Mea Culpa Moped Misery

Continuing with my adventures on Crete in 1979

People ask me how it is I can remember so much detail of events that happened nearly forty years ago, and there are several answers. I really do naturally have a good memory, and my earliest dates back to when I was around three or a bit younger. Secondly, my older brother taught me to be observant from when I was very young, and this, coupled with an enquiring mind, sears images, sounds and smells into the memory banks. Thirdly, my travels in Europe were taken in my early twenties, a time when you are still a sponge, and I was enthusiastically living in places and cultures that were so foreign and new to me, that everything was record-able in the memory banks. And finally, I have a bent for languages when I am immersed in each country, so that helps you notice what else is happening around you, as you are not struggling every moment with the simpler things (although I can do a decent mime when when after a three-minute soft-boiled egg).

There is another resource though, photos and letters. I wrote to my mother about once a month. She kept the letters, and I have them now. It’s from one of those that I learnt – to my surprise – that I quit my job at the hotel on Crete after about eight weeks. Now that is something I’d forgotten. I wrote “I’ve become very annoyed and irritable with the system – chaos – in the restaurant, and felt I wanted time to relax again“.

Even though it is recorded in my own hand I can’t rely on that being the whole truth. After all, a working title of my memoir was “Things I Never Told My Mother“.  It sounds as if I just got too lazy to work, and was in the fortunate position of being financially able to throw the towel in.

I intended to take my sleeping bag and join some other friends on the beach. I regularly slept on the beach when the heat and crowding in our basement worker’s dormitory became unbearable. But the hotel owner offered for me to stay on in the shared room, continue to take my meals with the other staff, and work in the bar as a casual whenever I felt like it! Which was exceedingly generous. He also asked me to stay on through the off-season and teach his two young sons English, but I declined that.

I had a master plan to move on to Kos and Samos but I was waiting for the tourist season to lose some of its heat, otherwise I figured I’d have Buckley’s of finding cheap accommodation. As part of that plan I wanted to learn to ride a moped.

Now I will diverge to a completely different story, one that happened about three years earlier. I was working for a Port Adelaide customs agent as a waterfront clerk. I was very pleased to have this job, because women in this industry were usually book-keepers, typists and switchboard operators (which is where I started). All stuck in the office, all day, every day, and never seeing one end of the ship to the other.

I was mostly in the office too, checking off import documentation and smoothing any hiccups before they went to “The Customs Classifier”. In the days of high import tariffs, these guys were next to God. They had the glassed-in office, and you tipped your cap and grovelled when you needed to see them. Seriously. But they were nice guys too. First name basis . . . I think . . . although their surnames come readily to mind . . .

So one day I get a set of documents that says a company is importing a moped. I rang them and asked what was a moped. They said it was a bicycle with a motor attached. . . . riiiigggght.

So I went to the classifier and told him, and he told me to get the heck out of his office and clarify what the heck it was before I even thought about putting the paperwork on his desk.

So this means that you have to book an appointment with the government man from Australian Customs, and together you go on the ship and decide what this item is, before it is allowed to come off the ship.

I have to clarify at this point, I am talking about pre-containerisation days.

So I book my appointment, and I grab my crowbar – because the moped was packed in a wooden crate – and we go up the gangway together, Mr Sir Customs Man in front of course, and he stands around chatting with the Captain while I work on opening the crate.

Except, I must confess, I only took women’s liberation as far as it suited me, so on this day I looked around until I caught the eye of a nice young sailor and he opened the crate for me.

After that it was up to me to find the instructions and put the nuts and bolts together – loosely, ‘cos this was only a demonstration – and when the thing was finished and we stood it up, it was a bicycle with a motor on it.

And that was the first moped to be imported to Adelaide, circa 1976.

Okay, so where was I. Oh yes. I was saying that as part of the plan of touring Kos and Samos, I wanted to learn to ride a moped.

Okay, minor problem. I cannot ride a bicycle. My brother did let me have a go at his, but he is nine years older, and it was a 26″ wheeler and I was a little girl. Every time the pedals went down, I had to let them go without my foot attached, and try to catch them again on the way up. It took so much concentration there was nothing left for balance.

And although I’ve learnt many a life lesson since I was a little girl, riding a bicycle is not one of them.

But! By the time I got to Crete I had been on many motorcycles. I luuuurv motorcycles.  When I rode pillion, that is. I was a great pillion passenger. Riding pillion is like dancing to a Latino beat. You just have to trust the leader and lean in to his or her rhythm. (yeah, yeah – there is more to it than that, but this is a story for goodness sake. You fill in the missing pieces.)

Okay, second minor problem. When you ride pillion, you are not the one up front.

So here I am on a moped in Crete, and I’m with a group, and we’re riding off-road on some very bumpy, rocky tracks. And that was good. Because I could feel the bumps and ride them, like going with a rough swell at sea, and it took so much concentration that I forgot I was driving a two-wheeled “thing” for the first time in my life.

And then we had to rejoin the main road. It was up an incline, and there was traffic coming. So we had to stop, and I put my foot down to brace, and my foot slipped on the loose stones and gravel on the side of the road, and the moped slid backwards, and I tipped backwards with it.

Now, if I had any sense, I would have let go of the moped, preferably throwing it away from me at the same time. Instead, I gripped the handles and took it with me as I fell flat on my back. The moped itself wasn’t heavy. I was winded, and I had a machine lying on top of me, the engine still running, but at that moment the situation was recoverable . . . and then . . . I let my free leg drop  . . .

