With our DLPs (Darling Loving Partners) in the back seat, the good hearted manly man from next door, driving his very manly SUV, and your correspondent beside him in the front, we set off to our appointed barbecue at a beachside suburb McMansion. En route we were due to pick up Barb, mother of Jane, the manly neighbour’s wife. It transpired that she lived in a cute little cottage, hidden from its North Hobart street by a very long, narrow driveway. As manly men are able to do, Noel guided his 4WD into the narrow confines of the drive, with only a gnat’s wing of distance between his Mitsuibishi Challenger and the brickwork/paling fence on either side.
Now true manly men have little trouble coming to terms with the spatial awareness required in manoeuvering large moveable objects in confined spaces, and most can even do so in reverse. Some truly awesome species of the same can astoundingly reverse with unwieldy attachments appended - such as trailers, boats and caravans. Manly neighbour, once having picked up mother-in-law, actually backed out with greater speed along the driveway than he went in with. I was hugely impressed, but Jane piped up chastising him for ‘showing off’. I related the difficulties I had with the skill in driving backwards. And my DLP concurred with – ‘I can sure vouch for that. Have I a story to tell you!’
And so she then proceeded to relate to our friends the night of my greatest shame. I did not mind. She always did so in the most affectionate way, and, of course, Noel and Jane were by no means the first to hear it – but I think it is essential that I put in some background in first before it is transcribed to you, dear reader.
I have always had a rather uneasy relationship with cars. Sure, in my callow youth I had been excited by the freedom promised by the ownership of one, and I had passed my drivers’ ‘test’ with flying colours. The accompanying plod suggested we drive around the block to test my mettle. ‘Slow down, you’re going too fast down this hill,’ he nervously instructed at one stage, followed by a funny inhalation of breath as I almost removed a cyclist from his bike. At the end of it all he, rather shakily, uttered, ‘You’ll do,’ before handing over the desired for bit of official paper. See, back in those pre-seat belt days there was no inducement to fail would be drivers as a means of raising sorely needed governmental revenue! Why, mate Keith gained ‘his permission to drive a vehicle’ without even having to do a ‘blockie’. The local copper had seen him practicing in a Natone paddock, and that was near enough
My love affair with cars, as a means for getting from A to B, soon withered as a result of the prangs I endured in those first few years in the aftermath of achieving my licence. They ranged from driving a cherished sedan of my father’s into a herd of startled cattle in a farmer’s field somewhere in the backblocks north of Launceston, to crossing two lanes of city traffic in Hobs to plough into a sleek Volvo driven by my island’s chief magistrate. Needless to say the prospect of explaining to my father the damage to his car as the result of the former incident filled me with sickening dread. He was a lovely about it and there was very little blood involved. With the latter, it goes without saying that I lost the ensuing court case.
After a while I gradually became more proficient, with only the occasional banging into poles at supermarket carparks, and the removing of copious duco after altercations with other stolid obstacles to forward or backward propulsion, to show for my ineptness. I still, however, cannot get my present zippy little Mazda anywhere near a kerb in the city unless at least two parking spaces are available to me, but the most serious skill deficiency is my inability to reverse in anything remotely resembling a straight line. I find it somewhat amazing that beloved DLP will actually sit in a car with me, let alone allow me to move it at all – but she does so with the same sanguine patience that has allowed her to teach many others the rudiments of car handling. Several roundabouts/intersections in Hobart scare the bejesus out of me, and on more than a few occasions it has only been DLP’s startled, shrill instructions from the opposite seat that have saved us from destruction. She is a gem in that regard – so it was with some relish she proceeded to relate the story of my greatest driving shame to the other occupants of my neighbour’s wheeled behemoth on the day in question
It goes something like this:-
It was a dark and stormy night, and apologies to Edward Bulmer-Lytton for borrowing his immortal words, but it was, it truly was! It was a real beast, winter at its pluvial best. The rain was pelting and a scything wind was coming in from the west, rattling the eaves. And I had to brave it all to retrieve my beautiful daughter from her late shift at the local supermarket. Little did I know it then, as I passed out into the tempest, that I was within minutes of becoming humiliated by my very worst driving clanger – one that occurred before I had even left the property!
As I sat myself down in my old orange Ford Escort, that had truly seen better days, I was already in trepidation for, worsening the atrocious conditions, the gale had dropped allowing a sea mist to come in, shrouding all in a watery veil, making visibility substantially limited. But for manly men this would be just of trifling nuisance value, right? So bravely I commenced my mission. In reality the weather was the least of my troubles – the topography of our path for conveyance down to the street below was far more of an issue. After a flat bit, which I could handle with relative ease, it then dipped sharply down till it connected with the roadway. To make matters worse, whereas a paling fence was in place for the topmost stage to aid in navigation, by the bottom half it was replaced by a very low cement divide, impossible to see from my strained sitting position in my ancient jalopy, even in clear broad daylight. On that night I was perhaps doomed from the start.
Dear reader, can you picture it as I edged my car over the lip into that steep decline backwards? Can you foretell what was about to befall your hapless relater. Yes, you guessed it; I ‘parked’ my poor old bus on the dividing ledge. I somehow drove my unsuspecting mode of transportation onto that wall, and it quickly became evident I was stuck fast. No amount of frenzied acceleration of the forward kind would cause it to become unadhered. What a pickle! And almost at the same instant the great controller in the sky caused the storm to abate. But what to do, what to do!
I shamefully scurried back inside to inform my DLP of my ineptitude. Incredulity passed over her face, but to her credit she calmly took control of the situation, arranged for alternate means of ferrying home for gorgeous daughter and called RACT Man, who would surely know what to do. Buy the time he arrived a small group assorted helpful adults and whooping children had gathered, no doubt roused from their television by all the commotion, caused at first by loud scraping noises, and then the hoon-like revs as I had attempted to rectify matters. Even Big Dave from several doors down had put in an appearance, complete with ubiquitous blue singlet and stubby shorts, worn on all occasions without any concession to chilly air. With copious chest and armpit hair bristling, he was a known manly man, possessing intricate knowledge of matters automotive, and with much scratching of heads, he and RACT Man worked out a plan. I played no part in it – I remained in the shadows with lowered head. Their remedy involved pulleys, much stout rope, a gnarled gum tree, and much use of the Aussie vernacular – and, eventually, it worked. To the cheers of the gathered mini-throng, little orange Escort became a free car.
But I would not be let off so easily!
Shortly after, at a house not far away, my DLP’s bestie was relaxing in front of her tele, when she discerned a rap on her door. Opening up, she found her mate, RACT Man, on the doorstep, looking somewhat dishevelled and worse for wear. ‘Got time for a cuppa love? I’ve had a bugger of a go. I’ve met some dipsticks in my time, but you’ll never guess what some dickhead did with his car tonight……
Well, dear reader, you know who that dickhead was. My shame was complete!
My DLP loves me despite my failings in manly manliness, as do my offspring, one of whom has inherited his grandfather’s DIY gene. The big hearted, best neighbour in the world is ready to assist in manly deeds at a moment’s notice, and my wonderful DLP is no slouch in the practicality department either. So, with all bases covered, I can turn my mind to other not so manly pursuits, and passing tools when called upon – that is, if I know their names!