Lana’s Land Cruiser, modelling the new convertible style
So this has been a long time coming. A few posts ago I mentioned a small incident whereby I decorated the local bush area with fragments of my car. I feel like this accident was written in the stars, as it taught me a vital lesson with regards to the proper use of seatbelts, i.e: I started wearing them.
Three weeks after totalling the Clamry Wagon, I had driven twice, and emerged a sweating, shaking wreck both times. I took to careering around town on a BMX, as being behind the wheel of a car caused me to have a meltdown. I’d leave the lofty heights of my boyfriend’s Hi-Lux in a state of near incapacity. I decided to leave the driving to people that didn’t tend to run off the road and smash through areas of natural beauty.
As a celebration of the fact that I was alive and my last stitch had dissolved, my housemate Lana and I had decided to go on a wine tasting jaunt, and set off on a sunny morning in her 80’s Toyota Land Cruiser.
The Margaret River region is chock full of wineries. There are over 200 of them sharing sun and soil in Australia’s South West; from tin shed operations reached by bumpy kangaroo grazing grounds, to palatial cellar doors and restaurants overlooking $2 million dams.
There is a slight issue with living in Australia’s South West. Yes the beaches are pretty mind blowing. Yes it is warm and balmy 94% of the time. And yes, as previously discussed, your local butcher advertises his wares on TV. Nice one, Fred. But public transport is just non existent. Buses only serve Perth, which is three hours in one direction, or Albany, which is five hours in the other. This is great if you are planning a weekend in Augusta, but rubbish if you just want a bag of ice and a mango from the supermarket.
Taxis are also rather elusive. I think the entire South-West region has four taxis, none of which work past midnight and all of which resolutely ignore you if you even slightly resemble someone that has recently left a pub. Having said this, my Dad is a taxi driver in London and has a similar modus operandi – hapless merrymakers on the journey home had better be enjoying that Big Mac in the cold, as there is no way that they will be munching on it in the back of his cab.
Distances are huge in Australia. I’m sure I’m not informing anyone of anything too ground breaking here. In London I visibly recoil if someone asks me to make the journey out to somewhere at the arse end of a tube line – i.e. Tooting Bec or Ealing Broadway. In Australia I used to jump in the car and drive for eight hours for a relaxing afternoon in the sun. Its sunny everywhere. You don’t need to chase the sun. An eight hour journey could get me to the Middle East from London. In Oz I’d use that time frame to get to a BBQ.
My point is that if you run out of beers, or realise that you don’t have any basil pesto left, or that your last few leaves of rocket have wilted; you have to drive for 20 minutes to get to the nearest supermarket. When you are suddenly without wheels, you realise that a craving for Doritos is setting you up for a two hour round trip, on foot, in the heat. This also applies to going to the pub. Either someone has to stay sober and drive, or someone has to drink and drive and hope that they don’t get caught.
Each winery and brewery comes complete with a standard issue sign asking who your ‘skipper’ is. Your skipper has the awesome job of supping lemonade and resenting you whilst you pour pale ale down your throat. Then they get to drive you home. As you can imagine, it can be tricky finding someone that is game to take one for the team and play skipper.
Lana, on this occasion, had opted not to play skipper. I was terrified of anything with a steering wheel and so had also opted out. We had, hilariously (or so we thought at the time), given the responsibility to a plastic fish with a surprised expression that hung nonchalantly from Lana’s rear view mirror. The fish was four inches long and definitely would not have been able to reach the pedals. But, we were three sheets to the wind and oblivious to this ominous flaw in our plan.
We cruised around some wineries, sipping sauvignon blanc and swishing shiraz. We were bundled safely in the knowledge that there was no way that we would get drunk, as the samples of wine were tiny and we had the hardened alcohol tolerance of pirates. This reasoning can probably be filed with assigning a rubber fish the job of designated driver. While we have the drawer open, lets stick in the thrift factor of an afternoon’s wine tasting. Free tastings sound like an economical way to while away the day, but then the people serving you the tastings are so nice and the winery is kind of empty and they’re looking at you and oh my god you’ve bought five bottles of wine.
It had got to the point where we decided that we might need some food to soak up the alcohol, as so far we had indulged in a couple of wafers and a slice of cheese. Off we set, trundling along winding, back country Caves Road through the trees. To this day, I’m not entirely sure what happened. One moment we were driving along and laughing about how we wanted to start a portable sausage sizzle company called Fo’Sizzle. The next, the car had hit the embankment, flipped upside down and then rolled onto its tyres again, coming to a wheezing and spluttering dead stop in the middle of the road.
I had smacked my face as the car rolled, possibly briefly knocked myself out, and was a bit dazed. Apparently Lana was trying to push me out of the car, but I don’t really remember this. The first thing I remember is a face looming in front of me and a distinctly English voice enunciating “Now stay calm, my name’s Phillip, and I’m a doctor” – it seemed awfully Truman Show to happen upon an English doctor in the middle of nowhere on a remote stretch of Western Australian road, which was perhaps why instead of bemoaning the fact that I had just been used as a human pinball, I launched into an over enthusiastic “Oh my god! Whereabouts in England are you from?”
After extricating us from a flattened 4×4, Phillip and his friends managed to move Lana and I to a roadside log, where we plotted our escape before the police came along and took away Lana’s driving license. The fact that I was still reeling from having my head kicked in by a chassis, Lana had a broken wrist, and we were both blind drunk prevented our gallant escape plans from getting any further than falling in the neighbouring ditch.
The police arrived, closely followed by ambulances, and I was mortified to discover that local community hero and ice cream entrepreneur, Simmo, was my St Johns volunteer ambo. The shame. “Did the wine make it out OK?” I asked forlornly. “I think it pretty much all smashed,” he relayed. “Oh.” I sniffled. “Did Lana make it out OK?” He just stared at me.
As we were being loaded into the back of ambulances, our boyfriends arrived at the scene to be greeted by a Land Cruiser that resembled an omelette, with a dirty deck of babes (playing cards featuring topless models for the un-Australian among you) strewn across the road, smashed wine bottles glittering in the sun.
Lana’s boyfriend saw her briefly before she was shunted away to the hospital, and mine asked after me. “Yeah, we loaded the other body onto the back of the ambulance five minutes ago,” the ambo told him. He was understandably quite perturbed to find out that he now had a dead girlfriend. However, the day was saved by Lana’s boyfriend, who informed him that I was alive and well, as he had seen my feet poking out of the other ambulance before it drove away. Of course I was alive – there were feet to prove it. I’m not entirely sure what was so full of life about my foot, or what distinguishing features made them so recognisable as mine.
Whisked away to the hospital, we were lectured by nurses who were quite surprised to see me again so soon, and in the aftermath of another car accident. One particularly earnest Irish nurse reduced me to tears by telling me that I could have killed her children. It seems unlikely, as I’m sure they weren’t in the habit of lying down in the middle of country roads, but I did take her point.
I was released that night, left with nothing but a particularly ferocious black eye for my troubles, and two valuable life lessons learned:
1. Four inch rubber fish cannot drive cars
2. I am indestructible.