Thursday, 23 January 2014

Divorce in Top Gear



How do you roll? What are your wheels like? 

Do you think cars are for guys?

Well, just because I love heels doesn’t mean I can’t have a thang for cars. I was brought up that way. My Dad is a petrolhead and we always had a dashing family car. Anybody for some Starsky and Hutch? I thought our car was a copy of their flared 70s set of wheels. I am a freak for the 70s and never was this gal prouder than when her cool daughter confessed, Gosh Mum you’re sooo lucky to have grown up in the seventies (That was after a full indoctrination with Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, Jimi Hendrix, Earth Wind Fire – usually to drown them out when I was driving.)

In Australia we learn to drive early. I still remember walking up the front driveway on frosty mornings in my school tunic, to my driving instructor called Greg in an orange Datsun. We drove up and down the suburban streets. Greg put his hand on my thigh. I was very shy and just looked at it. 

I failed my first driving test when I drove straight into a massive intersection bringing a big semi-trailer to a screeching halt. The examiner turned white.

my blue citroen and a crazy property choice
Now that I’ve been driving for decades I’ve clocked up a few miles and much more confidence. At twenty-one I hired a car in Paris and was swept around the Arc de Triomphe not having a clue what was going on. I drove south in the spring and ate strawberries in fields and stopped at towns with cathedral facades rising above the rooftops. Vézélay, Poitiers, Tours, Carcassone, Albi. I had little money and slept cramped in the back seat – I’d drive till the late dusk then put up a towel in the window and curl up. Is anyone else thinking I was nuts? One night a tinkering started in my dream and it was a guy trying to break into the car. I sat up in shock and the poor thief ran for his life!

I lost all of my photos of that trip in Mogadishu, where we left everything. I wonder what Somali soldiers might have thought of photos of cows and cathedrals, markets and my pale feet and shins in laced-up espadrilles.. 

the open road in east Africa
Later I drove in Africa – a lot. From our first trips outside Mogadishu to my long voyages from Accra to Ouagadougou and Bamako. Once I took a wrong turn at Ouaga and drove over sixty kilometres of sand. At the border we came upon a Swiss couple on a tricycle - my view of the Swiss swivelled at that point. We drove over the moonlit Dogan highland in Mali and the long stretchy roads to the Niger. We had a beaten Nissan Patrol with holes everywhere – after the desert we were all covered in fine red dust and belonged to a new race. Red eyelashes, red hair, red noses.

In Mogadishu my ex had his sunglasses snatched from his face when he was caught in traffic. A policeman friend was paid and the prescription glasses were retrieved from the market.

In Brussels a woman sneezed and ploughed into the back of our old Citroen when I was nine months pregnant. I had my baby Omar the next morning. (Beware of Belgian drivers!)

In the Dolomites I learned to put on snow chains on my long slithering Merc station wagon in less than five shivering minutes - in a T-shirt.

Don’t we spend so much of our lives driving? I’ve gone through half a dozen cars, none of them Top Gear material, and these days my long drives are where I’ll think over my stories in silence, unless of course a teen has headphones plugged in and I have to listen to the fuzz of rap music.

moosecat
And have I spoken about driving in Italy yet? Do I really need to? You of course know that big cars take precedence, pedestrians are disregarded and cars can veer across the road when a driver is sending a message. And here in the country the old men wear hats driving and must be dodged. And if you lose control at the rulebreakers and put up the finger beware of a big Audi breathing down your neck.

And I’m also a veteran of the car breakdown. I’ve had gazillions of breakdowns. To the ex I once said, You know that this crappy car is going to lead us to divorce. He didn’t believe me. That year I was driving a made-in-Nigeria Peugeot with the air-con fitted in Ghana. I broke down out of town on a hillside and limped home. I broke down on the way to the doctor’s with a very sick kid. It was endless. Reliable cars can help marriages.

This month I’ve finally managed to bring a new, safe reliable car into this household. It’s already mud-splattered and the cats go pattering across the hood. For us, it’s a new chapter. I can listen to Jimi Hendrix with two speakers. I’m no longer terrified the engine will pike out in a winding mountain tunnel. I’m now no longer spending more money on fuel than food! It will take me an age to pay it off, but this divorced writer is sailing along in Top Gear.

