Open doors and apologies all round

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My husband left the flame under the pan this morning
after he had cooked up a batch of bacon and chorizo. When I walked into the
kitchen to fetch my second cup of tea for the morning the place was grey with
smoke.  He was reading the newspaper at the kitchen table and had not
noticed until I pointed it out and then we discovered the overheating fry
pan. 
Open doors and apologies all round.  The smoke
has dispersed though the smell of burned fat remains.  It could have been
worse.  It could have been kippers, another of my husband’s favourite
weekend breakfasts, and one which leaves its traces in the air long after it’s
been eaten.
I can’t get Varuna out of my mind.  The smell of
the house, musty, the green of the garden and its warmth.  It can get cold
in the Blue Mountains but I have only been there through the sultry heat of an
early summer, when the weather is unpredictable in the form of heavy storms,
early mists, higher temperatures and rising humidity.   

 Varuna, outside my window, and inside the Green Room.
‘Let my nerves be strained like wires between the city
of no and the city of yes!’  Yevtushenko.
These are the words that someone had penned onto a
scrap of paper in blue ink and pinned to the fridge in the kitchen at Varuna.
 They have stayed with me as a reminder of the tension between
writing and life.  
Yesterday my youngest daughter went for her driver’s license
and passed.  It’s the end of an era for me.  Four daughters, all of
whom can now drive a car, or at least are licensed to drive. 
To me it’s a major achievement largely because it took
me so long to get mine.  I had left home by then but even if I were still
at living at home I could no more imagine my father taking me out to practice
driving than asking him to walk me up the aisle.  Neither of which I did. 
Instead I left learning to drive until I was in my
early twenties and into my first proper job.  I paid for driving lessons
from an instructor who took me out sometimes twice weekly in his turquoise
Datson Z.  We drove through the streets of Caulfield. 
In those days I had broken up with my first long term
boyfriend and shared a flat with my youngest sister in Narong Road.  My
driving instructor may have had an islander background judging by his dark
complexion and shock of wary hair.  He was kind and competent.
‘You’re phobic about driving,’ he said to me one day
after months of seemingly getting nowhere.  I drove all right but I
panicked whenever I needed to make a major change, for instance whenever I
needed to go down the gears to slow down or to stop.
I failed my license twice as a result. The first time
I could not bring myself to stop when a man with a wheelbarrow crossed the
footpath of the exit to the driving school.  I nearly ran him over.
 The instructor stopped the test immediately.  The second time round
I failed because I completely stuffed up the parallel parking.  By rights
I should have failed a third time because I could not master parallel parking
but my final examiner took pity on me and let me through. 
I have not been able to parallel park since those days, but if there is a large enough space between cars I can now reverse
into place without too many turns of the wheel.  I’m comfortable driving
these days but I was such an anxious driver in my early years that I have
worried about passing on these anxieties to my daughters.  It seems I have
not succeeded.  They are all more confident behind the wheel than I ever was.  
I think I may be experiencing similar difficulties as
I experienced learning to drive in relation to writing my book,  not
writing it per se, but putting it together.
It is as if I have trouble getting the gears to work
in harmony in order to master my story.  You might have noticed, a
tendency to be all over the shop.  
Still, I tell myself, I will get there.  What
other writer hasn’t struggled in such an endeavour?  Besides, I learned to
drive in my twenty second year finally and I have been driving ever since, give
or take a year when I first held my license, but was too scared to use it.  Now that’s another story.

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33 Comments on Open doors and apologies all round

  1. Jim Murdoch
    December 8, 2012 at 1:09 pm (5 years ago)

    My father being my father taught me to drive. The idea of paying for lessons was a complete anathema to him. We began shortly before my seventeenth birthday—that’s the minimum age in the UK—on some private ground over by the industrial estate but the first time he took me on a main road he did it in the dark believe it or not, a short run admittedly, maybe a couple of miles, but it was terrifying. I failed my test twice. The thing was I was driving every day anyway. I even drove to work and back for a couple of years before I got my licence. We car pooled and on my weeks one of the other drivers would drive over to our house, switch cars and sit beside me. The day I passed was not long after I’d moved house and was living literally across the road from the office and had no need of a licence.

    I haven’t owned a car for getting on twenty years now. There are things I miss about not having one but what I found when I did have one was that I just crammed more into my life; a car didn’t give me any more free time, just a lot more stress. I’m mechanically-challenged and if I never had to open the bonnet of a car I could’ve lived with that. I wanted to turn the key, for it to start first time and take me from A to B without breaking down. Sadly that was never the case and I have a long history of breakdowns; only a few minor accidents though.

