Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Top Gear

Now I has been around for a while. No, not round, *A*round. OK, maybe just round as well.

One of my first memories is that of being in a car and turning into the street of the house in which I would grow up. If my memory serves me right (what were we talking about?) I was in the back seat, either that or "in the back" behind the back seat, in the luggage space of our blue Hillman Hunter (sorry Milos, no relation), similar to the one below, but an Estate (wagon). Hence the child accessible rear space. I used to love it back there. A playroom as we drove! Before mum told me off (crazy woman thought it was unsafe!) and I had to crawl forward to the rear seat, or even over again to the front seat. There, I'd put my head in mum's lap as she drove and I'd go to sleep. Snug, safe. Those were the days of wonder and innocence.

But one thing troubled me about driving with mum from Colac, or from Melbourne, back home. How could she stay awake for over an hour? It was beyond me. My sister and I counted the lines whisping underneath us (or so it seemed - I hope mum wasn't driving in the middle of the road!) one whisp, two whisp, three whisp, bored. Asleep in three minutes. Maybe someone else came in magically and drove for her, maybe there was an auto-pilot that only came on when I was asleep... I'd wake up and we'd be home, turning up the drive.

The car, back to the car, would have been a 1956 vintage, or maybe an earlier model. My father died in 1957 and maybe it was his car. Was it? [Maybe my sister will correct me on this. ADD: No, mum bought it when she came back to Colac - Dad worked and died in Shepparton]

I have always held this memory precious as one of three that I recollect from when I was aged three years old. The other two are not relevant here (though I do miss when our pretty young maid used to bathe me so gently, so slowly and so comprehensively.*)

OK then, the real second: Grandmas's birthday was one day before mine, and there was an upsurge of disappointment I felt when the penny dropped that this big family gathering at my Uncle Ed's was for her, not me. For my birthday I received a plastic pencil holder, full of colored pencils, that was shaped like a pencil. I recall holding it, and stifling a sob. I recall the emotion as vividly as I recall the party.

Third: looking at a dark brick house, up near Geelong College primary school, that I think Mum was considering buying before the house in the other street, (car, corner, remember)? This was an emotionally neutral occasion, thankfully.

Mum was changing gear as we turned the corner. I can see the car from the outside, in a wide-view, turning past the empty block on one corner and the Smith's (not that name but I can't remember) on the other. How can I have seen this view and remember it so vividly when all the while I was in the car? Spooky mystic weird. It's a mystery.

Since that time I have been in many, many vehicles. I remember being driven to the Saturday morning Legacy children's group in Mr Grenville (name? Paula help me out, again)'s Mercedes. His model had a speedometer like a barber's pole - weird, eh? It was the first car with automatic transmission I had been in. I was maybe six or seven. I was cheeky, I was restless, I was who I am now, only more-so (as I have said before.)

All the other cars mum owned (a 1966 Holden HR, registration JPZ-367, a 1972 Datsun 180B - second hand) or any that my older sister owned (can't remember the makes, but one of them was so light we nearly got blown off the West-Gate Bridge when I borrowed it one time [or was she driving?] - another time we were stoned/pissed and got pulled over by the police, and I talked my way out of it, amazing since I could hardly stand up [don't tell her OK?]) when I was growing up (to the point of getting married, the growing up stopped) were manual transmissions.

Mum gave me the HR when I left school so I could drive to LaTrobe Uni (and to the beach), and she kept the 180B (which was the car I did my license test in). I promptly lost my license for speeding in the HR two months later. I used to run out of petrol all the time too. I once put 42c of petrol in and expected to get to Bell's Beach and back... Idiot.

The first car I bought myself was after I was married (or just before). It was a Triumph TC2000. It only broke down four times a month. The sump cover was held on with three bolts (one stripped) and a mess of gasket-goo rather than four bolts. It had a nice 4-gear stick-shit in the centre console and was great fun to drive. Once, early on, the transmission seized in the middle of an intersection in Torquay. I had gone surfing. The car just froze and people started tooting. I tried to push it out of the intersection, but it wouldn't move, downhill even. It wouldn't come out of second gear and the wheels wouldn't turn. The road was semi-blocked by my car, which had a surfboard sticking out the window, until a tow-truck from an RACV garage came, an hour later and took it away.

We figured that the sales-yard had used the old trick of putting banana skins into the gear-box to silence the noise of wear.

It was not a station-wagon, though there was one in the yard but that one was beyond my meagre loan acceptance earnings. I have beautiful pictures of No1 son, then a curly-haired, rosy cheeked, completely lovable cherub of three himself, standing in the open rear trunk of this car. Why? I think we were packing for a picnic or unpacking from one, and had put him in there to keep him out from under our feet for a while. So funny. Note, it was not a station-wagon but still here is evidence of an hereditary need to get "in the back".