Any wheels stories ladies?

16 comments:

  1. Car stories, where do I begin I could write a book. It runs in our family, my friend in school once told us "I love going out with you Auntie Norma (everyone was an Auntie)....I never know what's going to happen".

    I've been locked out, written off, attacked by my ex whilst trying to drive away, had my wheel nuts loosened (by same ex), lost, to tears, in raptures....you know what I mean, hitch hiked, picked up by a sexy guy in ITaly as a backpacker, and don't start on my Mum....the entire family know the stories of her driving exploits.

    Now I no longer drive, in Italy no way never, and now I have a PTSD relationship with all things car xx

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    1. Wheel nuts loosened by your ex??? Now that I think of it I once opened the door and had every intention of hopping out of the car with one of mine..
      PTSD?? Xcat

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  2. As a lifetime-long pedestrian & bus-stop cowboy (or bici in Vicenza!) I enjoyed your motoring stories. But could you imagine how a man's masculinity might be compromised by admitting that he doesn't drive? At least women aren't judged on their engine capacity or the size of their front bumpers! (on second thoughts...forget the front bumpers!...& say fuel-injection!). And Belgian drivers are terrible!...Italians make them look like the world's worst!

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    1. Belgian drivers ARE the worst. It was easier driving in Somalia with the camels. Don't worry I know another bloke who doesn't drive - he's from Venice. But my fifteen-year-old can park my car!

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    2. Never really needed a car in London...what with the streets full of water?! Public transport is so much more sociable! Have picked-up all kinds of experiences on pubtrans!...the tube line up to Wembley one Saturday morning on a empty train was a once-in-a-lifetime trip!

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  3. I love driving, so long as the car's a manual - do not ever ask me to drive an automatic! But I also love walking, and sitting in the pulse-thrum of a train zippering the countryside....

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    1. I also only drive a manual. And I drive heaps!! But one day I will be living in Paris with my walker frame and hobbling to the métro!! Xcat

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  4. Great car stories, Catherine! Wow - if you've driven in Africa, you can drive anywhere. But think Italian driving stories merit a whole new post... : )

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    1. Oh but I did write one of my all-time favourite posts about driving in Veneto. Don't you remember when I was accused of Driving with my Uterus??

      http://thedivorcedladyscompaniontoitaly.blogspot.it/2012/11/driving-with-my-uterus.html

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  5. Having a very reliable good quality car is now paramount to me. When I was young, car problems were something I took in my stride, but now, I do not want to worry about breaking down or getting a flat. I have always appreciated nice cars, more like boys do, but now I drive my own. I have driven in Italy and enjoyed it. I will be back there in May and plan to hire a car and drive but definitely not in the cities. And yes, Cat, car problems can cause relationship problems. Lyn

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    1. You are brave! We all know how frantic it can be driving in Italy. And I don't do cities very often - especially ones I don't know! - though I do loads of mountain driving which I like. Yesterday I drove through the Monte Bianco tunnel on the way back from Paris. Wonderful!
      I do hope May is not too rainy on the roads here..

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  6. I never thought I would, but I have become used to driving in Italy. Getting an Italian drivers licence was one of the most horrific things I have ever had to do, but a few years on and I drive almost amywhere...except in Florence or Rome.

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    1. I also had to sit for my test again - at forty! It was quite a challenge. And even driving in Padova I managed to pick up TWO fines for passing through a no-traffic zone I never noticed!

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  7. Haha - glad you have the new wheels!! Morris Minor - or 'bloody morry' as it became known was one of my 'adventures'! That was my first car, the 2nd one had a spare tyre which I found out didn't fit the car when I needed it! And a friend of mine we used to car pool on my first job - we had a flat every week for a month so were continually late to work to the point where we would laugh coming into work as it was so bloody unbelievable - but true!!

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    1. A flat every week! Rather insane.. You'll see my new wheels next time you're around for a drink. A bloody Mary?? For a 'bloody morry' driver?

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