In the back seat

Long, international drives have become a regular part of our family holidays. We often drive back to the UK, which involves two hours from Brussels to Calais or Dunkerque, depending on whether we’re using the Eurotunnel or a ferry to make the crossing, and then a total of between four and five hours on the other side to get back to Exeter. And we usually drive down to Austria or northern Italy once a year for a winter holiday, which is a ten-hour drive broken by an overnight stay somewhere. Now I realise that for my American readers these are probably not to be considered “long” drives, but close-packed, densely-populated Europe has a different perspective.

All of which is to say that our three kids spend a fair amount of time sat in the back seat of the car for extended periods. Which is not necessarily a problem because they have an in-car DVD player which keeps them distracted for most of the trip. The only problems arise over the choice of DVD, and the constant requests for snacks (somehow sitting in a car affects their appetites and they basically want to graze non-stop). Our eldest would often prefer to read a book, which up until now we’ve vetoed as she occasionally gets car-sick, but I think for long, straight sections of motorway driving she’d probably be ok now.

Inevitably I think back to my own childhood in the back seat of the car. We never drove that far; the longest trip might be to somewhere in Cornwall, or east to somewhere in Somerset or Wiltshire, so a couple of hours maximum. And obviously we had no DVD players or iPods. “In my day we had to make our own entertainment!” Which mostly meant staring out of the window, or maybe listening to the radio. It also meant lounging around in various positions as back then seatbelts weren’t obligatory. I remember drives back from a day at the beach, sprawled across the back seat, my bare feet sticking out of the open window.

I also remember night-time drives at the end of a winter’s day out, and am reminded of this evocative clip from the opening scene of Kieslowski’s Three Colours:Blue, which perfectly captures the dreamy state of a young passenger hypnotised by the smeary patterns traced by street lights on the car windscreen.