Sunday, 8 March 2015

Gus Honeybun and The Artful Bodger

In the last two days I've finally recovered from my illnesses, and, bit by bit, I've got the caravan ready for the off as early as possible tomorrow morning. I still feel weak and easily-tired, so I've had to pace myself. But the various things that had to be cleaned in the caravan (fridge/freezer, cooker, bathroom/toilet) have been seen to. It's been gradually loaded up with what I want to take in the way of clothes, shoes, books and maps. All food except tomorrow's breakfast items have been stowed.

I could indeed stop writing and set off right now - I'm that close to being ready - but first I want a good night's rest for the 230 mile journey, which (with stops) will take me a full six hours. But it should be six easy hours. And in any event, I'm now well enough to look forward to setting off.

I always enjoy that moment when Fiona moves forward, and I'm on my way. Another glorious adventure begins, and I have a wonderful sense of freedom that can be sustained hour after hour. With the caravan in tow, you really can stop for refreshment (or a rest) whenever you like. It's like having along a bedroom, kitchen and life-support system all rolled into one, an always-open private hotel to fall back on every step of the way. You can go faster without a caravan hitched up behind, but you are completely dependent on finding good pitstops when you need them.

I still recall a long journey taken with Mum, Dad and my little brother Wayne, from home in Southampton to Carbis Bay, just outside St Ives in Cornwall. It was in 1964. Dad was driving his new car, a white Hillman Imp, registration 433 FCR. Here's a picture of it taken in 1965, about to take the ferry to France:

It was a natty little car, but with an Achilles' heel: a dodgy water pump. I seem to remember that Dad had to stop now and then, when the rear aluminium engine gave signs of overheating. I sat by Dad in the front, thrilled to be travelling so far (it was not far short of 300 miles). Mum and my little brother were in the back and I don't think they were so comfortable. Wayne suffered from travel-sickness, and I imagine that listening all the time for odd warning noises from the car, or from Wayne, could not have meant a relaxing journey for Dad. The journey was in any case made on old-fashioned single-carriageway A roads, and the old, notorious Exeter By-Pass had to be negotiated. We set off soon after breakfast, but did not arrive at our apartment at Carbis Bay until late in the afternoon - probably with headaches all round.

There are no photos. I didn't yet own a camera in 1964, and my parents didn't have anything more than a Kodak Brownie box camera with some black-and-white film loaded, which of course they hadn't bothered to bring along. I recall that we had a week of very good weather, and visited St Ives, Zennor, Land's End, Newlyn and St Michael's Mount. You can easily see why I yearned to have a camera, after a sunny week in West Cornwall! Once home, I begged Mum and Dad for one - but they said I was 'too young'. They relented in 1965, but not until after that holiday in France. (So I didn't personally take that quayside shot of our Hillman Imp)

Our Carbis Bay apartment had television, and one item seemed to be a regular feature, every day, on the Westward TV channel: a large toy rabbit called Gus Honeybun. (You can read up all about him here - - but I knew nothing about all that at the time) Both Wayne and I looked forward to his appearances. I could never quite understand what his precise role was, but he had a curious fascination for me, rather like the Teletubbies had many years later in 1997. He must have had a regular tea-time spot, because we would chivvy Mum and Dad off the beach, or urge Dad to drive back to Carbis Bay fast from wherever we'd spent the day, just so that we could catch Gus for a few minutes. How odd that this, of all things, would be the main thing I'd remember about our first family holiday in Cornwall.

There was one other particular thing. I noticed a paperback on sale at the beach café titled We Saw The Sea by John Winton, which was about the apparently comical antics of various British naval characters (a bit similar in style to The Navy Lark scripts on BBC radio). I eventually squandered my pocket money on it. It was however unrewarding, being too adult. It did however contain one bit of Chinese philosophy from a character named The Artful Bodger, which I must have thought worth pondering:

Confucius he say rape impossible, because woman with skirt up run faster than man with trousers down.

That seemed to make a sort of sense, and yet I knew already that there was no safety in flight if men were intent on catching women. Men never made the error of trying to run with their trousers down. So was Confucius making a mistake? Or deliberately saying something that he knew wasn't really true? Was that comedy - if so, how was it funny?

What was rape, anyway? (I was only twelve)

On the holiday that's about to begin, I intend to potter down the entire North Cornwall coast as far south-west as Padstow, and as far south as the Tamar valley around Calstock. You might think that this is covering an awful lot of ground for a woman who's still convalescent, but I thrive on exploration behind the wheel. Besides, after three weeks of feeling rough, doing little and spending not very much, I'm minded to disregard being thrifty on fuel, and to enjoy a few meals out. Basically, to recuperate in a little style! If I had the endurance, a visit to Lundy on the Oldenburg would be pleasant, but the long day involved would be just too much. A few hours of retail indulgence in Plymouth will however be within my powers, and I haven't been there since 2009. So I shall fill my days up very easily!


  1. Oh I remember Gus Honeybun. When I was at Secondary Mod School we got out headmaster's name read out - "Two bunny hops, please, for Richard Graham, who's 4 today." The following morning it was the talk of the school, but the headmaster remained silent. Perhaps Confucius, he say that small boys in short trousers run faster than old teachers in long ones!

  2. Even though I was brought up in Canada, I do know what a Hillman Imp is. I bought one in 1968 or 69. It was one of my first cars. I drove the crap out of it at that age, cruising way too fast on the 4-lane highways of Canada and the United States. It was a wonder it lasted as long as it did for me.
    I was on a long trip to the East Coast of Canada and the water pump went. It was such a remote location and there was no Rootes dealer for hundreds of miles.
    An enterprising cousin took off the water pump, disassembled it, and discovered a bearing was shot. It was a standard bearing that he could get locally. So he replaced the bearing and had me running again within two or three hours.
    I've had several British cars besides the Imp, I've had 2 or three different Minis, A Rover 2000 TC, and an MGB. The MG turned out to be the one that could handle my abusive thrashing the best.
    However, now I have a North American SUV with towing capacity of 5200 pounds, and a 1750 pound travel trailer (aka Caravan) that I don't take out often enough. You are inspiring me to "take off, eh".
    We are still in the icy grip of winter here in central Canada. A trip south for at least a couple of weeks would be a great elixir for the winter blues. You've got me thinking!
    My father was born and raised in Plymouth and emigrated to Canada when he was 14. When he visited with my sister in his 60s, he pointed out the house the family lived in, and apparently it was the same house that was occupied by the Pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower. And strictly fro the story from my sister and memory, I think the house was number 1 New Street in Plymouth. I checked it out on Google Earth and there's no verification of that conjecture.
    I will be following your blogs on this trip with extreme personal interest. -alice

  3. I experienced Gus Honeybun just this once. Subsequent Cornish holidays were in tents, and latterly static caravans, and there was no TV. Well, I brought one along one year (1973 or 1974) and tried to run it off a car battery, but by then Gus Honeybun wasn't my viewing priority! (It was the BBC'S dramatisation of Jean-Paul Sartre's 'The Road to Freedom'.


  4. Thank you, Alice. I will see if I can find 1 New Street in Plymouth - it might well be in the Barbican quayside area, if there is that Mayflower Pilgrims connection. If possible, I'll take a ground-level photo for you.



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