    I actually used to enjoy driving and have many pleasant memories associated with being in a car, usually with music blaring. I had a job for a while driving a van and I can remember sitting on Princes Street in Edinburgh in the middle of summer with the windows rolled down and AC/DC on the ghetto-blaster. My sister, when we were still talking, used to regularly appear at my door and want to go for a drive. We’d just pick a direction and see where it took us. That, I have to say, I do miss.

    Carrie and I’ve talked about getting a car but we both agree it would be a waste. For the few times when a car would be handy we can just hire a taxi and mostly when those instances arise we think about the cost of a taxi and decide either not to bother or find another way round the problem.

    My daughter does not have a driving licence. I think she’s only sat her test once—she took proper driving lessons too—but since, like me, most of her driving would be within the city of Glasgow buses and trains are every bit as quick if not quicker; parking is a nightmare. She did get the results of her degree course, a 2.1 in Psychology which is what she was hoping for. Considering the fact she was holding down a fulltime job for most of the time I think she did well. Who cares if she can’t drive? I’m still dead proud of her.

    Reply
  2. Joanne Noragon
    December 8, 2012 at 4:43 pm (5 years ago)

    I am not writing a book, but the gear shifting analogy is so apt for life's endeavors–including raising children. My 20 year old granddaughter recently said, concerning living here when she was eight through twelve years old, "I used to wake up every mornng to Uncle Tom burning his breakfast."

    Reply
  3. ellen abbott
    December 8, 2012 at 4:49 pm (5 years ago)

    bacon and chorizo? together?

    Reply
  4. pviljoen
    December 8, 2012 at 5:40 pm (5 years ago)

    I got my drivers license for the second time now recently. It's a long story about the law of the land that changed. The feeling of freedom with this little green card is quite astounding. Hoping to get a vehicle next!

    Reply
  5. Kath Lockett
    December 8, 2012 at 6:49 pm (5 years ago)

    …I can't parallel park either and passed because I got full marks in everything else!

    Even now I have to find at least three car parks in a row to glide on through or I drive around the block and park further away.

    Hopefully that doesn't represent my writing future – or yours!

    Reply
  6. Kirk
    December 8, 2012 at 7:14 pm (5 years ago)

    I had a difficult time learning how to drive and getting my license, too. My mother, even though she drove her self, was reluctant to let me or my siblings drive, and threw up roadblocks (no pun intended) whenever she could. She used to tell me how she used to walk everwhere in her youth. Well, that was fine for her as grew up in a Cleveland neighborhood in the 40s and 50s when everyone did that. But I grew up in a semi-rural suburb with no sidewalks! My high school offered a driving course, and my mom said, I could learn there. Except that the three other kids who shared my car in that course already KNEW how to drive, their parents having already taught them. They just needed to take the course to get some sort of certificate in order to get their license. I was only one in the car that actually needed to learn from scratch how to drive, something the rather impatient "instructor" wasn't expecting. I flunked the course. Eventually my father taught me (my parents were divorced, which is why he wasn't involved earlier) but I was about 21–the delays made me more nervous about driving as time went on– when I finally got my license, much older than anyone one I went to school with.

    Reply
  7. Anthony Duce
    December 9, 2012 at 12:26 am (5 years ago)

    I’m jealous of your time at the writing retreat. It would be so great to be in such a community for a while. Although it’s probably a good thing you were where you were when the burner was left on. Congratulations on getting the last one on the road…

    Reply
  8. Anonymous
    December 9, 2012 at 12:54 am (5 years ago)

    Haha. I had just rescued a pan of boiled fruit cake from catching before I opened your blog.
    I also failed my driving tests – 4 TIMES.
    Would you let someone with that track record teach your children?
    My husband thought it was fine even though he has a very low opinion of my skills.
    My daughter in law thought it was fine because her family live interstate, so who else was there?
    My sons thought it was fine even though they challenge every opinion and piece of advice I give them otherwise.
    In fact my skills were preferable to paying a professional instructor, a thought that horrified my sons when I suggested they put their hands in their pockets, LIKE YOU AND I DID, to learn the finer points.
    Definitely living between the cities of yes and no, here.
    Or is that, Yeahbutnobutyeahbutno. . .
    Karen C

    Reply
  9. Christine
    December 9, 2012 at 5:35 am (5 years ago)

    The one and only time I parallel parked, successfully, was during my driving test – in a large Valiant Charger ( my regquest because I would be borrowing my parents' family saloon once I passed). I have never done so well, since and for a long time avoided reverse parks as much as I could. I can sympathise with you about the smokey environs… although my husband developed a new recipe for smoked watermelon when he unknowingly put a carton of eggs that had caught fire back into the fridge after cooking his morning breaffast.

