Value for Money?

(C) Julie Boyd 2010

We seem to cost more as we get older- or does it just seem that way? So when do we become cost-ineffective? Dogs, cars, people. We all get too expensive to run any more. Then what do we do?
My first car was a Mini. Chatsworth I called him, I have no idea why.

Spew- green in colour, Chatsworth was purchased for the phenomenal sum of $300.00 not long after we changed over to decimal currency. For the first couple of years I drove him through situations that I now warn my kids against. Mini-crams were a popular sport back then – particularly during vodka fuelled pub crawls. Thirteen was the maximum we ever got in to Chatty so that he could still be driven by our version of a designated driver. (Non-believers pleased check I have no idea how we did that and survived.

He was excellent at bouncing over kerbs, particularly those blocks they put in the centre of roads to stop you from turning around. He knew where he wanted to go, and always seemed to find his way to where we were headed, and then home again.

On University field trips to the beach, all in the pursuit of marine biological excellence, he was easily carried across footbridges along with his mate, a Fiat Bambino enticingly called Bambi. There was one time when Bambi was left on the beach overnight only to be found by an erstwhile young constable who promptly took it upon himself to search her, and found owner John’s private stash, which required some fast talking and slow smoking to mitigate. Bambi was the cheeky flirt while Chatty made an excellent wing-car when we all headed into Uni. We had a new building in which study supposedly took place, six storeys high – quite a skyscraper in Melbourne at the time, with an enticingly large lift designed for wheelchairs. Bambi’s cheekiness used to get her into terrible trouble and she’d often find herself jump-started, then pushed into the lift for a trip to the sixth floor, where she would be paraded around the large open lecture theatre in all her glory. John, her owner, would spend many confused hours trying to find where she’d gone on her latest adventure.
Mary the Ford Prefect, was another of Chatty’s mates. A delightfully genteel old lady, Mary’s most memorable moment came when a couple of girlfriends and I had been out for dinner at another mate’s place, right at the end of the newly opened South Eastern Freeway and none of us had noticed a pea-soup fog had settled over Melbourne. I don’t remember the imperative to get home that night but there must have been one. Mary’s headlights were a little dim- approximately ten candlepower, and given that we couldn’t see the end of the bonnet in the fog that did not bode well for the trip. It was just as well there were three of us in the car at the time. Kathy drove, Marg kept a watch out for the rails on the side of the road and other cars, and I sat on the bonnet holding two torches which we’d had the foresight to tuck into Mary’s bonnet.
Chatty also conveyed me and my friends the five hour drive home from uni when we craved one of Mum’s lamb roasts. Once he lost power, and brakes, going up the steep hill near my uncle’s farmhouse, and we proceeded backwards all the way off the road, through two fences and straight to the bottom, sailing sedately and sturdily with all four wheels planted on terra firma. Any other car would have rolled, and probably killed us all – but not Chatty. He was indestructible. We took less luggage after that, and my uncle got the tractor and towrope ready whenever he knew we were heading past

On another trip home- just me and him- I had my first flat tyre. Not being particularly mechanically minded (though I did know how to check water and oil), I found he didn’t possess a jack. Two hours from home in the middle of a very windy road along the Tambo River, I breathed a sigh of relief when a truckie pulled up behind us. The road was extremely narrow with bends that trucks often had to back around, so he completely blocked the road in both directions, so did his truck. Few cars used it so it didn’t matter.
I’d never met him before, his name was Big Phil, and he got the gist of my problem pretty quickly. ‘No worries love – git the spare and the wheelbrace out and git ready’. Before I could say ‘Ready for what?’ Phil backed up to the driver’s side door like a removal truck. I almost expected him to start beeping, but he squatted down, and picked the whole side of the car up. ‘Git on with it love, I can’t hold ‘er up all day.’ ‘Sorry mate, I’ve just never seen anyone pick a car up by themselves before.’

’And you probably don’t want to see it again – just git on with it.’ It never occurred to me that I probably should have been scared when the truck stopped. Serial killers seemed to be few and far between in those days though, and it was normal for people to stop and help each other. Phil, like the gentleman he was, then followed us all the way home in his bloody big truck, with his truckload of baaing sheep ‘just to make sure you don’t git yerself inter more trouble, love.’ He wouldn’t come in for a lamb roast- though by then Mum was used to me bringing home all kinds of strays. He thought the sheep might be upset.
As he started approached the Autumn of his life, Chatty appropriately developed rust-coloured spots. So as not to embarrass him, I enhanced the rust with stick-on flowers. The larger the spot, the larger the flower, until he pretty much looked like a moving botanical garden.

Someone tried to steal him once from our backyard in Carlton. We could hear the scuffling from where we were sitting inside eating one of Henry (one of my ten housemates) amazingly experimental dinners. Henry, clad in a Marilyn Monroe embossed apron and blonde wig, brandishing a large wooden spoon, stuck his head out the back window and yelled ‘don’t bother. All the cops in Melbourne know that car. Try a couple of doors down. They’ve got a Sprite.’

‘Thanks mate’ a disembodied and slightly quavery voice called back.
Paul called the cops, while I yelled out the front window to Mick, the cute Italian guy Sprite owner, who just happened to be standing at his front door. ‘Oi, Mick. Henry’s just sent a couple of car robbers who were trying to steal Chatty down to your place. See if you can keep them talking for a few minutes- the cops are on their way.’

Yes, Chatty had some adventures. But in my last year of uni first round, all of a sudden he got old, or maybe overly embarrassed by his flowers. Things started to go wrong. His clutch went, then the brakes, then the floor, until we could see the road underneath as we drove along. Once the cost of fixing him went over the cost of buying him, a decision had to be made- euthanasia, trade or sale. I was getting married as we needed a reason to extend the end of University party, and I needed a washing machine, so he got traded- the first mistake of my sojurn into marriage.

My uni husband, Mark 1, exceeded his purchase cost after ten years, so he had to go. Actually he exceeded it after six, but I couldn’t decide between euthanasia or trade, so it took a while.

My dog cost $600. For ten years he walked me along the beach, and kept me alive. Between us we buried or cremated twelve friends in that time, ten humans and two four-legged humans. We found dead stuff that he rolled in and I scrubbed off, sat each side of mates who were going through hard times, held the hands and paws of those who died, cleaned up rubbish left by day-trippers and shared our idyllic life with friends, family and everyone else we liked- and quite a few we didn’t like. Then one day he got old. His teeth started to fall out, his back legs went and we developed matching tumours. His mates are all in the same boat- so are mine. When his vet bill exceeded his initial purchase price, a decision had to be made. Euthanasia or trade. I don’t know that he’s made a decision about which is the most appropriate fate for me yet.


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