Remembering dear old Mopsy and my fishing box

Torbay Weekly

I’ve never been a petrolhead. My only interest in cars was to get from A to B, although for some of the cars I’ve had over the years, even that was asking a bit too much.

We once had an old Austin Maxi, which liked Devon. Whenever we left the county, it broke down either in Somerset or Cornwall.

But, like many people, our favourite car was our first. In the early 1970s, we bought a 1963 Morris 1000 for £150 and finally sold her eleven years later for £80. Modern cars are functional computers on wheels. No one gives computers a name but we christened our Morris 1000 “Mopsy”. We already had a Peter. Cotton Tail and Flopsy didn’t seem right.

She had several advantages, which are not a feature of modern cars. She had a starting handle. When the battery was flat, which was often, I could get out, put the starting handle into the front and with a few hard twists the engine would start. It would be better if I could park her facing down a hill, as I could then bump start it. I may have lost any younger readers, who would have no idea what I’m talking about.

On one occasion, I visited an elderly man with severe chest problems. When he saw me starting the car with the starting handle he came out and said, through the wheezes, “Do you need any help Doc?” Luckily, the car started.

Another advantage was the quarterlight, a small window in front of the side windows. Even with the car locked, a quick push and I was in. This was particularly useful on a Sunday afternoon, when I was working in Plymouth.

Although based at Freedom Fields Hospital, I had to go to Devonport Hospital to clerk in some patients for the operating list on Monday. As usual, the battery was flat and so I crank-started the car with the starting handle. The engine started but the door slammed locking me out.

In the middle of visiting time, I was standing in the hospital in a white coat and a stethoscope sticking out of my pocket, holding a starting handle and locked out of my car with the engine running. Luckily, I pushed the quarterlight and I was in.

She did not have added luxuries, such as a windscreen washer, so we had one fitted. It was under the dashboard and worked like a water pistol, push it hard enough and a few drops of water might appear on the windscreen.

But it also leaked and so, when I pushed it, I always got a soggy hand, which was probably wetter than the windscreen. This would have been useful during the pandemic when we had to wash our hands frequently.

When in practice in Torquay in the 1980s, before Devon Doctors on call service, I kept a fishing box in the boot with all the drugs I needed. As I opened it up, I had the syringes and ampules easily accessible. Luckily, no criminals knew about my appalling lack of security.

Perhaps foolishly, I once invested in a green flashing light. We had fitted a cigarette lighter as a socket, which hung precariously under the dashboard. The only time I tried to use my flashing light all the fuses blew. I was told by the garage that this car was wired the opposite way to other cars.

At one time, we also had an old 1100 car, which had a massive advantage. By chance, it took exactly the same key as Mopsy.

Sadly, we all have a limited lifespan, even old Morris 1000s. Taking the children to school I lifted up the front seats to let them in the back and one commented “Dad, I can see the road”. Yes, the bottom had fallen out.

My latest car has intelligent cruise control, cameras at the front and back and makes lots of bleeps, which I don’t understand. Surprisingly, there is no starting handle and we haven’t given it a name.