WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT CARS
Before we made an offer on this house, I spent time in each room trying to imagine our lives here. I worked out where I would put my favourite paintings, which room would be my office and where I could hide my dad’s mulga wood collection. My husband looked at the shed. Then he did a bit of Facebook stalking and realised that we would be sharing a back fence with two car guys. At the time, I didn’t think this was a big deal. I knew that Chris had big plans for the Valiant he had recently bought and that it is always handy to have neighbours who can help out. Now, three years down the track, I understand the importance of a shed and of being close to other people’s sheds. Our shed isn’t even great; it’s too small, the roof leaks and eventually it will be replaced. But the back fence has been jumped over so many times it has fallen over.
Women, or at least the women I know, can discuss anything anywhere. Men like my husband are different. Chris’s closest male relationship is with his brother, they speak on the phone at least once a week. They only ever discuss cars, but from these conversations they know how the other is feeling, whether or not work is stressful, and how the rest of the family is. I hope Chris doesn’t mind me saying that he was a bit of a train wreck in his twenties. Whenever he saw his brother, Andrew would think that it was for the last time. His way of helping was to give him the keys to his mechanic’s workshop and encourage him to work on his car. Slowly my husband got his life together and he has told me on several occasions that he would do anything for his brother because of this.
During our first year in the country Chris met another car guy a few streets away, and while helping to remove the Valiant’s original engine, he told Chris that he and the mother of his new child were not going to stay together. Although we hadn’t spent much time with them, it was obvious that the relationship was strained and that he was stressed about the situation. But it took a shed and a car that needed a bit of work for him to open up about it.
There is something about having a big chunk of steel between you or something to do with your hands that allows you to speak freely about other aspects of your life, and in this way several friendships have been cemented. As Chris explained to me, “Family, relationships, work, anxiety, this is what we talk about when we talk about cars.”
My husband would never quote Raymond Carver, at least not on purpose. When he was working in mining he sent me a photo of the whiteboard in the smoko room where he’d written ‘Notes from underground.’ I texted, Ha ha ha Dostoyevsky, to which he replied, That’s a Six Ft Hick reference you idiot.
Chris has had numerous cars over the years. He does them up, he sells them and he starts again, and he rarely becomes attached to them because there is always a new challenge on the market. But he has a soft spot for the Valiant because it represents a turning point in his life. He bought it just after we moved in together, he joined a Melbourne car club and met guys that he will be friends with forever. We drove to CHOPPED in it, and as a result we eventually ended up in Newstead. It was in a million pieces when our daughter was born, but it will be ready to drive her to her first day of school. There will be a baby seat in the back so he can take her to Drag Challenge and maybe even Drag Week. So when we talk about replacing the engine and rebuilding the diff, we are also discussing our daughter’s future.
It took me a long time to appreciate the effort it takes to modify a car. By the time the Valiant is exactly how Chris wants it, it will have cost a small fortune. But I know that it will have served him the same way writing serves me. It can be frustrating but it forces you to use your brain and demand the best of yourself. Even when the end result is not as good as you set out to achieve, the act of doing is often enough.
So CHOPPED is a big deal, it gives you even more reason to work on your car. The Boogaloo Invitational is a big deal. Car clubs are a big deal. I think it’s great that Beyond Blue funds initiatives like The Men’s Shed, but these are for older men. There is a younger generation living in regional Victoria who are doing something just as effective without assistance.