Oh, the good old days! My father was so proud of his Citroen. The superior front-wheel drive and hydro-pneumatic self-leveling suspension system were the topics of many a dinner conversation. He had us children positively giddy at the prospect of a wheel coming off as we were whizzing along the country roads. Indeed, this was a fond day-dream as I lounged on the back-window shelf, sickly-green from the Gauloises‘ smoke wafting from the front seat. Especially if we were stuck behind some slow caravan traffic– the inconsiderate kind that would not pull over onto the non-existent rocky shoulder, in order for us to pass in all our shiny black glory. Seat belts were never worn. This left the brats to fight with gusto over choice position in the three territories: the ‘hump’ was for the loser, the seat for the winner, and second place, the window shelf. By fate of birth order, this usually saw the youngest marooned next to the hump on the floor, the oldest draped on the comfort of the bench seat, and the middle child in the back window. It had a good view for daydreaming, but also graces me to this day with acid-etched vomit-memories.
This was the chariot that took us all the way to Kenya from South Africa, the car that we were surrounded in by a tribal uprising of Mau-Mau warriors, ‘saved’ only by the cuteness of our childish glee at all the commotion, according to family lore. The same lore also told of the time we did lose that tyre over the abysmal sides of a dirt road pass, merrily toodling along on the remaining three tyres, my father beaming under his rakish beret at a most unfortunate mishap averted by clever engineering.
December holidays were spent criss-crossing the country. When we were small we travelled in the Citroen, as we got older, in a VW Kombi camper. The final destination was a beach, or if the mood so swung, a game park. Visits to extended family were mandatory, since we only had the opportunity once every couple of years.
We had a slew of Citroens after that first one, the one that had replaced the Goggomobil, with its butterfly doors that opened to the front. Of course, this is a faulty, glowing memory induced by re-telling and re-imagination. They were suicide doors, not butterflies…and then there was that poor stray cat that was run over by the …surely not the Citroen…no, the memory of that first magic pneumatic car shall not be tarnished!
True, my own first car was also an old Citroen, a bad choice forced by lack of money, and nostalgia. It was a smaller model– a bananayolk-yellow one– that gave me nothing but grief, stranding me without brakes and dragging its undercarriage in the dust because of failure of those same-some wondrous, magic pneumatics. I remember clearly the sad attempt I made to re-inflate* the pneumatic cylinders with compressed nitrogen pleaded off a small bemused roadside mechanic.
I still dream of owning a Deux-Chevaux. I know it’s partly the name– you can just hear those horse hooves thundering, no?–but also because this was the toktokkie model I had really wanted all along: a car with sufficiently eccentric character. But that time has passed. Maybe I’ll get a sun-cell-powered one when I’m eighty-four. ‘Sounds like plan.
PS: Here is a link to an excellent article from Beetles in the Bush on tok-tokkies. Tok-tokkie was also a game we used to play as children. You knocked on someone’s door (preferably on a dark night) and ran away before they could open the door, and then repeated it several times, until you got caught or lost your nerve…those darn kids: we didn’t have television to distract us from such intellectual endeavours! The ‘o’ sound is pronounced as is the ‘a’ in ‘tall’.
(*pressurise, as described here)