Who Stole Your Caravan?

The Toyota Crown 2600 featured in today’s column is familiar to all Australians.

This car, in this colour…or the white version…was the pace car for the Easter Parade on Australia’s two-lane country highways between 1971 and 1974. It was attached to a Coromal caravan just slightly smaller than the loading gauge of the highway and driven at 10-20 Kph under the legal limit wherever it went.

The longest tail-back ever recorded during an Easter Weekend was outside Managatang and stretched from Victoria to the Western Australian border – it was behind a beige Toyota Crown and caravan. To be fair, there was a boat on the top of the caravan and the driver’s wife had to stop every 3 Kms to be ill on the side of the road. Four babies were born in the tail-back before police were able to get to the front of the line and pull the driver – Kevin – over. Kevin is retired.

Of course this was only mid-stream for the Crown. They had been holding up traffic,  bottoming out, and leaning over for many decades before this. And they still do, because the supply has not dwindled. For that matter the supply of Kevins is even greater.

And that is the crux of the matter. This sort of car is bought by that sort of driver. They are not doing anything illegal either way – yet it is odd how the Toyota Crown driver has largely escaped the opprobrium that has attached to the Volvo owner. Perhaps it is the case that, even if the behaviour is the same, the Crown driver is not seen as the upper class pest that the Volvo driver is. Kevin is more approachable than Tristan…?


A Very Slightly Grand Tour – Part One

We have all read of the Grand Tour – the coming-of-age tradition for those of the wealthy classes from Western Europe in the 18th and 19th century. France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and then back again over several months. Sometimes it extended to years if side trips could be made to the Ottoman empire or to eastern Europe. Tourists came back with a wealth of art, impressions, and diseases.

Of course it can all be done very much more rapidly these days, and from anywhere in the world. A quick whisk through all the capitals is no more than a Eurail pass away, and you can cram several cathedrals and palazzi in a day – with time to spare for the bar and the duty-free on the way home. If I wish to meet foreigners and hear the exotic patois of their languages I need not leave the comfort of my own city – they’ve come here these days. A smart-card bus ticket and a day will let me see Europe, Asia, Africa, and parts of South America all spread out over Perth.

But where can I go to tour grandly? If not in culture, and not in pure distance travelled, I think the southwest of my own state is a very good place to start.

It is possible, by dint of grind and caffeine, to use the modern freeway and highway system to circle the southwest from Perth to Bunbury, Busselton, Dunsborough, Augusta, Walpole, Albany, then back to Perth in a day. You won’t get to see all the sights and you won’t have fun, but you can do it. But if you add a few days to experience all the stops the tension goes and the fun seeps back in. Food, drink, trinkets, art, scenery, yokels, it’s all there. And I am looking very hard at adding another factor to the equation: theatre…the theatre of living history.

It won’t be public theatre – so much of the best living history is played to an audience of the actors alone. It won’t be dramatic theatre – because the WA southwest is not the cockpit of anything. But if it can be done right, it may prove to be as delightful an experience as anything that 18th century Europe could throw up. More plans to come…

Old Coot On The Road

Old Coot here. How ya going?

I’m the maddening character in the little car at the front of the traffic queue going very slightly less than the sign-posted speed limit. The one in the hat with both hands on the wheel. If you’re polite to me I’ll be in the left-hand lane for most of the journey.

Note: I write from Perth, in Western Australia, where the left-hand lane is the curb-side slow lane. The middle and right-hand lanes are for the people who wish to go faster and I wouldn’t dream of interfering with them as they do.

My little car is bright hi-vis green so that you can see it and dodge round it when you are racing toward your next amphetamine delivery. Don’t worry about me racing you for it…I hate to wear rubber off the tyres needlessly. And there is no need to flip fingers or scream obscenities out of the windows. I am perfectly willing to regard you as obscene under any circumstances.

No good looming up behind me to terrify me. I’ve worked retail for years – I can stand a looming that would crush a battlecruiser. I won’t speed up at all for tyrants, whether they are at a counter or a steering wheel. Being retired, I rarely need to get anywhere on my own time, let alone anyone else’s. And I like to use the exercise of driving to give me time to think. Time to think of my Super-Power…Old Coot Super Power.

