It still seems weird to write dates that start with two-zero. When actual writing was still an actual thing, dates always started with a one-nine. It was actual writing that originally gave me RSI in the right wrist. From writing out invoices and orders at my job, when computers were just things that were talked about on Tomorrow’s World. And then writing the diary of 1994ever, which I eventually ended up turning to an old word processor to complete. It got to the point where I couldn’t even hold a pen.
The RSI returned later when I ended up back at an IT desk job, triggered by mouse usage. I switched to using the mouse with the left hand so that I could develop the pain there too. Not only do I have weak wrists, I ended up with torn elbow tendons too – this time from the repetitive work of being a barista. Really it would all go back to having poor posture and being a general weakling. I scoffed at my school friend who would spend time lifting weights to build his muscles but just how many things can you look back at and wish you’d have been smarter?
Today’s title is my obscure way of talking about cars. As I have very little interest in cars I thought it might be a challenge to try and write about them. Really they will just be a sidetrack to certain memories which will hopefully provide some amusement or at least diversion from things you might be more concerned about.
Before the age of eight, the only memory I have of my mother owning a car was falling out of it onto the pavement (it was stationary at the time). I don’t remember about feeling any pain but apparently, I was upset enough to be taken to the hospital and told that everything was ok.
I used to walk to school and I can vividly remember walking down into the town and back up the steep hill with my mother carrying bags of shopping and nagging me to hurry up. This was in a town called Whitehaven in Cumbria, England.
We left the north when I was 8 and spent six months in Devon but I don’t recall how we got there, whether by bus, train or car. I have little memory of us owning a car here but we must have as I do recall waiting outside the school gates to be picked up. In fact one day I was so annoyed and upset that my mother hadn’t come to pick me up and I ended up walking the 4 miles or so along the dual carriageway and up the hill to home. My mother was there and surprised to see me as it was only just after lunch. I thought it was home time somehow. I argued that it wouldn’t make sense to take me back to school just for another couple of hours before having to come back and pick me up again but she insisted. Bloody hell – I was upset that I wasn’t picked up, upset at my mistake and now triply upset at having to go back to school and answer questions about where I was after lunch. I guess I survived but wonder at what kind of psychologic impact seemingly little events like this cause us as we grow up.
I don’t know why we moved to Devon. I’m sure I was told but it probably had little meaning to my tiny mind. Six months later though and we moved again to my mother’s parents house in the countryside, about 4 miles outside the small town of Wimborne Minster in Dorset. The first car I remember from here was an old grey Austin Morris that had indicators that flipped out from the side of the car. I found this hilarious and somewhat embarrassingly old-fashioned. Because it was at this house I developed an interest in cars as most little boys do. I think the Morris soon died and I mostly remember us having a white Ford Cortina after that.
Matchbox is a name most people my age will remember. They were the most popular of toy cars though I seemed to own more of the cheaper brands than Matchbox ones themselves. Despite having Maseratis and Lamborghinis my favourite car was a Ford Capri. I just loved the design and the shape of the back window. Perhaps I also started becoming aware of our class status in the world and just as I couldn’t afford to have so many Matchbox cars, the luxury cars would forever be out of my reach and somehow a Ford Capri was still within the realm of possibility. I was only 10 so I should probably have started saving then.
Before I started being an anti-social teenager I would spend the evenings with my mother watching TV. She looked after her parents but I didn’t have much interest or interaction with them except for Sunday roast lunches and even that I managed to get out of when I was a little older. They weren’t horrible or anything, were quite left-wing I believe and also atheists. But they were terribly old fashioned and me, I was a young boy desperate for adventures but stuck in countryside England.
The couch in my mother’s room was like an upholstered park bench so there was a lot of space underneath it where were kept things that needed to be handy but not used every day. I decided I wanted to acquisition this space for myself. Not for my things but for me. I would lie underneath and watch TV from there with the aid of a cushion. I wonder now if this may have been the start of my dodgy neck and posture problems. I’m stretching and rubbing my neck now as I’m thinking about this.
Next to the couch was the bureau and I soon cleared out any junk and papers under here and made myself a space for a ‘race-track’. This was merely a space into which I could push my toy cars and see which went the furthest and I would do this relentlessly. The Ford Capri would often win and I somehow told myself this was because it was a superior car and not because I was pushing it harder than the others.
Next developed my interest in tables, scores and statistics. I was already a keen football fan and poured over books of tables and statistics of years gone by. My interest in music was also developing as I keenly watched certain songs go up and down the charts week to week on Top of the Pops. It was here that I saw the Sex Pistols playing ‘Pretty Vacant’ and things changed forever, but that’s another story.
I decided it was best to keep track of my car races and charted their progress. I don’t remember if it was day by day or week by week but I did fill a textbook with these charts and it was confirmed the Ford Capri was the greatest car in the world.
