This morning, on my way to food shop and on my way from the Post Office Collection Depot in backstreet Rickmansworth, I found myself screeching to a stop, then reversing to check out a car being repaired in a tiny garage that I didn’t know existed. These facts alone are enough for me to have to both take and have a moment. Mrs Carmichael is not a car person as you well know (Is It Just a Car Thing or Are Men Really From Another Planet?).
In the micro sized garage was what looked, to my untrained eye, like a Rover 2000 in immaculate condition. And a mechanic working under the hood in not quite so. He was a bit more, shall we say, grizzled.
A car behind me honked.
“Is that a Rover 2000?” I asked the gnarled engineer.
The car behind me honked again.
“I learnt to drive in that car, ” I said scrabbling around in my handbag for my camera.
“I don’t think so,” he replied.
Are all men on the Asperger scale of literal comprehension? Don’t answer that.
He did not invite me in for a cuppa and a sit in the driving seat so, photo opportunity abandoned, I drove off to purchase ingredients for one daughter’s going away meal.
But I was stuck in the moment.
I had my first few lessons in a car identical to this. Shark’s front, black leather seats, a minimalist interior designed to include an oversized steering wheel and an arm rest to be fought over in the back seat. Oh and no power steering. This was the early 70’s after all.
My mother learnt to drive while she was pregnant with me and they (my parents) bought their first car to celebrate my arrival. It was a VW Beetle, light blue like the Rover and the height of coolness then and not because it was ‘retro’. It was brand new, back to front engineering and they were truly proud.
That car had indicators that stuck out, phallic-like from the sides of the car when manually activated, no central locking, airbag smherbag, and, of course, nada in the seat belting arena. Until the end of her driving days my mother would hurl her left arm hard and vigorously across any front seat passenger while breaking. Habits are difficult to kill off particularly where safety and my mother were concerned.
Driving up the Finchley Road last Sunday, I found myself behind this Beetle. It’s newer than my childhood means of transportation but not by much. The young things within will own it because it’s retro but to me it was another time-sucking moment.
That’s two then.
I did not learn to drive in the beetle, not the racing green Morris 1100 they owned afterwards. No, I had my first lessons in the Rover 2000, down Karori South aways with my father when I was fourteen.
But my favourite car of my New Zealand childhood belonged to my uncle B…… It was a 1964 Holden Station-wagon, red and white with round tail lights and vast expanse to play ‘corners’ with friends on the way to the beach. There you are, another thing that cannot be done in our seatbelt safe world today. ref: photo top – placed thus because I wanted this pic to show in the reader.
I completed my driving lessons in a 1971 Holden, three gear column shift, bench seat and woefully poor clutch pad. My friend S…… and I burnt it out on the eve of our tests. Smoke billowed up from the well and the smell of scorched car stays with me still. Clutch replaced and tests passed we were fifteen year old free agents. Have wheels will use them. And we did.
To this day I have no idea how J…. (my friend’s father) managed to teach two teenage girls to drive at the same time and stay remotely sane. If he didn’t he hid it well.
We never owned a Holden ourselves. My mother kept that light blue Rover for many years (in memory of my father I’m sure). In that time I managed to damage most panels on its body, various tyres and both front and back shiny bumpers. It was a good car until it almost killed her.
This morning I read about some poor soul crashing off a hillside in Wales whilst driving a vintage MG Midget.
And that allows me to segue straight into my third car related history moment.
I lived, albeit briefly, right under the Wellington Airport pylon that flashed red lights on and off, on and off into my curtainless bedroom window. It was at the very top of Mount Victoria in Roseneath.
My mother dropped me back at my flat one day, had a cup of tea and headed off down the hill home. What neither of us knew was that break fluid was pouring from the Rover’s undercarriage and her breaks had stopped working.
My mother was diddy. Five foot two with a following wind and those with a retentive memory will know the Rover had no power steering.
Thankfully, I knew nothing until a stranger brought Mum back to my house. She looked very worse for wear.
Apparently she tried to crash the beast into the hill a number of times, swerving to avoid oncoming cars as she gathered speed. Her final attempt caused her to ricochet from the bank, across the road and over the cliff to her death or so she believed. But, being Wellington and gradients no obstacle to the city’s homeowners, the Rover came to rest half on half off a wooden suspension driveway with 180 degree sea views beneath.
“I want a new car,” she told me when she regained her power of speech.
That was the end of the Rover. My mother bought a sensible Toyota (with seat belts and power steering) which outlived her.
I am not a car person but memories are funny things and whether it’s a garaged car in Rickmansworth, a North London road, the thought of driving lessons or a newspaper article it behoves us to take a moment to have a moment. Mine just happens to be car related this time.