Old Coots have been here before – sometimes here was better before, and sometimes it was worse – we have a comparison to go by. If it is worse now we are prepared to do something to make it better, and if it is better now we are prepared to take the time to be grateful.

We have seen better people than you do worse things, and as we are still here driving, we know how to cope with it. As conceited as you may want to be, you are not our worst nightmare. In fact a lot of us have taken up the nightmare business ourselves and we know how to do a lot with very small resources. And we are always looking for something to fill the day in between the morning radio serial and the cocktail hour.

Old Coots know that one day it is all going to end. And we’ve generally racked up enough time already to free us from regret if the one day turns out to be next Tuesday. Threatening us may seem all gangsta until you find out that we don’t care – and the man who doesn’t care is a floating sea mine with one bent horn. Steer clear.

Old Coots also can be very kind. We will change tyres for the helpless, guide the lost, and provide lunch for anyone. There is a price – we will talk while we do it. And the topic may not be apposite to the problem at hand. Don’t feel that you can ignore us – there will be a quiz later, and half your year’s marks will depend upon it.

Old Coots will rarely cuss you out, and if they do the terms they use will most likely sound quaint. They’re not. If an Old Coot calls you cowardly son of a bitch, he means it, and you are. Old Coots operate on simpler vocabularies.

If an Old Coot thanks you or praises you they also mean that sincerely.


The Highway Or My Way

I live near a highway. Not an interstate or intercity one – one that just feeds along a metro corridor from the airport and rail freight terminals to the seaport – servicing suburbs rich and poor along the way. There is a little commercial activity in one suburb where it grazes an industrial area but very little else for its length – it is even hard to get petrol along the Leach Highway.

It is, however, easy to get stuck.

Stuck behind container trucks feeding from rail to seaport and back again. 2:00 PM is tag-a-truck hour and you can spend the best part of 90 minutes getting from one end to the other. Best is not really the word you are looking for, but WordPress doesn’t want me to use the appropriate ones.

Stuck in lines of tradesmen early in the morning and late in the afternoon. They are patient and kindly drivers, in the same way that fulminate of mercury is a docile chemical.

Stuck in equally long lines of Mercedes, Audi, Jaguar, Lexus, and similar expensive sedans as the managerial suburbs of Leeming and Winthrop empty and fill. As soon as the stream dwindles, the managerial spouses take over in the 4WD SUV versions of the luxury sedans. If anything, they are even more arrogant, entitled, and impatient. I put it down to the MSG and the designer sunglasses…

Stuck at road works. ” Expect Delay ” is an odd phrase – it does not promise anything good, but it wants you to be patient so that you can be annoyed slowly and carefully. I am retired, and rarely have to be anywhere quickly – but what must the effect of ” Expect Delay ” be for the managerial suburbanites…

Stuck at the road junctions. If, worse luck, the firm that you wish to deal with has a shop on the other side of a divider strip, you must travel to the next intersection, go round a block, re-enter the road from the other way, and hopefully catch a break in the traffic. It can be 10 minutes waiting to cross the three lanes of solid vehicles and then another 10 after your shopping trip to get back onto the highway.

We were once promised a diminution of the truck traffic – but that faded at the last state election. The problem is set to become worse in the next 5 years, and there may come a time when I have to give up dealing with the other side of the highway. It will become a land of fable and I will restrict myself to my own little village.

That’s what a motor car will do for you – confine you to your own home…

Too Slow…Too Old…Too Cheap…Too Bad

My stated purpose with this column is generally to entertain, not offend. But I am forced to the latter rather than the former when it comes to the subject of driving in Perth. Or, rather, whatever I say is going to be offensive…so I might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, and at my age there is a lot more about me that suggests mutton.

I am guilty of several sins when it comes to driving:

a. I drive at a little bit less than the speed limit, if I can.

b. I drive with one car length between me and the car in front for every 10 Kph on the speedo. 80 Kph…8 car lengths.

c. I frequently drive with the headlights on and the radio off.

d. I wear a hat in the car.

e. The car is a little 5-year-old Suzuki Swift hatchback with no pretensions to glory or prestige. No personalised number plate. It is bright green.

