I’m a good greenie, right? I disapprove of the wasteful burning of fossil fuels. I’m known to be scathing about things like Grand Prix racing cars, and humongous Hummers, and V8 engines, and don’t get me started on road versus rail, or river … You’ve got it, I’m sure. And so you won’t be surprised that the subject of cars – thinking about cars, dreaming about cars, learning about cars – doesn’t feature much in my day-to-day thoughts. Nor will you be surprised that, although I usually own a car, it’s just a car, a means of being independent, being able to pack up and go wherever I want, when I want – overseas tripping excluded.
I’ve a confession to make. Deep down inside (goodness knows the genesis of it), there’s a bit of a rev head lurking inside. I have a heavy foot on the accelerator, and I love to drive fast, really fast. The thrill is physical, and the mental high of marshalling my motor skills to thrust the car and me safely through the obstacle course of the road’s other occupants is an ego thing only an 18-year-old boy (sexist generalisation intended) could relate to – invincibility!
I’ve a second confession. I love driving with the hood down, even in the depths of winter.
I must make this a quickie post because I have to prepare another for tomorrow (I’m having lunch with C – she whose fault all this is – and since she’s been working in Vietnam for almost six months, we’ve got a lot of gasbagging to do), so I’m resorting to point form to help us whizz through these confessions of my life with cars.
Learned to drive by driving the tractor on the farm. Little grey Massey Ferguson. Had to stand to reach the peddles. Was quite good, though Papa wouldn’t allow me to do furrows; but pulling the sprayer, or trailer, those sort of things: I guess I was handy to have around – Ma wasn’t into that stuff. Anyway, farming was our thing, Papa’s and mine.
Third Confession One afternoon Ma and Papa went with friends in their car, leaving ours (sic) at home in the shed. Don’t ask me where the idea sprang from, I have no recollection of it springing, but it’s the first time I know there’s something wild inside I didn’t know about before. Someone, (can it really have been me?), took the keys from Papa’s dressing table and marched straight to the shed, popped the keys into the ignition, pulled the starter, found reverse, backed out of the shed, and did a tidy three-point turn down the drive. Crossed the ramp, stopped at the road, looked to the right, turned left and proceeded townward. Came to the big bridge across the main drainage canal and, don’t you know it, zipped across the road, plunged down to the canal side track and proceeded to hoon along the canal inspectors’ route, up hill, down dale, all around the Hanwood canals for – I don’t know how long. The only thing that sent me homeward was the approach of night, I think (and mental exhaustion, but I’d have been too exhilarated to have known about that).
I know this was an unpremeditated act because I remember I had no shoes on. I can’t tell you how old I was, but I remember having to sit forward a little to see. It was certainly before I went away to Boarding School (13), and I’d say, before I’d made my first real friend, Jilly (10-11) otherwise it’d have been the two of us, or it wouldn’t have happened. I can’t believe I wasn’t caught, and I never had the opportunity to do it again. But even now, when I think of that afternoon, the pulse in my throat is pumping adrenaline straight to my fingertips, enlivening my toes.
Fourth Confession The next time I was alone behind the wheel of Papa’s car (a very swish white Humber Sceptre Mk3, I recall – it’s ok, I had my license by now – following volatile episodes with Papa as instructor) I was driving to see a girlfriend across the other side of town. (I liked to drive and sometimes if he wasn’t using it, Papa would give me permission to go somewhere.) The road was beautiful, well carpeted, as they say here in Sri Lanka, straight as an arrow, almost no traffic. Before I knew it I was hitting a hundred – miles per hour, that is. Whaaa. Posts at the side of the road whacking by like the strokes of a metronome.
I don’t know where the idea came from, to see how fast the car could go. It was unpremeditated. I remember being quit surprised – initially …
I think I must have been seen, because it wasn’t much later that Papa made me a proposition. He said that Mr. Beltrame had a trade in he would recommend to Dad (so obviously Papa had been talking to him about a car for me?), and if I could come up with $90, Ma had agreed to match it, and I could have a car of my own.
Serendipity – I’d just received my very first income tax refund. I had the money; of course I leaped at the offer. My own car? Are you kidding? Papa did all the paperwork, and brought MY CAR home.
I wasn’t allowed behind the wheel until a few things were cleared up. I had to change all four tyres (just to prove that I could, that the first wasn’t a fluke). I had to promise to monitor oil and water at least weekly, check battery fluid too. And, I had to learn about the engine. It was an old car, he said (didn’t I know it, sinking feelings at first sight only outweighed by the immanence of the freedom it represented), and he wanted me to be able to get myself out of trouble if it broke down (remember, we lived in the country, so I understood about being stranded …). Now, Papa wasn’t much of a grease monkey, just a farmer, but you’ve heard people talk about how resourceful farmers need to be? My Papa was one of those, so he knew basically how most things worked. We examined deep down into the depths of that engine, even some head gasket, was it? It was all pretty messy, but my impatience …
… even if the car was older than me (or so I thought, and proclaimed – I’ve just looked on the internet, and it was actually ten years younger than me – a two-tone green Vauxhall Victor, 1958). Many adventures (which is all you need to know about that) did I had in that car, which passed in turn to my silent partner when I went back to Sydney to live the following year.
The next car I owned was another elderly gal. Picked her up for a song (I was broke, a snow bunny without snow or work because of the Foehn) in Amsterdam just after Christmas, 1973. Needed wheels to meet up with friends in Torremolinos, heading for Morocco (no, no, we were amazed when we read Michener’s book; he must have been there researching just before us). We had a few problems, like brakes failing crossing the Simplon Pass in a snow storm, wipers ditto in a terrible storm somewhere in Belgium on the way back up to Amsterdam to sell it (even more broke by now), but she was home and transport for an exhilarating five months on the road, survived a ransacking by Spanish Customs, and I more than recouped my initial outlay – I guess that’s the beauty of inflation, right?
Sixth Confession Not a bit of it. I ruthlessly exploited my status as a solo Aussi female traveller. Those American chaps knew all about cars, so … Little did any of us know, before the year was out their time on the road would have become a nightmare anyway – the Oil Crisis almost crippled supply and sent the cost of fuel, especially in Europe and the UK, way beyond the reach of travellers.
Rest assured the universe paid me back for that. I won’t bore you with a litany of mis/adventures in the succession of lemons that followed that transaction, beginning with the orange Datsun I bought with my first tax return in Canada in the mid-70s, and culminating in the green Fiat Spyder Convertible that ended up costing me as much as a baby Merc by the time I gave up on it and traded it in for a newish Toyota about 20 years later.
Seventh Confession After Papa died, and it was just Ma and me, I blew my super payout (it wasn’t enough to fund much else, believe me) on a bright red almost new Mazda MX5. It was perfect. With the hood down I could lift Ma in and out without any trouble, and with a double ended hook/elastic thingy her wheelchair fitted snugly in the boot. Even she – who hated the wind, and never in her 90 odd years ever dreamed of the wind in her hair – enjoyed driving with me around the beautiful winding roads through the pastures and forests of the Sunshine Coast hinterland, or up, or down the coast, wave watching. And before things turned badly for her, I took ten days respite and drove, topless (except that day it rained) down the coast to Sydney to see friends, then looped back home via the wide open roads of the western plains – hatted and gloved, mohair blanket wrapped around my body, heater on full blast, rosy-cheeked and fully replenished under those deep blue Aussi winter skies.
And here’s my final confession. I miss it. I miss my little red Mazda. It’s the only possession I’ve ever had that I wasn’t able to just let go of – poof – to feed the insatiable needs of that wanderlust gene.