In Which Mrs Carmichael Takes a Moment To Have a Moment

my uncle's was red but everything else identical to our days at the beach (www.flickr.com)
my uncle’s was red but everything else identical to our days at the beach (www.flickr.com)

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.

they don't build 'em like this today (www.motorbase.com)
they don’t build ’em like this today (www.motorbase.com)

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.

concentrate now, the VW's in the garage (mrscarmichael's mother)
concentrate now, the Beetle’s in the background (mrscarmichael’s mother)

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.

photo taken while driving excuses quality (mrscarmichael)
photo taken while driving excuses quality (mrscarmichael)

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.

first car I drove legally (Chris Keating)
first car I drove legally (Chris Keating)

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.

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36 thoughts on “In Which Mrs Carmichael Takes a Moment To Have a Moment

  1. Well, you’re having some moments here…weather? Shouldn’t it be whether? Or am I living in a grammatical past? And as for you not being a car person – you certainly know your Classic cars! (the best cars, full of individuality)

  2. I love this post. I didn’t learn to drive until I was well into adulthood, but I remember the American counterparts (Beetles, of course, were ubiquitous everywhere) to the cars you described quite well. And of course, it was my father’s right arm that would shoot across the front seat.

    I will say, I haven’t driven in years now, but the cars I owned when I did drive had no power steering. I wonder if I’ll end up on the wrong side of the highway if I were to drive and try to change lanes now…
    🙂

    1. yes parking was a real combination of art and brute strength back then. I am gobsmacked by the HUGE size of that blue Holden I learnt in. Kids have it too easy now (she smirked).
      They got us Kiwis driving once we were outa nappies ( trans:diapers).
      Thanks re the post. i had no idea what I was going to write about today. Who am I kidding? Do I ever?

      1. LOL! My husband doesn’t get it, the couple of times I drove an automatic I found it very confusing.

        The best posts are the ones that flow, unplanned 🙂

  3. A very enjoyable story for one who came to think of his own vehicle as something mainly held together by its dents – 22 years old, the odometer shows 250.000 km, another eight years till we are officially talking classic – and mechanics keep telling me “aye, ’tis a good car.” I am not a car person either. So I guess I could enjoy your angle all the more.

  4. My mum had the same rover in a yummy (not) mustard and I didn’t learn to drive in it because I was ten! Xx

  5. OMG! One of my first boyfriends used to be allowed to borrow his dad’s Rover 2000 (sort of goldy-mustard colour). We were sooooo cool hooning around Tokoroa on a Friday night. My dad tried to teach me to drive in a Morris 1800 (epitome of un-cool), but gave up when I backed into the fence. Instead another boyfriend taught me in his Series One Landrover. My first car was a Racing Green Morris Minor that had those cool little flick out indicators and needed some very deft work on the clutch to change gears. I don’t think of myself as a car person either (despite, or probably because my other half has worked in auto design for ever), but I got all goose-pimply with excitement reading your post and remembering all the old cars in my life. I think it’s partly a kiwi thing of growing up when people didn’t have new cars as much and so we were surrounded by ancient classics. My neighbour used to drive all the kids in the street to school in her VW Beetle when it rained. No seatbelts of course and she could pack in about half the kids at Bayswater Primary. Terrible driver – she ran her son over on the school pedestrian crossing. Luckily he was tough and bounced. Thanks for that; I’m going to have a smiley day now.

    1. I’m about to go to bed but smiling also. I do remember once being brought home from school by someone’s mum in an Austin Healey (green on green) and, being summer w all decided to stick a limb out of the car windows. I think there was about 6 of us. Anyway, a police car stopped us – siren and all- and gave the mum a roasting. We were all ‘hiding’ in the backseat foot well hoping to be invisible. Thank goodness he didn’t see us!
      As you say, this only scraped the surface of my NZ vehicle tales.
      thanks for your input 🙂

      1. there you go. I cannot get you ‘hooning around Tokaroa” in a mustard rover out of my head, I’m afraid. I only went there once. A lot of young girls were marching with batons to music. Were you one of them?

      2. No chance. I have no sense of rhythm; you can always find me in any organised dance/exercise class cos while every one else is moving left I’m stumbling to the right!

  6. Talk about a trip down Memory Lane! I’m sure I only got my driver’s licence because the tester felt sorry for me, and then I didn’t drive again until I got married. And I know what you mean about teaching offspring how to drive. I had visions of being transported all over town until the first time I took our daughter out. It was the scariest time of my life and I never did it again. I left the driving lessons to Mr ET after that!

  7. One thing also missing these days is the possibility for COD curves.
    Did you have them down under or beneath or across the globe, wherever exactly New Zealand is from Brooklyn? Or in England?
    Come over, darling curves. Teenage boys taking curves with a squeal as teenage girls either happily slid over into them happily or clung to the seat for dear life with gripping backs of knees. Seat belts have much to answer for — or not.

    1. oh yes, don’t know the term but certainly know the move. When I was back recently I noticed tyre marks squirling all over country lanes, asked my farming friend and the practice, belted or not, continues apace.
      Not here in London town, to my knowledge.

  8. Great memories indeed Mrs C and I am not a car person either but I do love old cars and you are right, they don’t make them as they used to. Great post and thanks for sharing hon. 😀 *hugs*

      1. Mrs C, I think car memories are up to a whole series, says she….. wouldn’t’ know where to start, or finish, come to that…(that’ll put you off, I’m sure)

      2. No, Sue that’s perfect! I am sure, if asked you could think of at least one important/bad/good/great/terrible thing that happened to you in or near a car 🙂

  9. I loved the bit about your mum throwing her arm out across the passenger seat in moments of abrupt braking! Because I am so often travelling with a stack of books, I seem to have fallen into the same habit. Freaks the hell out of my son if he happens to be in the car alongside me!

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