Monday, September 01, 2014
A tale about the original Mini and more
Today I've decided to do something different. I am showcasing the talents of an acquaintance of mine, Mr. Mo Halim. He brings to us a tale about the original Mini (appropriate since it too celebrates its 55th year of existence) and more. One that happened years and years ago and over in ol' England I presume.
by Mo Halim
My guardian bought one of the first Minis. She loved cars and had been driving since the early 30s in pre-war Malaya. She drove with panache and verve; fast and precise yet so relaxed. She had bought one the first Minis after she was invited to its public debut at a theatre in Birmingham. But after a succession of MGs it was too pedestrian for her driving style. So when the Mini Cooper came out, she immediately bought one.
She had four in succession, red, green, white, turquoise preferring the plain bog standard Mini Cooper with its 998 c.c. 55 bhp engine fed by twin SU carburettors to the extreme 1,275 c.c. Cooper S’s. The only extras were a spot light and a yellow fog light on the front bumper. She thought a Cooper S would be just a bit too showy for a lady in her 60s. But not the Cooper, which she reckoned was quite the perfect Q car for her, and for me.
Once I got my licence, I drove in rain, fog, sunshine, snow, sleet, hail, ice, even forded small streams. I relished every moment of it and of course got to know the car extremely well. ML, that's my guardian, who had been driving since the early 1930s was an enthusiastic driver. She drove with panache and verve; fast and precise yet so relaxed, exactly what I aspired to. She was an excellent mentor, being formerly an English teacher and later a director of education in The Colonies, and gave useful tips on how to handle a car, drive smoothly, anticipation, patience, courtesy to other road users.
ML even taught me two rather archaic skills now lost on the younger generation of motorists; how to double-declutch and how to heel-and-toe. Oh, just in case I had to drive a car with no synchromesh as she did in her youth out in pre-independent Malay and the Straits Settlements dodging bullock carts, cows, goats (and) people in her MG TA tanked up on aviation fuel. Of course I meant the MG, not ML!
She also encouraged me to get used to driving with just the right hand from time to time, the way I had often seen her do when she had a lit Players in the left hand. The Players, 50 in round airtight tins were unfiltered, or in student French sans tampax [how rude!], explaining the occasional bits of tobacco on the windscreen, and on my specs! Then the left hand would be free for other chores; release the hand brake, change gear, operate the choke, heater, wipers, indicator, lights [interior, side, headlight, spot, fog], open the one and only passenger door and window, rip open and tuck into a bag of Smith’s Crisps being careful not to accidentally bite on the salt in a twist of blue paper, steer the car in case I had to do hand signals with the right hand, wipe the inside of the front windscreen when it fogs up, reach for the box of tissues from the rear seat, blow my nose or chat or text on the mobile had it been invented!
I loved the pretty green light at the end of the indicator stalk. It blinked. At night, it blinked even brighter lighting up your whole face green so you looked like a Martian. And to change your headlights from high beam to low beam and back again you just press the metal button left of the clutch with your toe, so clever and so simple.
But then life was simple in those days.