Eventually all the breakdowns were getting too much for us and we had to get rid of it - note the wood panelling the doors! - before it drove us (ha ha) broker than what we were.

The next one that came was a Chrysler Sigma; yes, a station wagon (estate). And a big drop back in social status. Most of this model were branded Mitsubishi as they bought Chrysler out at about this time. It was Japanese car under the bonnet anyway. It turned out to be an ex-rental and I determined that the yard had wound back the mileage, as the service manual showed it had had its 30,000 km service while the clock read only 26,000km. I took photos of this. I got $400 bucks off (about 5% of the purchase price) when I threatened to take them to some authority or other and sue the bums. That was the first time I sold my soul, btw.

Then over a few years (maybe eight) as the Sigma started to fall apart, I sensed the embarrassment No1 son was feeling whenever I parked next to the Mercs and Beemers and Land Cruisers as I dropped him off at college. So I dumped it for next to nothing and went for a Holden/GM Berlina (the 5 litre V8 of course) - again a station wagon (notice the melancholy search for the warmth of love, the reassurance of having a mother [Dad had died, remember], of not being ignored as kid, of moving away to Geelong from those horrible people who hurt my feelings in Colac - as represented by my love of station-wagons. The fact that I could put my surfboards AND my golf clubs "in the back" had nothing to do with it) but this had an automatic transmission. I bought it at a big, reputable dealer this time. I was told it was an ex-rental. I was told the rear-end - the differential (another long story) - needed work. I was told that the electronic drive for the rear-left window was not going working. But at least it was not falling apart and it was presentable enough at school. This beast took me up and down from Melbourne to Sydney many a time after I had run away from home at 38 and had moved up there to work at Westmead Hospital.

No, I didn't ever crash - I chose that photo because it was the same colour (white) and everything!


Once, on a holiday to Ireland, way before this car (was it late 1983 early 84?) we rented a car. There were five of us crammed into one the smallest cars in the world at that time (model?), even though we had ordered a medium sized vehicle. Another fucking shyster. As I was driving around, occasionally I would have to drop a gear, back into 3rd, say, whenever a leprechaun or a whiskey distillery jumped out in front of us. But sometimes, only sometimes, the car would unexpectedly lurch down, the engines would rumble instead of whine and the RPMs would DROP significantly. WTF? My father-in-law accused me of fucking up the gears, riding the clutch or something, basically calling me a bad driver - even though he was a mad dangerous skill-less killer himself behind the wheel. Then it happened to him and he realized something other than MY clutch-work was amiss!

We had been told (and it was etched into the gear-stick! and in the driver's manual) that this car had a transmission with four gears. Guess what? It had an undocumented fifth gear! A fifth gear was a rarity in those days, a new luxury that had trickled down from the big boys. This is why we didn't suspect it straight away. Four gears were new enough! The fifth gear had a lower ratio that, of course, was not meant to be engaged when I was trying to slow down, but rather when I was cruising! My father-in-law failed to apologize to me, btw.


And in my first few years here in Asia, taxis and the people driving me around all had manual transmissions. Then HK taxis went automatic, we guessed it was because so many drivers were fucking up their clutches, riding them up the steep-ish Cotton-Tree Drive towards Mid-levels or up to The Peak. So I moved to Singapore where taxis are still mostly manual. And here the drivers tend to ride the clutch too, but as there no hills in this Euclidean plane (i.e. two dimensional... i.e. flat) city/country, it's not such a big strain on the gear-box...

(Made of candy-floss - will melt and disappear in rain)


Point of excessively long preamble down memory lane:

There is a very large, but finite and countable number of automobile gear changes that I have experienced in my life. Lots. Down - Up. 1>2>3>4>5<4<3<2<1 ... Up - Down. Real lots of them. 53 years (nearly 54 - pay attention to FB) of driving or being driven in manual transmission cars. Think about it. So many changes of gears. Sure, sometimes you cruise for miles and miles without a change, but if you're in traffic you change (or you should) as the flow demands (or in an automatic, the car does it for you). There has been a lot of drive chain ratio changes that I have experienced. I'm thinking hundreds of thousands, if not more. Several trillion. Got the point? Let's move on to the punchline.


So, Monday (tonight is Wednesday) the plan is: drinks with Madame Chiang and Indy at a bar in the Esplanade Theatre complex, then I'm gonna be walking over the Helix Bridge to the Elvis Costello concert at the MBS, right? I SMS a taxi with my new Galaxy/Google Singapore Taxi app. Works well, SMS comes, my taxi is on its way...

