It’s okay to grab a tiger by the tail, if you know what to do next.
I was sure that my brother Graeme did know, because he had the accumulated wisdom of being four years older than me, so I went along for the ride - literally.
It may help to point out that he was all of ten years old.
Our eldest brother Ian was learning to drive and Dad was giving him lessons.
It was a brave move for them both, given that our car was straight out of the old television series “The Untouchables.” (Not that we knew about that show, for we did not then have a television set; which made sitting down and staring at the corner of our lounge room a little pointless.)
Our “Pontie,” a 1929 Pontiac, was as streamlined as - and only slightly faster than – a medieval church. Its spare wheel was bolted onto a rear bracket, between the two halves of its divided bumper bar, invisible from anyone inside.
“Can we come too, Dad?” we pestered; to no avail. Dad refused us, because he knew we could prove to be a dangerous distraction for our learner-driver brother. I did not realise this, so I sadly watched them climb inside.
“Are you coming?” asked a voice beside me. I turned to see Graeme, my sophisticated elder brother, with a big grin on his face.
“Uh, okay,” I stammered, following him to the back of the car. He climbed onto the right-side bumper and showed me how to link arms around the spare wheel. I clambered onto the other side and wrapped my arms through also. The tiny oval rear window made the car’s occupants oblivious to our presence, as we lurched and stuttered our way onto the roadway.
We had the tiger by the tail.
It may help to let you know of our neighbourhood. We weren’t poor; we just didn’t have any money. When we opened our windows of a morning, the birds threw bread into us; and a plane crash three blocks away once caused about fifteen dollars’ worth of improvements.
We lived on the edge of town; near hilly, unsealed tracks that meandered up and down through a forest that was pockmarked with long-abandoned gold diggings that were filled with muddy water. Not a good place to be lost, if we fell from our precarious roosts.
However, our mutual fear of imminent death locked our thoughts away from any idea of admiring the scenery as we splashed our way through soggy potholes and corrugations. The roar of the motor and the crashing of the gearbox in inexpert hands made any cries for help a waste of time, so we silently clung there as our brother explored a “grind them until you find them” approach to his gear selections.
Then, bliss! We found the highway, and smoother cruising began.
At this point I will switch to quoting how Dad told the rest of our family what followed.
“We were coming home along the highway when we heard a loud car horn behind us. Ian asked me if he was doing anything to upset him.
“‘No,’ I told him, ‘just keep on going, you’re doing fine.’ But this fellow kept his horn busy. Then he suddenly pulled out alongside us and pointed to the back of the Pontie with a terrified look on his face.
“He pulled over just ahead of us and jumped out of his car. He raced back to us and I’d never seen such a white face. ‘You’ve got two kids on the back!’ he told us, so we got out to follow him around.
“That’s when I saw two even whiter faces than the man who had stopped us, because we went over all the bush tracks as well as the highway. I don’t know how they managed to stay there for all that time.”
I don’t know how we managed either, but this episode remains for me one experiment in which even one attempt is one too many.
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