner had not been shown how it functioned. Moreover, he had been buying the cheaper “white gas”, which froze the petrol-pipes and carburetter. But on the whole the old car served Masters well; he sold it at Poughkeepsie before sailing home on leave aboard the Manhattan. Before this reference to buying the old American car he had had a fearsome ride at 85 m.p.h. through Bombay in a red Bugatti belonging to Reggie Sawnhy, who had sold Masters a reliable bull-nose Morris in Poona; someone should collect “Bugattis in books” perhaps . . . If these mentions of cars were something of a surprise in this very readable book mainly about military matters, I got an inkling of what I might find when, in an early chapter, the author refers to the King Arthur class 4-6-0 locomotive that hauled the train out of Farnborough North station that took him on the first stage of the long journey to India. — W.B.