The Australian Car Crash Chronicles: Vol. 1

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Above: The Clamry Wagon, now sadly deceased. R.I.P Old Friend.

I spent the entirety of last weekend by myself, at home. It wasn’t because I’d been stood up or cancelled on or realised that none of my friends like me, but a voluntary hibernation to Get Things Done.

I’ve been writing an article for an independent magazine on drug trafficking in Northern Mexico, and am spending way too many of my working hours researching rural narcotraficante gangs and bootlegging grandmothers. If I type ‘cocaine’ into my computer one more time I think they’re going to fire me.

So this weekend was set aside for self-imposed exile, to beaver away happily surrounded by empty coffee cups and a towering fort of articles about murdered Mexican beauty queens and lawless Sinaloan valleys full of drugs, guns and rhinestone studded cowboy boots.

Everything went swimmingly until about 4pm on Saturday when I began to get a serious case of cabin fever. I found myself singing Alice in Chains at the top of my lungs and replacing key words with the name of my dog, whilst she looked at me blankly and then deigned to ignore my presence. After ten minutes of bellowing “Into the JESS againnnnnn… Same old Jess it was baaackkk thhheeennnn!!!” at an uninterested canine I considered going out before I lost the plot and butchered a rosemary bush.

I had by this point fallen into a total state of lethargy and going out meant changing out of my reindeer pyjama bottoms and putting one foot in front of the other, colloquially known as ‘walking’.

Outside the window sat Stella, my sisters prized Nissan Micra. I stared at her for a while, pondered, reflected, did a couple of walk-bys, weighed up the pros and cons…and then decided firmly against borrowing her for the afternoon, for the following reasons:

1. I’ve seen my sister when she’s in a bad mood, and I don’t want to die.

2. Driving is not my strong suit. I think I’m really good at it, but then I wrap a car around a tree and realise I’m probably not as great as I thought I was. And I don’t want to die.

 

My shoddy driving record began with my first car, a company provided Audi A3. I hadn’t driven since my driving test when I was 17 and cruised along the pavement for a while during a reverse parallel park. I was now 23 and couldn’t remember which pedal was the brake.

I decided to start the re-acclimatisation process off with a healthy dose of motorway, and took Pamela the Audi on an 8 hour drive from London to York. It shouldn’t have taken 8 hours, but I spent quite a long time on the M25 before I realised I was headed for Portsmouth, which is in the wrong direction. I eventually reached York, flushed with pride, and reversed at high speed into a wall.

Pamela unfortunately went on to suffer further indignities. My Dad took to referring to me as Conan the Destroyer after conifers, garden ornaments, plant pots and his car fell prey to my erratic parking skills. My brother came sprinting outside one night after hearing what sounded like “the Titanic splitting in half” – which had been Pamela rearranging the left hand side of my parents BMW, as my music was on at full volume and I couldn’t hear the fact that I was stripping half of the paintwork from both of our cars.

I crashed into a lamppost whilst on a picnic shopping trip in a blind panic, as someone had stopped to let me out and I had a complete meltdown. Pamela’s front bumper was left with a gaping hole which I cheerily hoped I could ‘buff out’.

I’d just started seeing someone and very kindly agreed to give him a lift somewhere. I pulled away after he got out of the car and was momentarily distracted by people in fancy dress on the other side of the street. In that moment, he had decided to step out into the street, relying on the assumption that the girl he was seeing would not stoop so low as to mow him down in the street for no apparent reason. The next thing I knew, there was a loud bump and he was staring at me in stricken horror through the windscreen with his legs askew and his nose squashed into the glass…kind of like this

What made it worse was that before I had pulled away I had revved the engine as though I was going to run him over, we had both chortled happily and slapped our knees, and then I had actually run him over.

 

Following my lack of success with Pamela, it was a while before I had another car. My next foray into the world of driving was the Clamry Wagon, my prized run-around bestowed upon me by my boyfriend at the time, when I moved to South West Australia. It was love at first sight. The Clamry looked like a weathered tin shoebox and came complete with a speedometer that had absolutely no basis in reality. We had some great times together. When I put a six pack of beers on her roof and reversed, smashing them all on the ground, she was there for me. She was a shoulder to cry on when I did the same thing with my new laptop. We were together when I saw my first wild kangaroo, and celebrated by almost flattening it. I commiserated with her when I left her parked in Dunsborough with the window down and someone threw the innards of a sausage roll on her passenger seat. When I drove her to a brewery, got drunk and left her in a car park for the night, and woke the next morning convinced she’d been stolen from the driveway…she understood. Sure – it took me a day to find her, but she understood.

