Tag Archives: driving

Licensed to Drive

Source: Wikimedia.org

Source: Wikimedia.org

A gum tree is a poor landmark. Especially if you are in parts unknown in a suburb of Western Australia (WA). Definitely so, if you are doing a driving test. “Needs more directions,” scrawled my lanky Aussie examiner on his form after I stopped in front of the wrong house in the “Leaving Something Behind” part of the test. Certain I’d failed, I proceeded to compound my crimes by hitting the kerb while turning into a car park. It’s the 31st of December – what a way to end the year.

“I know you passed,” said my husband, el geólogo, when I returned to the Cannington Driver and Vehicle Services centre. I’d lasted the full thirty-five minutes while all the other candidates had long since returned. Yes, dear reader, I am now married. I was so thrilled and relieved that I promptly turned into a waterspout. Not for being married, of course, but for having passed what is described as the most stringent driving exam in Australia. Umm, the crying jag could have something to do with raging pregnancy hormones. We won’t go into that. I have no wish to be a mommy blogger, although both “mommy” and “blogger” I soon hope to be.

So why do a driving test? As a temporary resident, I drove with my overseas licence. This is a slightly battered little paperback book, encased in a cover kindly provided by the Good Luck Driving School – Mumbai’s solution to driving lessons. The Driver Services official, a slim and horribly efficient looking young man of Asian descent paged through this – somewhat grimly, I thought. Upon reaching the page with an inky stamp from the Mumbai Road Transport Office and the squiggly signature of An Important Police Person in the Mumbai Police, he shook his head wryly.

The other lane: a road sign in Mumbai

The other lane: a road sign in Mumbai

“I have never seen a driver’s licence like this,” said he.

“It’s the only licence I have.” I replied, somewhat touchily. “It’s ten years old.” Surely, the very shabbiness of the licence proclaimed its genuineness?

Now, as a permanent resident, I need to and will drive with a WA driver’s licence. This beautiful blue laminated card, a key to many doors, will arrive in the mail in a few weeks. It will have a photo of me, quite likely looking teary-eyed, dishevelled, and perhaps with only one earring. I discovered the other clinging to my dress after we left the centre. It is after all one of the unwritten laws of the universe – thou shalt always look your worst in an official photograph.

So here I am, after a series of lessons with Perth’s excellent Defensive Driving School, one minor accident, a double puncture, and much driving practice later, a proud possessor of a new licence to drive. I feel strangely liberated – this is a real ego-booster. Yet, fond as I am of my blue Ford hatchback, my sturdy driving test companion, driving is still a necessary evil rather than a pleasure. I hand the car keys to my patient husband. I may have driven us to the test, but he’s driving us back home today.

If you need to know more about the WA road rules, try the only quizzes that help drivers prepare for the theory test at: http://www.transport.wa.gov.au/licensing/road-rules-theory-test-quiz.asp

Also, read about my first adventures in Australian driving at: https://perthinent.wordpress.com/2013/07/06/keys-to-drive-again/


The Other Iron Man

There will be rain. It’s a topic of much debate for the locals sitting at the next table. At ten minutes to four, they say. Some tourists eagerly peer into the windows of a derelict building across the road, much to their amusement of the natives.  ANZAC Day seems to have bypassed Menzies – there’s not a flag in sight, and the talk turns to footy. In the meantime, my friend, el geologo, and I are busy swatting flies from a muffin with frozen blueberries.

I have returned to Menzies, town of the iron-plaque people. I never thought to see the place again and I’m noticing things I missed the first time round – the gas station covered with licence plates from all over Australia, the cut-out iron figures of the policeman with this prisoner, the patient carried on a stretcher, and the baker placing his buns in the oven.

However, the iron man we’re looking for stands fifty kilometres away, on Lake Ballard. The local schoolteacher who also runs the café assures us that the road is good. It is also long, unsealed, and very red and dusty. Still we persevere and arrive at the lake in due course.

Standing Alone - An iron woman at Lake Ballard

Standing Alone – An iron woman at Lake Ballard

He’s still standing at the edge of the lake, of course, waiting to greet visitors. This time round, I realize how short this figure is, as I drape my arm around his skinny iron shoulders to pose for a photograph. Beyond stands another figure – a woman, by her pointing iron arrow breasts. Iron people with iron hearts. Suddenly I’m reminded of the other iron-hearted men who died at Gallipolli.

We saunter up to the little island in the middle of the lake – a hill with jagged rock fragments lying at its foot. There are more statues beyond, of course, but it’s the anticline (no, I cannot explain this – look it up) to our left that catches my friend’s eye. The last time round, I visited the lake with architects. How different it looks through a geologist’s eyes.

We battle flies every step of the way. They swarm across our backs and my resourceful companion has turned my cardigan into a fly whisk. We are soon routed though and we retreat to the shore. A family is valiantly picnicking at a bench there. Brave souls.

Several hundred kilometres southward, one carwash, and an ill-judged McDonald’s meal later, my friend and I check the show times at Orana Cinemas in Kalgoorlie. Some movies are best seen on the big screen, he says. I agree. After all, we’re planning to watch Iron Man 3.

Keys to Drive Again

Thou shalt not honk. This is an Australian road rule that’s written in stone – somewhere, I’m sure. It’s right up there with “thou shalt indicate at all times – left, right, and centre.”

A bit different from driving in Mumbai where I keep my eyes on my left, right and centre, on the cars before, behind, and beside me and the bicycle that’s coming straight at me up the wrong side of the road. Asked how to reverse a car, a family friend learning to drive in India replied, “Get into first gear and look back.” She probably has it right.

I’ve been doing a different sort of travel these days – I’ve hit the roads to do a refresher course to learn driving the Aussie way. It’s been a steep learning curve. Bay parking, reversing in driveways, and roundabouts galore. My first time in fourth gear at 80 km/hr. To my Indian friends – no, I was not speeding. To my Aussie mates – yes, this is a Significant Moment. Also I was scared as *bleep*. Never know who my readers might be.

If you’re Australian, you can get free lessons via the “Keys to Drive” scheme. I’ve had to pay for lessons but it’s been worth it. I have had better instruction this time round. I understand better when to change gears and why. I’m not parroting a routine but thinking of the “why” behind each maneuver. Still, my instructor laughs because I’m confident on curvy roads and hill starts but panic at the sight of a sign that says 70. Speeding is the least of my problems.

I have also to my shame and disappointment had my first car accident, seen a car written off, and said farewell to my favourite Holden Barina in an auction yard filled with totalled relics. It was a Gumdrop moment. I know exactly how Josiah Oldcastle felt. Since then, I have researched cars online, visited a dealer, learnt to buy a vehicle, and dealt with insurers. Invaluable life skills, all.

I have few words of wisdom to impart. Insure with RAC – it’s worth it. Go to Aberdeen Auctions – you’ll find a good deal there. If you’re looking for lessons, the Defensive Driving School is a good place to start. Finally, look out for the slightly nervous Indian in a blue hatchback. She’s just got her keys to drive again and hopes she’s doing alright.