In my defence, I keep to the left hand lane. I attempt to merge smoothly. I do not talk or text while driving.

But I will not be bullied into going faster than the speed limit to cater to the tray-top tradie or Daimler despot. If I am in the right hand lane going over the Narrows bridge and interchange – with an 80 Kph posted limit – I will stay there at that very speed rather than dive off to let some scofflaw past.

I have frequently raised the ire of the desperate and entitled when trying to negotiate unfamiliar suburban streets at dusk – the drivers returning home have had to cope with me seeking my way while they know theirs. No-one has mercy at 6:00 PM…particularly when they feel they are near home territory and can be anonymously aggressive. I avoid dusk trips for just this reason.

I am also not at all shy about calling out impatient or aggressive drivers who bully their way through car parks – these are hard enough to navigate when you drive a small car and must cope with being hemmed in by SUV’s on all sides. My car is highly visible, and there is no excuse for taking your half of the narrow lanes in the middle.

As you can imagine, all of the above is a red rag to a motoring bull as far as many other younger drivers go. You can read their snarls on Facebook every day. Fortunately I cannot read Facebook whilst driving and so they can snarl as much as they like.


Eat Me

Before you take exception to the title, remember that it is a direct quote from Lewis Carroll and is under the protection of  Victorian literature and modern English teachers. Robert Crumb may have given it a different twist, but I assure you I have no idea what he was talking about.

I my case I am musing cheerfully upon a dinner eaten in a posh restaurant in Sydney that started with wine, included very large and juicy prawns, and finished with superb coffee. It also finished with a bill that was half of what it would have been in the local toot toot tavern in my home suburb in Perth. I live in Bull Creek but rarely go to eat at the pricier places in Mosman Park or Subiaco. I tried going there once and reading the prices of the menus but they were so high I got a nose bleed and had to come home…

So why is superb in Sydney so cheap? The rents for their premises cannot be less that those in Perth and they have minimum wage laws there as well as in WA. Is it really related to what was seen as a WA mining boom? You know, before it became the mining bust. And the prices of food paid to the growers plummeted…

Perhaps they do not catch prawns in the waters off Western Australia – perhaps they are all imported from New South Wales. Or Alice Springs.

Perhaps we are being done like the proverbial dinner, but at a higher price…

The Cat’s Library

A chance remark over coffee last year alerted me to the existence of a new old bookshop in Sydney. This isn’t a rare sort of business in a large city, but there are degrees of good in the trade and it pays to investigate whenever you can.

Gould’s Book Arcade – King Street in Newtown. Not all that far from one edge of the University of Sydney and served by an at-the-door bus from outside the Central railway station. Could not have been easier to find.

One big open door and then a maw of shelved books – ground floor and three-side mezzanine. I had been given to believe that it would be a maelstrom of paper stacks on the floor, but not so; the staff have been assiduously racking the stock into the metal shelves and putting up divisional signs. I was directed to the section I wanted for the first purchase and then it was way-hay and into it for the rest of the afternoon.

The original owner, now passed away, had definite political opinions and a fair bit of the stock on the left wing of the mezzanine reflected this – perfectly appropriate positioning, as it happens. I treated myself to a 50’s Soviet picture book with added propaganda and will enjoy baiting my friends with quotations and statistics from it. It will make a nice counter to their rabid support of Trump and Trudeau. I was tempted to get some Christmas presents in the political section but decided to go to the medical shelves for that.

The cat? Well, not quite right now – there has been a cat for some time but a replacement will be need to be sought. The special door arrangements are still in place for the new candidate. I’m sure it will be comfortable and certainly won’t lack for something to read.

Neither will I – the parcel of polemics arrived today and will keep me going for some time. Sydney has heretofore not been quite as productive as Melbourne in the book line – I usually average a metre of shelf space for each Victorian trip – but now that I know how easy it is to find Gould’s, I think this disparity can be erased.

Note: The Elisabeth’s S/H bookstore down the road in Newtown is pleasant but not a patch on our own Elisabeth’s in Fremantle.