This is a vintage Dinky Toy. It is a 1947, or so, Oldsmobile, which I fell in love with the minute I saw it. I love old cars…the early years of the automobile industry were like the early epochs of life on earth when nature was experimenting with every and all weird life forms before the big meteor put a stop to all that unregulated invention.
By1947 the varieties of cars were much more standardized, but look at this thing! It has a kind of panther silence and elegance that no modern car can boast. I saw a beautiful Dodge from the same period in the parking lot of a garage in Ashland the other day, and I just wanted to put a white silk scarf around it’s neck, and give it a top hat. It looked ready for a night out in Manhattan. For me a car like this blue Oldsmobile exemplifies something about the primacy of appearances during the times I write about.
In the 1940s you had to look dressed if you went out of your house. You wore a hat, and stockings, and placed a handbag on your wrist that snapped shut with a smart report, and you always had a clean handkerchief. None of your schlepping to the supermarket in your flip flops and sweat pants with a shapeless beat up leather bag slung across your chest. (In the winter? Flip flops? Really, Vancouver??) Of course, you had time making sure you were seen at your best in those days because you weren’t frittering away your life with selfies and liking things on social media.
One of my characters in Death In The Darkening Mist drives one of these beauties…blue too, funnily enough. I bought this Dinky Toy several years ago, before I started my Lane Winslow series, because I’d started a bit of a vintage dinky toy collection. These are the only cars from the era I can afford. My mother always thought I was completely nuts. She was born in 1912, and her whole life she strained and reached ahead towards modernity, while I spent my life with my back to it all trying to imagine the world before these often tiresome, noisy, isolating times.
My childhood home was full of the latest understated sleek Danish furniture, and she always drove the latest model anything. She loved new cars, and even after she was too old to drive and we’d be out walking, she would stop and purr with happiness if we encountered a sleek new Audi sports car. She’d walk around it and stroke it and then turn and say
to me, "What the hell is wrong with you?"
She despised nostalgia, and never engaged in it. Even her own childhood world held little appeal to her. For her it was the glory and the promise of modernity, of now. She’d say, “absolute rubbish” whenever I talked about the past. Of course she was there, so I suppose she’d know. But I was not to be dissuaded.
It has been seventeen years since she went to the great Audi showroom in the sky, but I’ve only now started writing about her world, and I started by imbuing Lane Winslow with the only thing my mother was really sorry not to have been able to carry out of the past: her own extraordinary beauty. Too bad I’m making her drive a second hand car!
If you've read A Killer In King's Cove, you've seen Lane Winslow, her face tilted up to reach the horn, inviting Angela to come down the hers for a drink, or contacting the Nelson Police about a body she's found lying around in a local creek. This (and thank you Nancy in Queens Bay) is the phone. It is most likely a Kellogg box wall phone, probably made some time in the 1920s. Now, the funny thing about that is by the 1920s rotary dial phones were already widely in use but companies were still producing this elemental model consisting of a crank, a horn to talk into and an earpiece.
In a community like King’s Cove in the 1940s, you didn’t need much more phone. If you wanted to phone somebody you turned the crank and got an operator, who would put you through to someone local, or even across the pond to the old country. I know that when I was a toddler, we had to count the number of rings before we picked up. In the world of party lines you were supposed to only pick up when the call was for you, because you didn’t want to listen to other people’s conversations. Well, you did, of course. But it was considered quite bad form.
Today we wouldn’t consider walking across the street to the drug store without our cellphones, in case something catastrophic happened in the five minutes it takes to pick up blue nail polish, but it is remarkable that in some parts of rural BC some places weren’t ‘on the phone’ until the early 1950s. In these early post war years, even some homes in small towns didn’t have telephones, because there were public phones on the street. Quite restful, really.
But at the same time, if you were stuck somewhere in the snow, or had a flat on a rural road, or had just been kidnapped by an evil-doer, and left on the side of a mountain you’d been driven to blindfolded, you pretty well had to have sensible shoes and be able to figure out where north was. It was likely a long walk to find someone who had a phone.
Luckily for Lane, and for us, the denizens of King’s Cove are busy and nosy, and all on the telephone…they wouldn’t dream of being out of the loop for a single second, at the rate that Lane Winslow, is finding bodies.