I think I must’ve stopped playing with these toy cars around the time that I retreated to live in my bedroom, or as I thought of it, as being too old to hang out with my mother. I would walk or ride my push bike around locally until my late teens when I upgraded to a little 50cc step-through motorbike that I would hammer to death and never maintain and it probably wasn’t until my early 20s that I bought my first car – my dreams of a Ford Capri as far away as the luxury European sports cars. I had to settle for a putrid coffee brown Morris Marina – my most hated car in the world. It showed me as much love in return and we gladly left each other about a year later after an aborted attempt to travel upcountry for a gig that saw me broke and dejected, borrowing money to buy some consolation beer for the sad train journey home.
I think I ended up with a blue Fiat 127 next. Extremely unstylish but I kinda grew to love it. The weird thing about this car was the massive thin gear stick. I discovered that this was a huge piece of plastic stuck on a tiny stick and ended up leaving it off. It would’ve been a very effective cosh, like a small baseball bat, but luckily never required that use.
The next car of note was a Vauxhall Princess and not of note because of its ability. The only excitement of this car was its purchase. Found in an ad in the local newspaper it wasn’t far from where I lived and was in the price bracket I could afford. I went round with my partner at the time and was greeted by a grubby overweight man in shorts and a wife beater. He showed us the car and we decided we wanted it so went into his living room to exchange money and papers. He took a seat in his armchair and filled out the paperwork. It was difficult not to notice two things at this point. One was the large jar of pickled onions beside his armchair, the other was the pornographic video we had interrupted his watching and that he thought was ok to let continue playing. Suddenly the man seemed grubbier still – I mean, come on, pickled onions! We dropped the money, grabbed the papers and escaped as quickly as we could, dreading to think what was now occurring in that dim front room.
At some point, that car left my life and the best car I ever owned entered. Again, sourced from a newspaper ad – that was the only way to do things back then. This was the magical Ford Escort that would soon be dubbed the ‘Rocket from the Crypt’. The special thing about this car was that its body was barely held together by rusted metal and was sure to fail its next inspection – hence its price of 20 pounds. The magic was underneath the hood as this thing never failed to start and never suffered any issues at all. Sadly when it came to inspection time we had to let it go as the cost to fix up the exterior would be about 30 times what we paid for it. I reluctantly sold it for 15 pounds and annoyingly found out someone had done a dodgy service on it putting it straight back on the road – something I wish I had considered. I found out because I received a letter in the mail from the local police about driving away from the scene of an accident but I pointed out to them that I had already sold the car prior.
After this came a Mini van which I adapted with cheap stereo equipment and I would often bring along a second car battery to hook it up to directly, put the speakers on top of the car and have an impromptu party, jumping up and down on the bonnet. Ok, I only did this once and I was drunk and high at Reading Festival but the memory is clear on that one.
The downside of this Mini van though was that the back doors didn’t quite close properly and the exhaust fumes would get sucked back into the car often making us feel sick. As well as that time driving back from the Phoenix Festival in the pouring rain and windscreen wipers stopped working. That was a tough drive.
That was all in England. Once arriving in Australia cars became more functional, reliable and obviously, more expensive. No 20-pound bargains here. Due to the great distances required to travel anywhere else from where you are reliability becomes much more important. I stuck with Hyundais and Toyotas, the Toyotas starting out as lease cars and often lent to friends in bands to tour as I needed to achieve a certain mileage each year to warrant it being leased, else paying huge penalties.
Very little to report about these cars except the one night parked on a busy street in Newtown, my girlfriend and I steamed up the car windows with various acts that were thankfully ignored by passers-by. That gear stick though….. Afterwards, we went to see the Jesus Lizard. What a night.
Just before leaving Sydney my work colleague asked if I would like to sell him my car – a well serviced white Toyota Corolla that I never ever washed. He wanted it for his daughter’s birthday which was a couple of months away. I thought it was a good idea but still needed it to drive to Adelaide and would probably need until I decided to leave, but if he could wait until then, then it was a deal.
As it turned out I ended up sharing a house with a guy who likes buying cars, fixing them up a bit and then selling them again for a couple of hundred dollars profit. This meant there was always a spare car or two hanging around the house. My friend back in Sydney was often making sure the Toyota was still available so I asked my housemate about the possibility of using one of his cars for a while until I left. One of the cars he had around was a beat up Ford Falcon ute which he was actually hoping to keep around as it was useful for carrying things about the place but he was also thinking he’d have to sell as he was mainly using another car to drive to and from work all the time. And so a deal was struck. If I paid for the ute’s registration I could use it and my friend could come and pick up my Toyota, and in time for his daughter’s birthday.
This ute is my second favourite car as it is a big chunky wreck. Even my housemate said not to worry too much if it gets any little dents and other drivers in their nice newish cars tend to steer clear as much as they can. It drives like a demon, has no aircon or heater and stinks of petrol and years of ground in oil and dirt. It’s done nearly 400,000 kilometres and is on its second engine. The accelerator is a little sticky and it chews up petrol so I’m not going on any fancy drives anywhere but for the back and forth to the office it’s perfect.
This update has reminded me of a Toyota ad that was constantly played on TV when I arrived in Australia. “More room front to back, more room side to side, the really really roomy Toyota!” Advertising does work I guess.