You can see from my last story that at the age of 6 or so, I coveted above all other material possessions a car that you could sit in, move using pedals and steer with a steering wheel. In fact, I probably would have been perfectly happy with a Fred Flintstone model and pushed it along the ground with my feet, as long as the steering wheel worked. Come to think of it, the engineering of a steering wheel for the front ‘wheel’ of Fred’s car indicates that cavemen must have been a lot more advanced than we give them credit for, if they got that to work.
I decided to make an offer on the vehicle. Now I did this in full knowledge of its poor condition, and the fact that driving it home across the creek, the ploughed paddock between his house and ours and the steepish hill up to our house presented significant obstacles. Gelignite Jack in the Redex Round Australia car trials faced fewer difficulties than I did, and he had a full maintenance crew to back him up – all I had was a small adjustable spanner and I wasn’t even very good at using that.
So, picture the scene. Bimbo’s parents were down at the Diggers Arms having a beer and we had his almost-vintage car on his concrete path, and he was about to be acquainted with my offer. I had one shilling and ninepence, but at a pinch could use a table knife to extract three more pennies from the piggy bank to bring it up to two shillings if required. (The twenty cent coin replaced the two shilling piece, or florin as it was sometimes called, if that’s any help to you in estimating the generosity of my offer.)
We were pretty much home alone, except for Bimbo’s older brother Malcolm who was upstairs with not the faintest interest in what we were doing, making some sort of whip out of a dried bull’s penis. Now I know you are going to think I made that up. I didn’t. I don’t care if you do, it’s the truth and I stand by it. What’s more I saw it as he was whipping it about earlier in the day, and it was a quite nasty weapon. He didn’t call it a penis, though. He used a four-letter word we weren’t allowed to say and it’s not proper to repeat it here. But then both Bimbo and Malcolm used all sorts of words in everyday speaking that would turn your hair grey; ones that Dad only used when the bull turned round in the crush before dipping.
‘The car….’ I said to him. ‘You don’t really want it, do you?’ Bimbo looked non-committal.
I thought it a fair offer, considering the rebuilding I might have to do and the relocation challenge.
I mentioned that we were home alone because I want you to picture the scene, as I said before. Bimbo, on hearing my offer, got out a ten pack of tailor-made Ardath and lit one up with a silver cigarette lighter he’d got from god-knows-where. He didn’t offer me one as he did get into a bit of trouble resulting from that other smoking incident, and wisely excluded me from the joys of tobacco ever more, for which I was grateful.
|‘Nah, Den. Nah. She’s.... she's just too old tuh sell, mate.’|
Illustration by Watto
Shortly after, "she" was despatched to the rubbish tip. I did eventually get my own car with a steering wheel. It was a Datsun 1000 I bought brand new in 1966, but after driving it up and down to Brisbane scores of times, the thrill of the steering wheel did finally wear off, I have to admit.