Problems with Motor Cars

My first motor car was an old Morris Minor. I got it in the seventies and I could drive anywhere in it with impunity: into town, on dates, to the mountains and the sea. There was never a problem with parking space. I even remember parking in O’Connell Street. Little did I know then what the motor car would become with its ubiquity changing what had been a pleasure into a nightmare. The friendly vehicle had become a monster. It strangulated lives in gridlocks, distorted faces of drivers into visages of angst, their blood pressure raised as they impotently sat immobile, unable for fight or flight, in huge parking lots like the M50.
Chivalry frequently goes out the door now when some people get behind a wheel. There are too many concerns to bother to indicate when one eventually gets to move. There are people smoking—who can blame them? or engrossed on their mobile phones. I have seen drivers pick their noses, comb their hair, put on makeup, shave and even brush their teeth. All these things I can put up with, but my biggest bugbear, the one that makes me see red before I even come near a traffic light, is block parking. I have experienced it outside garden gates rendering people virtual prisoners in their own homes. I have seen it at schools, but the worst I experienced was in a church parking area. I had come out of the church and received an urgent phone call to say a family member had taken ill. I found my car blocked by another car. I had to wait for fifteen minutes until a lady appeared nonchalantly chatting to a friend. She got into the blocking car and drove away oblivious to the world around her.
That same Morris Minor figures in my novel, Peeling Oranges

when Jack the tailor buys an old car for his daughter Sinéad to the later regretted mocking of her boyfriend Derek:

It’s a sultry summer’s day when Sinéad gets the motor car. Her father bought it for her. She uses it to deliver pants and suits to draperies throughout the suburbs.
‘More and more made to order, less and less made to measure,’ Jack says about the suits as if all human frames are gradually being homogenised.
When I see the car, I laugh. It is a black Morris Minor, 1957 model.
‘You’re the first person under fifty that I’ve seen drive one of those. I bet it doesn’t go more than twenty miles an hour.’
‘Jump in and I’ll show you.’
‘How about going for a swim?’
‘We can collect our swimsuits on the way.’
We speak in Irish for a while. But the sun is shining, forcing a levity in us. Eventually she tires of trying to win me over.
‘If Tadhg Rua saw me now,’ she says in English, ‘he’d be laughing at me.’
‘Why should he? Your point was about freedom. You have the right to choose. There are two national languages.’
When we get onto the open road, she puts her foot down on the accelerator and the motorcar shakes like a sack of bones.
‘There’s a hole in the floor,’ I say.
‘That’s the emergency brake.’ She laughs and revs up the engine some more.
‘Sinéad, take it easy.’
‘Not till you take back what you said.’
‘What did I say?’
‘About Morris Minors.’
‘I take it back. Watch out.’
She swerves suddenly, but is unable to avoid hitting a dog which was nonchalantly stepping off a kerb. The dog scurries for a bit, whining, and then lies down panting on the road, blood oozing from his head. We spread a newspaper on the back seat of the car and bring him to a vet.
Sinéad drives slowly for the rest of the journey. She’s upset about the dog. ‘Will it be all right?’ ‘They’ll look after it,’ I say. When we reach the sea, her humour improves, and we park the car and walk along the beach looking for a sheltered spot.
She slides out of her figurehugging jeans in a sand dune.
‘Don’t look,’ she says, and we both laugh out of the well of memory. And I wonder is it possible she may have left her ideological baggage in some faraway terminal to be collected later?
We run what seems like a half mile to catch the sea. I look at the wide, virtual emptiness of an Irish beach, and I think of the congestion of sprawling flesh frying under a Spanish sun. And I think of space and the lack of it, and single rooms with families and rent collectors knocking down doors, and I know now why Liberties’ children love the seaside.

Peeling Oranges is a novel full of personal and political intrigue, fraught with ideology, as it intersects the histories of two emergent nations—Ireland and Spain. It is also a beautiful and lyrically written love story of childhood sweethearts—the apolitical Derek and the passionate nationalist, Sinéad Ní Shúilleabháin.
‘A book to lose oneself in. I highly recommend it.’ Gabriel Byrne.
‘In the vast sea of fiction it is a true hidden gem’. Contemporary Books.

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Author: James Lawless

Irish novelist, poet and short story writer.

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