A tangent about driving – seats down, seatbelts optional

car driving at night

The days when seatbelts were mostly optional and families flattened the chairs in the back of the station wagon to drive from Joburg to the seaside for a holiday. My family included—me, my two younger brothers, mom, and dad in the driver’s seat (don’t dare kick your legs into the back of his chair or else). Luggage was crammed skilfully into any nook and cranny so that we could travel without restraint—limbs expanding, wandering, invading, irritating and accosting nearby siblings. Space. Now it’s all seatbelts and car seats until you’re 12. To keep us alive, of course.

Sometimes though, it feels good to not do what you’re told…

As I drove casually through the blackened streets of Muswell Hill into Highgate through Hampstead – baby Jackson sitting quietly in his car seat and his big sisters lying on a bed of coats in the back of our maroon hatchback VW Touran – the background hum of 80s on Heart radio and the glow of streetlights lulled me back to childhood. Car journeys home after dark. We’d leave whoever we’d been visiting (my little brother always in the arms of a parent); the three of us propped in the back of the car—leaning and lolling, limped limbs unfurled in a haze of sleepiness, like ragdolls. Sad to leave but ready to go. I’d lie down, close my eyes and allow myself to drift to anywhere as the hypnotic duk-duk-duk-duk of the rubber tires driving over cats’ eyes on the highway took me away. Sometimes I’d try and guess where we were at in our journey by how the car turned—right, left, sharp, gradual. Other times I’d sit up and simply stare out of the window, at life by night; strange and incomprehensible.  

I was driving randomly in and around the suburbs of North London because I’d locked my house keys inside (along with my phone and bag) and was stuck in the driveway with my three children and our car. This was not the time that I hauled my seven-month pregnant ass onto two carefully (not precariously) balanced rubbish bins so that I could climb onto the mossy roof and through the window to get back inside (who knew climbing trees in the bundus would equip me for days like this?). This time though, we played the patient game (because I had closed the window before leavingthe South African in me). We waited. The children were bored. I was bored. We had no food. Or money to buy any. I decided to take a drive while we waited for dad-Zan to return with keys to liberate.

It was late so I folded down the back seats so that Amelia and Layla could lie down and dream while I drove for distraction. My little son (previously the 7-month-old bump I’d taken through the window), strapped into his seat, was not afforded the adventure of the impromptu back seat holiday bed but it was a treat for the big girls who were far too excited to be lulled into any sort of childhood sentimentalityor sleep. They still talk about it—“Breaking the law, breaking the law” (Judas Priest says it best, right?); how awesome it was. Truth is: you can take the girl out of South Africa but you can’t take South Africa out of the girl. Well, not all of it. There must be some sort of compromise if one is going to successfully assimilate, however. Like, a stop sign (as rare as it might be) means stop – as in Ess-Tee-Oh-Pee – not slow down and dash through if no one’s around. I’ll Ess-Tee-Oh-Pee but only in exchange for the occasional holiday bed. You’re welcome. 

It took some mental adjustment to learn the driving culture in England, and participate successfully. Pedestrians have right of way at zebra crossings (strange) and if a pedestrian defies the nanny state by daring to cross without a robot or stripes to guide the way, no one punches the hooter in a fury. Also, putting foot to accelerator in an effort to teach jaywalkers a lesson about dawdling across the road is not considered an acceptable manner of behaviour. There is no parking on pavements or ramping up the curb outside your pal’s house to park off the street—and never leave your car in the driveway. Never. Cars live on roads in designated parking pays. Always abide by parking restrictions or you’ll be fined in seconds—guards (not communists) lurk behind bushes and do not take bribes. Be courteous to busses and watch out for cyclists. Traffic circles do not require you to stop and red robots are not suggestions, even at night. Speed and you’ll hit a bump so high that your car will receive an instantaneous facelift. Bus lanes are for busses only (right?). And if you own a diesel not only will you be screwed by ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) laws but your engine will die as the max speed of 50mph (80km/ph) on every single highway in the country is not enough to burn the soot out of your Particulate Filter. Taxis are black cabs or ubers and if your car is not roadworthy you may not drive. You must have a valid driver’s license to operate a vehicle on the road. No really. 


Author & Storyteller: Andrea Zanin

Andrea is a writer, wife, mother and dreamer; also the author of this website. She moved to London in 2006 to earn £s, travel, see bands and buy 24-up Dr Martens—which she did, and then ended up staying. Andrea lives in North London with her husband (also a Saffa) and five children. She loves this grand old city but misses her home and wishes her children could say “lekker” (like a South African) and knew what a “khoki” is.

Photo by ZACHARY STAINES on Unsplash

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