E@L: The Esplanade.
TaxiDriver: Huh?
E@L: The Esplanade. The theatres.
TaxiDriver: Huh?
TaxiDriver: Huh?
TaxiDriver: Huh.
E@L: The ESS PLAR NARD. The Big Durian!
TaxiDriver: Oh, oh, OK. Durian, yes, can ... We call that the Esplanade.
E@L: *aaaaarrrgggghhhh*


So we head off.

We start in 2nd gear and in the first 5 metres he has changed up to 3rd. Huh? As we come out of the driveway, he drops back to 2nd, then moves onto the road which requires 3rd obviously. As we putter forwards about 15km/h he goes up to 4th. Then we cruise down a slight incline and he goes down to 3rd, to gear-brake perhaps. He pumps the accelerator a bit, then back to 4th. We approach the intersection at D****** Rd and he pumps again and brakes at the same time, creating an inertia neutral event, but he doesn't quite stop as the traffic comes along. He creeps in with the car in 2nd and as soon as he finds a slot between the oncoming cars he goes to 3rd. Before he straightens the wheel to follow the road he is in 4th. Pump. This is weird.

He drops back to 3rd again. The traffic light ahead is green so he moves up to 4th and down to 3rd again just to be sure. Obviously he is not certain. Pump. Because he shifts up again to 4th, and decides to go back to 3rd. Maybe 4th was better after all. Pump... I KID YOU NOT!

This went on for at least 15mins until I got to the Durian/Esplanade,(near the new Marina Bay Sands). Gear change, pump, gear change, pump. Relentless. At least four to five changes as we went past Chjimes (a small block) at 40km/h - maybe 4 secs.

There is something wrong here. This man has a psychological problem. That is why he was deemed suitable for a career in the taxi driving profession!

He is one of the millions and millions of taxi drivers in Singapore, and Hong Kong to be fair, who are fucking nutters, with ticks and jerks and obsessive-compulsive disorders. One of my friends thought I was joking about this, that I was making it all up. Then one night, as we shared a cab to Clarke Quay, I nudged him to look up - the taxi driver was sweeping his hand back over his greasy hair every five seconds. Sweep. Sweep. Tourrette's.

There's something going on. I was told today that I sound like a conspiracy theorist. There's nothing like the facts - someone IS sending these crazy people to drive me around for a goddamn reason! And it can only be that the GAHMEN tracking my movements, in case I do or say something seditious!


Meanwhile, back to gear changes...


Sigh. I kid you not.


* wasn't this a case study from Freud?


Unknown said...

What a great post.
Must have been a Geelong thing.
My father also drove a hillman hunter. 1961 variety and there was a sigma early in my own history. You might recall that the sigma faired not much better than the Berlina in the photo

Skippy-san said...

Man that makes me feel old. Your Father passed the year I was born..... That's not supposed to happen for a wide variety of reasons.

expat@large said...

Thanks PC: it started as 10 line thing about the taxi drive changing gears. Where you there when I had the Triumph? Herbert Hardy was so pissed that I had "nice car" as a student radiographer. I only smashed the back of the Sigma, reversed into a telephone pole...
Skip: don't panic, you're the same age as me.

Unknown said...

Missed HH in a rage about the Triumph. Shame really. Would've been a sight. There were some serious cars in that era. JK- Kingswood wagon? RB- VW Combi... Clearly the Triumph was at the next level. GH drove an old Ford from the 60's. geez ...are these scars or great memories

expat@large said...

Good memory!
Always wanted a BMW to park next to HH's. Nearly bought one instead of the Sigma, but a bit out of a student radiographer's range. Then the Don showed up in a BMW 725(?), the same car that Jim Richards won with at Bathurst .

expat@large said...

RK, a Toyota half-cab?

expat@large said...

Where you there when CB bought an MG? (To impress me I think. She was such a stalker!)

Unknown said...

CB in an MG- Had gone I suspect. DB's BMW .... chuckle it all comes back. I too had a sigma SE (had all the bells and whistles). Sedan ...reckon yours was a wagon? Came to grief on the backroads of Lorne with a learner driver at the wheel. Rolled a couple of times.

Add to the list ?AB in an old merc?

expat@large said...

Yeah I am sure now that Carol came in after you. Ah it was YOUR Sigma that went bumpidy-bump!

AB - the radiolgodyte with the snuff and monocle? Alan Border?

expat@large said...

PC: your last comment seems to have hijacked by marketing spammer! You might want to check your computer for malware.

You might recall that the sigma faired [sic] not much better than the Berlina in the photo......

knobby said...

where's the Like button on this post?

expat@large said...

I tried to put one on, but there is only one that links the post through to Facebook. WP has one.

knobby said...

this was just my way of saying i liked the post :)

believe it or not, my verification word is "whoro". great.

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