Monday, February 21, 2011

GAY 900

In the 1950s and 1960s, indeed throughout the rest of his life, our father indulged an immoderate enthusiasm for French automobiles, many of them unreliable. At the funeral Hamish summoned an especially charming image of Dad’s Walter Mitty-like reverie behind the wheel of whichever Citroën was for the time being the object of his affection—“I hear the thrum of accordions, I savour the fragrance of Gauloises mingled with that of blanquette de veau or the bouquet of a good Côtes de Rhône, and, with my beret worn just comme ça, I coast along the grand corniche…” or something similar. In fact for many years, but long before I came along, the family vehicle was a model very similar if not identical to this one, and it provided excellent service on many long-haul family holidays, country picnics, skiing trips to the old Belmore Ski Club at Mount Buller, which Dad helped build with his own bare hands, etc. Its Victorian registration plate was the altogether delightful “GAY 900.” Indeed the vehicle continues to be fondly remembered by my brothers as “the GAY 900.” So imagine his surprise when last week in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, where he is currently on vacation with Lesley, Nicko was astounded to come face to face with this relic of the French colonial period—think of what it must have survived: blanket bombing, napalm, the chaos of insurgencies, the American evacuation, the arrival of the Viet Cong, and the rest. In other words, without actually saying so, I suspect this chance encounter, of which he immediately notified us by email, powerfully removed Nick to Australian places of childhood and adolescence that must be about as different as it is possible to be from any aspect of life in Vietnam, then or since. I have an idea that through the immense number of automobiles Nick owned as a young man he may well have bought himself one of these jaunty black traction avant Citroëns 11CV (1934–1957), though alas it did not last.

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