    Reply
  10. steven
    December 9, 2012 at 6:14 am (5 years ago)

    elisabeth – i am fifty five – i have never had a license. i know how to drive but i don't. i would, but for the license. i'm working on getting past that strange conundrum. i bicycle everywhere. groceries, house items, laundry, schoolwork, everything. friends help me out. taxis sometimes as well. i'm very healthy! steven

    Reply
  11. River
    December 9, 2012 at 9:52 am (5 years ago)

    The smoking pan could have been much worse if it had burst into flames.
    I never learned to drive a car, although I did drive a motor bike (scooter really) for three and a half years.

    Reply
  12. The Weaver of Grass
    December 9, 2012 at 4:41 pm (5 years ago)

    My 'pan' experience involved the pan actually catching fire and me in a panic until the farmer calmly took it out of my hand and covered it with a wet cloth! You panic with your driving – me with the frying pab – it takes all sorts.

    Reply
  13. Rob-bear
    December 9, 2012 at 5:00 pm (5 years ago)

    Four daughters with licences, all licensed to drive you crazy. So to speak. Yes, bad puns.

    Christmas in Oz, "dashing through the bush in a rusty Holden ute," and all that.

    Christmas blessings, and Bear hugs (from the hibernating Bear in the North).

    Reply
  14. Lally
    December 9, 2012 at 5:03 pm (5 years ago)

    Love the "wary" hair on the driving instructor Elisabeth, and everything else in this post, as always.

    Reply
  15. Elisabeth
    December 13, 2012 at 9:57 pm (5 years ago)

    I think it might be different in Australia, Jim, at least in parts of Melbourne. The public transport system is not very good. If it were better I think we'd use tend to use it more. But also, distances between activities can be vast, too vast to do without a car, otherwise you'd spend entire days traveling between appointments and jobs.

    In relation to missing your license twice, despite the obvious fact you could already drive – at least from what you write here – in Melbourne the examiners are apparently much tougher on males. They assume that women drivers tend to be slower and more sensible. Although people cheat in their log books, it's hard to clock up the requisite 120 hours and harder still to pass the test. The slightest error can cause you to fail, again even when it's clear you can drive.

    Much of the experience is about ramming the safety-first message. Not a bad thing, I reckon. Cars are monster weapons in the wrong or careless hands, as much as they can be a great help at times.
    And in truth, we'd probably be better off without cars in their present form. They are not one bit environmentally friendly. I therefore admire people who can live without them.

    Thanks, Jim.

    Reply
  16. Elisabeth
    December 13, 2012 at 10:59 pm (5 years ago)

    Your grand daughter's memory is a poignant one, Joanne – waking up to the smell of her uncle's burnt breakfast. Smell is such a powerful inducement to memories.

    Thanks, Joanne.

    Reply
  17. Elisabeth
    December 13, 2012 at 11:01 pm (5 years ago)

    Bacon and chorizo together, yes, Ellen. It's not an uncommon accompaniment here in Melbourne, Australia – the one with the other and maybe some mushrooms and tomatoes and even spinach for the vegetable matter. Tasty when cooked without burning.

    Thanks, Ellen

    Reply
  18. Elisabeth
    December 13, 2012 at 11:03 pm (5 years ago)

    I hope you get your vehicle soon, pviljoen. A driver's license can seem very liberating when it's needed.

    Thanks, and for your other thoughts, too, pviljoen, which I have omitted from here as you asked.

    Reply
  19. Elisabeth
    December 13, 2012 at 11:58 pm (5 years ago)

    If parallel parking is a metaphor for the future of my writing, Kath, then I'm in real trouble, as you suggest. If only it were so easy.

    I think I could master this type of parking now, if I put my mind to it that is, but I'm so used to travelling the long way around. Still your comment here has me thinking again.

    Thanks, Kath.

    Reply
  20. Elisabeth
    December 14, 2012 at 12:57 am (5 years ago)

    I suspect it is easier to get your license when you're young, Kirk. As you say the longer you put it off the more daunting it becomes. It's the same with much learning. We are so much more flexible and agile in our youth, the only trouble is we also tend to be more reckless.

