My First Car
That car nearly killed me. Styled like a racing car, it was big, silver, clearly designed for speed with an open cockpit and a windscreen. The wheel centres were bright red, the seat padded and comfortable. I was vastly impressed and excited when I saw it waiting in the drive. It was an unexpected gift from my father.
There was a girl, Sonia, who lived round the corner in Muskoka Drive. After a little practice with the car, I invited her to have a drive. She seemed to have a lot of difficulty at first. Although older than I, and bigger, she did not seem very bright and did not speak clearly. At first she insisted on pushing the pedals round the wrong way, so she went backwards. At last she got the hang of it and drove all the way round the house. We took turns and soon discovered that if one of us sat on the bonnet, the other could drive and pedal, so two of us could ride at once. This was a lot of fun. We had very strict instructions not to go out of the gate. Traffic was very light but the road sloped slightly and, in our new suburb, had not yet been properly sealed.
Mummy had a maid, a teenaged girl called Rose who helped in the house for a small payment. She came for an hour or two several days in the week. They heard us going by in the little car every time we went past the kitchen where they were working. After a short interval we didn’t come when they had expected us. Mum said to Rose, “Just go and have a look to see what they are doing.”
I was on the bonnet of the car when Sonia turned sharply and out through the open gate. I knew this had been forbidden and felt it was wrong but didn’t know what to do. What happened next I never could recall. Suddenly I was running up the Avenue bleeding and in great distress, into Rose’s arms as she came dashing down the slope to pick me up.
When it was all worked out, it was discovered that the milkman had stopped his horse-drawn milk float outside our house and crossed the road with his bottles. Our noisy, flashy little car had clattered out almost under the horse’s nose, and he (or she) bolted. The cart, fortunately, did not roll right over us but we were caught up somehow and dragged along. The horse galloped all the harder, trying to get away from the rattly thing behind it. I do not know how far I was carried, but somewhere I fell off, luckily away from the iron-shod wheels. That’s how I came to be hurt. The horse careered on, swung desperately round the corner into a cul de sac. At some point the pedal car broke away and stopped with Sonia, still in the cockpit, not seriously harmed but with a sprained ankle from the flailing of the pedals or, perhaps, hitting her foot on the road moving underneath. Still running wild, the horse crashed into and through the fence at the end of the road, bursting into the field beyond, where it collapsed. Poor creature, it was so badly injured that it had to be put down. The milk cart was totally destroyed. I suppose the whole street was littered with broken bottles and spilled milk. I cried all right!
It could have been worse. I believe the milkman was held responsible for leaving the horse and cart unattended with the wheel brake off. Our gate should not have been left open, but perhaps it had been closed and the milkman himself had left it open, I do not know.
I was in bed for a few days with bandages on my head and some nasty scrapes and bruises. During this period I had the odd dream experience of being outside the house looking in through the window at myself in bed with bandages on. Perhaps I had been knocked a bit silly after all!
I never expected to see the silver car again. It was wrecked. To my astonishment, some time later it reappeared, or one just the same. There may have been an insurance claim, but I do not recall ever driving the thing again.
We children should not have been disobedient but I could have signed an affidavit; “I wasn’t driving the car. I had lent it to my friend Sonia.”
(Footnote. I wrote about this incident of my childhood at a time when Australians were reading in the daily papers about the disgrace of a notable judge who, having been caught speeding, signed an affidavit claiming that he had lent his car to a female friend from the USA. It was discovered that the woman he referred to had been dead for years.)