It still hurts when I think back to her untimely demise. I should have seen the signs. A few weeks beforehand, I’d spent the afternoon drinking beers with weird and wonderful flavours at Bush Shack Brewery. You have to give your car keys as a deposit when you open a tab. It worked a charm as I spent 15 minutes fumbling around in my pockets and searching underneath logs before a disgruntled bartender came to inform me that he had my keys, and I owed him $90. I had a typical drunkard’s response to finding oneself in a remote place with no public transport but a perfectly good car within rolling distance. My friend and I buckled ourselves in and I hurtled off down the road safe in the knowledge that “I’m a WAY better driver when I’m drunk!” This bravado lasted until I braked too late at an intersection and went steaming off the road straight into a post. The post was made of rubber, which was a bizarre lesson in my surroundings but also very lucky, otherwise the Clamry probably would have been cleaved in two and I would have killed my friend.

We carried on our way with absolutely no lessons learned, paving the way for the end of the Clamry a few weeks later.

I’ll never forget the day that Clamry died. I had been working at Bootleg Brewery, and was on my way home to scrub off the spilled amber ale. I was going to a festival the next day and so was poodling along trying to find an exact track on my iPod. When I looked up again, I was heading directly for the tree line. Instead of calmly adjusting course and braking smoothly, I almost ripped the steering wheel out – all the while slamming on the brakes and swearing as loudly as humanly possible.

This, shockingly, did not work, and I completely lost control of the car. The last thing I remember thinking was “Fuck. I don’t have a seatbelt on” and then I was tearing up foliage and a fence, flying around the inside of the Clamry like a pinball, and had shattered the windscreen with the back of my head. Obviously I was a bit perturbed.

A family on a relaxing day out had pulled over to look at what they thought was an old car wreck. Who says the recession hasn’t hit in Australia?! They were greeted with the sight of  me stumbling out of the back door of the car as the front ones were pinned shut by angry uprooted trees. I was dishevelled, covered in blood, had half a gearstick poking out of my knee and wailing something about the car not belonging to me.

They locked their kids in their car as quite frankly I looked like a raving lunatic, and managed to calm me down enough to wrap a picnic rug around me and get the plastic out of my leg. Soon we were all fast friends, sitting around on crushed vegetation sharing bottled water and laughing about the time they locked the kids in the car as they thought that I was going to kill them. They even sent one unfortunate child into the glass strewn, precariously positioned wreckage of the Clamry to retrieve my phone. When he came out with a bleeding hand we all guffawed at the newest turn in our hilarity-filled day.

The ambulance arrived to whisk me away and had to wait whilst I swapped numbers, hugs and teary goodbyes with my new friends. The police had breathalysed me and I had lied stoically about the non-seatbelt wearing episode, whilst they pondered the fact that it must have been a stretchy seatbelt seeing as I had taken out the windscreen with my cranium.

I had to spend the night in hospital sharing a ward with an old lady with a severe flatulence problem. The next morning I was concussed, sore, had itchy stitches and had to shower in a hospital cubicle the size of a postage stamp. The nurses gave me some Oxycontin and told me that under no circumstances was I to go to a festival. I popped the Oxycontin and went straight to a festival.

Despite the concussion and Oxycontin, I was going OK, at least until I threw alcohol into the mix. With the addition of alcohol I went from slightly dazed but happy to inciting a riot with a group of burly bearded bikers to get into see Slayer, charging through the assembled security guards with my hospital wristband held high. After I remembered that I don’t like Slayer, I wandered off with a few new bruises, my stitches pulled and bleeding and a new best friend with a leather vest and prison tattoos called Mike.

I learned a few lessons from the whole episode.

  1. Concussion, prescription painkillers and canned Wild Turkey do not mix well.
  2. Trees are not made of rubber
  3. Seatbelts are not just there to be used as bungee cords for securing guitars, microwaves, and whatever else I have ill-fatedly purchased from Gumtree. They work very well to protect the back of your skull too.

Lesson #3 came in very useful three weeks later, when my friend rolled her car with me in the passenger seat. But that’s The Australian Car Crash Chronicles: Vol. 2… 🙂

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