Going for a long drive was a ritual. The night before, Dad would get the Melways or an RACV map and plan the trip with all the careful precision of an RAF Lancaster navigator. Then he’d prepare sandwiches. Sometimes they’d be steak with mustard which keep incredibly well in transit; but more often than not it would be typically Maltese fare of tomato paste sandwiches, to which we’d add olives and tuna at the picnic table.
On the morning of the trip, the car boot would be skilfully loaded, puzzle-like, with folding chairs, baby stuff for the twins, an Esky (that my parents called a car fridge) some soft drinks (Leed Lemonade), beach towels etc. It was quite an effort to fit all this stuff and the six of us into a little Morris 1100!
The seating configuration was my big brother and little sisters in the back, made all the more cramped by the twins’ medieval car seats that allowed them to look out the window, but provided as much safety as the electric chair. I always had to sit between my parents on the bench seat seeing as though I was most likely to get always got car sick. It sucked being the family sickie. My memories of long drives include getting knee capped by truck-like gear stick and watching a capful of Dettol swirling about in the bottom of a bucket held between my bruised knees. It could be worse for Mum, who’d often find herself playing the role of the bucket.
My susceptibility to car-sickness wasn’t helped by the acrid vinyl smell that cars had in those days, which made me feel sick before Dad even turned the key. For a time Mum gave me motion sickness tablets, only for me to throw up and see two little pills swishing around in the bucket in a cocktail of bile and disinfenctant.
After ensuring that everyone had been to the toilet, the gas stove was off and the sandwiches were on board, “Boris the Morris” – shit yeah, it had a name – would burst into life. We’d only get as far as the corner of our street where Dad would come to a stop and Mum would make us “do de sign of de cross”. In hindsight it’s kinda disturbing, though not at all surprising that they would feel the need for us to pray before every journey. Extra divine protection came with the little St Christopher medallion on the dashboard.
In-car entertainment was basic to say the least. We never had iPods, Nintendo DS or DVD players to pass the time. Boris didn’t even have a radio. So we’d spend the trip playing I-spy and Hey Charger, or doing the Row, Row, Row Your Boat medley, which would suddenly stop with a loud, albeit unexplained, “shhhh police” whenever Mum saw a cop car. Sometimes my brother Anton would attempt to entertain us by being the voice of Boris the Morris with a lame-arse characterisation that amused the twins, but had me suddenly appreciating the whirlpool patterns made by the Dettol.
The Morris 1100 was a fuel efficient vehicle; however it seemed to chew up a hell of a lot of fan belts. This meant the engine would get hot. Dad would stop, open the bonnet, grumble and yell out “fan belt”. Mum would save the day by taking her pantyhose off to use as a makeshift belt. I’m amazed more accidents weren’t caused by drivers being distracted by mum’s impromptu roadside strip teases.
Mum wasn’t always so helpful. One time Dad was looking under the bonnet before we left home. Mum, in a playful mood, beeped the horn causing him to hit his head on the hood. The peaceful Sunday morning was shattered by the sound of:
“YOU STUPID BASTARD!”
Oh yes he did say that.
I reckon that was the only time I ever saw Dad really upset at mum; apart from years later when the doctor said he had high cholesterol and Mum became a bread, salt and meat Nazi – “huq Allah fuckin’ fish again?”
The trip home would always end with a enthusiastic welcome home by our dog Butch who’d hear Boris from at least a kilometre away and run up the road and wait before running alongside the car as we approached home.
In 1976 constant mechanical problems saw Dad reluctantly trade Boris in for used but gleaming Holden HQ Kingswood. Holly the Holden, (a name which didn’t stick and thankfully presented no opportunity for Anton to provide a voice) had a radio which Dad would switch between 3KZ and 3MP. Compared to Boris it was cavernous inside. From the middle front seat and would have to stretch to reach the new St Christopher medallion on the dash – with my foot! The three-on-the-tree auto meant there was no gear stick in the way and I could spread by elbows out while holding the bucket.
This was luxury!
I got less sick in the Kingswood too. My dad says it’s because he had a rubber strap hanging down off the rear bumper which eliminated static. How this stopped car sickness I’ll never know, but it seemed to work.