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.
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.