    Here in Melbourne, if you delay getting your license till you're 21 you do not have to complete the 120 hours of learning time, It's reduced somewhat. So there seems to be some recognition that the older you are the safer you are and that's borne out by the statistics.

    Thanks, Kirk.

    Reply
  21. Elisabeth
    December 14, 2012 at 1:01 am (5 years ago)

    thanks for the congratulations, with this last one on the road, Anthony. As for my writing retreat, you're justified in feeling a little jealous but already it seems so far in the past. The Christmas rush tends to swallow all in its wake.

    Reply
  22. Elisabeth
    December 14, 2012 at 1:56 am (5 years ago)

    Yes and no indeed, Karen. You're the first person I've met – albeit online- who has failed to get her license more times than me. Four times. It's a wonder you managed t go back again and again.

    I have a pet theory: once is an accident, twice a coincidence, three times something's going on. Four times round something's definitely going on. But clearly you've vindicated yourself by teaching your sons to drive.

    Thanks, Karen.

    Reply
  23. Elisabeth
    December 14, 2012 at 2:01 am (5 years ago)

    I almost can't imagine that Christine, a lit egg carton in the back of the fridge that gave way to smoked watermelon. Amazing.

    As for managing to parallel park even once in a Valiant charger, to me that's a major triumph.

    Thanks, Christine.

    Reply
  24. Elisabeth
    December 14, 2012 at 2:54 am (5 years ago)

    How lovely to hear from you again, steven. Cycling everywhere must guarantee good health, the only danger being those monster cars on the road that might threaten to run into you and cause damage.

    Happy safe cycling, therefore. Thanks, steven.

    Reply
  25. Elisabeth
    December 14, 2012 at 3:09 am (5 years ago)

    If you can manage a scooter, /River, I imagine you could – with help and practice – soon learn to drive a car. The concepts are similar, though clearly cars are a lot bigger.

    I think I'd feel safer in a car, less of that immediate skin to skin contact in the event of an accident.

    And yes, you're right, it would be far worse if the pan had caught on fire. Thank goodness, it didn't.

    Thanks, River.

    Reply
  26. Elisabeth
    December 14, 2012 at 3:11 am (5 years ago)

    It takes all sorts, as you say, Pat – you with your flaming pan and me my car. I've had a pan catch on fire on me before but it burnt out as quickly as it caught alight.

    I'm not sure how I'd go if it were worse than that. I hope I'd have the farmer's presence of mind and get it under a wet cloth.

    Thanks, Pat.

    Reply
  27. Elisabeth
    December 14, 2012 at 3:15 am (5 years ago)

    It's all I've known, Rob-bear and perhaps as a consequence I've come to enjoy a nice hot Christmas. It feels just right for us. Though there are others who long for white Christmases, not me.

    Still I hope you enjoy yours, whatever form it takes.
    Thanks, Rob-bear.

    Reply
  28. Elisabeth
    December 14, 2012 at 3:19 am (5 years ago)

    A typo no doubt , Michael. I think I meant 'wavy' but you'd know that, I expect.

    It's good to see you here again. I'm sorry I've been tardy moving elsewhere of late. Snowed under with life and writing as I am.

    Thanks, Michael.

    Reply
  29. Anonymous
    December 14, 2012 at 10:40 pm (5 years ago)

    Yes, Elisabeth, after 3 fails any normal brain person would probably have heeded the warning, but as you can see I'm a slow learner.
    But I CAN parallel park!!
    Karen C

    Reply
  30. Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte
    December 16, 2012 at 9:54 pm (5 years ago)

    How good that things are moving along for you. I wonder how come you no longer stop by my posts. Perhaps I have made a mistaken comment ??

    Reply
  31. Elisabeth
    December 21, 2012 at 6:27 am (5 years ago)

    Sorry for my delay in visiting you, Heidi. Please don't take offense. I have simply stopped getting out and about in cyberspace of late. As I said to Robert just now, I'm trying to complete a book. I don't want to stop blogging altogether but I found I was spending so much time out and about within the blogosphere that I did not get my own writing done. I've had to restrict my time in blogland. It seems rude not to return visits but I can't manage more at the moment. In the fullness of time, I will hopefully manage more again.

    Thanks, Heidi.

    Reply
  32. Elisabeth
    December 21, 2012 at 6:28 am (5 years ago)

    Good for you, Karen, that you can parallel park. So much smarter than me. Thanks.

    Reply
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