A 1937 review of "Three Lands on Three Wheels” by Jan and Cora Gordon: "Wifekiller" and Vin Ordinaire

The Waterford Standard on Saturday 22 May 1937, presented the Book of the Week, Jan and Cora Gordon's ‘‘Three Lands on Three Wheels.”

The text is as follows:

"One of the objections to the draft Constitution of Eire —another new name for the same old country —is that it puts women in a position of inferiority. All our most advanced women and female politicians are protesting that the new Constitution will deprive them of certain rights and drive them back to the home and family life. Personally, I don’t think the new Constitution will make one iota of difference to women; but in any case if family life can be made anything like the menage of Jan and Cora Gordon we should all be charmed with it. Robert Frost, the American poet, who is creating a new cult, says: If men were as much men as lizards are lizards They’d be worth looking at.” 

And I am certain that if family life had some of the adventure, some of the happy-go-lucky, carefree atmosphere, some of the joyous sense of partnership of Jan and Cora Gordon it would be worth living. There is a lot of truth in the old saying, "As we make our bed we must lie on it"; and only people with little imagination, lacking any real zest for life, incapable of love, would make it hard and uncomfortable. Mr. Auden, who is also a modern poet, says of Robert Frost: "he knows that however much we resent it, our life depends on material things.” Yes; but there is a pleasure and happiness in frugality; in making the most of things; in spending wisely and constructively; in planning to get the best out of life with the means we have; in keeping out of the commonplace rut. 

Jan and Cora Gordon, in their delightful travel-book (“Three Lands on Three Wheels.” George G. Harrap and Co., Ltd., London) describe "The Tour of the Wandering Wardrobe” in France, England and Ireland. Perhaps I can best give you an idea of how Jan and Cora (by the way, he calls his wife Jo throughout the book) planned the journey, and at the same time illustrate my introductory homily, by quoting the authors’ description of the second-hand motor-cycle and side car — hence the three wheels — on which they got about. 

  "Our purchase was not viewed with enthusiasm in the green-bowered alley of studios where we lived in Paris. General opinion seemed to be that we had joined a suicide club. Our death warrants were sealed. The neighbouring sculptor’s pretty little daughter stared earnestly into Jo's face with her sloe-black eyes and sighed: And you were such nice people.” 

True they didn’t know that Jo would not be riding alongside in the ‘wifekiller.’ That was only for luggage. She was to take her place on the pillion scat in what I claimed to be the ideal situation for a married woman: ‘Behind but slightly above her husband.’ Our side-car was only a makeshift. It was piece of ironwork that had rusted for many years among the debris of the agent’s store, and he added it for the modest sum of an extra pound. was only a skeleton and on its empty springs we placed a long box, some five feet by two and a half feet square, which, painted a natty green, gave us what we hoped was an air as respectable as that of any baker’s boy with his moto delivery-van. The sculptor, father of the child who had uttered our epitaph, cast an eye on our apparatus and exclaimed: Mais, voyons, c’est une veritable armoire ambulante ! ’ Translated into English it became thus: The Wandering Wardrobe.” 




Here we see that Jan and Cora Gordon do not depend for their joy of living on what the Americans expressively call plenty. They had no limouisine, best quality travel bags, nor a penchant for high-class hotels. Their experience of French provincial hotels is lesson for anyone who has the spirit of wanderjahre and not too much money to indulge the craving for travel and change. At a little French hotel they were greeted by the proprietor: 

"He did not intrude, but merely waited ready to be addressed on the subject of wine if we were so disposed. He was a sergeant-majorish-looking chap, certainly not one who would have suggested a delicate appreciation of good things, a kind of natural Beefeater if you will. Uneasy for a moment we tried the test question: 
"What about the wine, patron?"
"There is no need to put yourselves to unnecessary expense unless you wish,” he replied. "I have an excellent vin ordinaire that I can recommend.” 
He had passed with flying colours. Perhaps nothing reveals the true quality of the French innkeeper more neatly than this question of his wine. If the fellow is a mere money grubber in the purses of strangers he will at once produce the wine-card and suggest something vintage. I would not decry your vintage wines—far from it ! —but everything in its place. Vintages are not for everyday casual drinking; they should be used on occasions when a proper homage can be paid. So if your host is a man who has a sense of proportion superior to his desire for gain he will probably have a nice vin ordinaire selected by himself, and he would rather you drank his ordinaire, thus complimenting his taste, than that you should squander your money on Chambertins or Chateaux La Tour. So if your host recommends his vin ordinaire trust him. You will be right nine times out of ten. Is there not the famous story of old Henri, at the Tour d’Argent, in Paris, turning out of his restaurant a tableful of foreign diners who had ordered in too wholesale a fashion? “Here.” he had said, “ one dines; one does not guzzle.” 




I could go on quoting from this fascinating book; for there is nothing 1 like better in the "literature of escape" than the travel story or the biography of some wayward and adventurous soul. Jan and Cora Gordon are both artists; they have this happy affinity of temperament, and in their personal contretemps they have the saving grace of humour. About England, France and Ireland they have in this book given us fresh and individual impressions, and I will conclude by giving you a significant quotation in which Ireland is summed up from the tourist point of view in very few words: “In Germany almost everybody is beginning to take his holiday on the roads; afoot, with motor-bike, or in a car. In France cheap touring has been brought to a high pitch of economical perfection. In Ireland a certain easy wit and fluency enlivens the dreariness and monotony of the food and accommodation to be found.” 

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