Now there is a sensation, that, once felt, you never forget. At first you feel nothing. That lasts about as long as it takes to tuck in a miniskirt when your best friend has stopped to give you a lift home. Then there is a vague feeling that something is not quite right, and that is when you look down and realise that you have rested your leg against the exposed exhaust pipe. And there is something about looking at it that makes you realise you are burning, and it hurts, it really, really, hurts.

So it was not the moped lying on my body that was hurting. The pain was coming from my right leg lying on the hot exhaust pipe. And it had been lying there for a couple of minutes before I registered the problem. And it was in exactly the same place that I had already burnt three times before, plus a bit more of the calf for good measure.

That didn’t hurt anywhere near as much as the bill from the first doctor I consulted. Between her and the chemist – who had an arrangement – I was relieved of two weeks wages for what turned out to be the wrong treatment. When I consulted another doctor he charged me nothing and prescribed a cream that was less than the price of a cup of coffee.

So now, unable to hang out at the beach for fear of getting an infection from the sand, low on money from unexpected expenses, no job, and feeling rather bored and depressed, when the next opportunity presented, I grabbed it with both hands  . . .

. . . . To be continued in our next . . . .

22 thoughts on “Mea Culpa Moped Misery

  1. And, I bet you didn’t have a crash helmet on either. Ah those care free days of youth when there was no such sentiment as ‘risk averse’! Great to still have your letters though. Writing letters home was an art, wasn’t it? I suppose letters are often more reliable than our memories, but only we know how crafted they were. 😉 It makes you think how flexible autobiographies can be let alone biographies.

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    • Crash helmet? Qu’est-ce que c’est ? And of course now, while buying travel insurance, I tsked, tsked over the young people who fang around Bali without any training or protective gear and end up in hospital with no cover 🙂
      I am very lucky that the letters came back to me, but I was VERY circumspect about what I told my mother, while seeming extremely verbose at the same time.
      And yes, it is hard to write a truly candid autobiography because there is the tendency to show only the good sides of ourselves. Then of course, there are so many different way of interpreting the same set of events.

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      • In these modern times ‘interpretations’ is all when a creative piece is launched into the wider world and audiences/readers define or redefine your work within ‘reception’ theory parameters. I suppose on that basis other people virtually rewrite your life when you publish an autobiography. Did you find some people re-presented your life and experiences back to you? Quite a few people think that they can make definitive comments on a visual work of art, I should imagine it is considerably more difficult to pronounce on an autobiography when the real life author is present at the discussions.

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        • Oh gosh, I think you’ve put my mind at ease about visual art. Sometimes when I am with people who say, ‘the artist is conveying this or that”, I just think really? I only know whether I like the colour and shape, and whether I respond emotionally on some level. Rothko, for example, I cannot understand as having any deeper meaning beyond what I see in front of me (I know, I know – I am an art heathen). I rely on the little board beside the art piece to tell me what the artist wants us to know.

          As for autobiography. Well, that is a complex answer. When my book first came out I was so very vulnerable. So I was very taken aback when the odd negative comment would make pronouncements on my life, my choices, etc, etc, etc. Now I have come to realise a few things.
          1. Often people who read the blurb are nursing some inner trauma; and pick up my book hoping that they will find me expressing the emotions that they can’t find words for. Sometimes they are disappointed that I am not crying on every page, others thank me for putting shape to their experience.
          2. There is a group of readers who seem to be fascinated with horrible things happening to other people, and criticise that my experience was not horrible enough to justify the title, or blurb, or whatever. Whether these people are also trauma victims or trauma junkies I can’t evaluate.
          3. I’ve come to the conclusion that if you write a memoir, you have violated your right to privacy, and therefore have to accept that some people will play the person and not the story.
          4. Having said all that, I was totally gob-smacked by an early review by a professional reviewer, which started out fine and then went downhill fast, attacking me personally; going on to compare their experience to mine and outlining what a good thing they had done in a similar situation, as compared to the bad choices I had made. It shattered me, until I came out of my hole and researched the person, and among other things, discovered that they had been banned from practising in their chosen profession for three years due to misconduct. So that was a simple case of someone trying to feel better about themselves by making someone else appear worse.

          The daughter of a friend did tell me words to the effect that “that’s not the way it happened”. It was hilarious, as she wasn’t even born at the time. She was basing her comment on eaves-dropping at dinner parties 🙂

          Luckily, I have never been criticised face-to-face, and I doubt I will. I might have been asked “why, why, why?” – but that is different to someone translating back to me what they read into my tale. That is someone delving in an attempt to understand. Particularly if the question is about domestic violence. And if is a young person asking about adoption, it is because our social justice system is so different today, that the experiences of a few decades ago are so outside their peer group understanding that it is hard for them to believe we are telling the truth.


          • Oh Gwen – I did think that you might have been a target for some of humanities low-life. It’s very sad that some people who have absolutely no self-knowledge don’t recognise that their attacks on other people are an attempt to make themselves feel better – as you pointed out, so-called professional or not! And, as you say as well, it is YOUR story. You have every right to express yourself as you wish and I can’t see how anybody can question the veracity of your account especially if they weren’t even born. Your account is as much your personal truth as you wish to divulge. I think autobiography is like any other creative endeavour and once it is launched into the wider world, you, the creator, no longer have control over its reception, but that does not give ANYBODY the right to criticise you personally. Yes, reviews and critiques on content, style and questions to you about your work are fine, but you are not the work. I can see that autobiography can be a minefield, but it is still an account of a life and not the every second of every day, living of that life. It is naturally a selection to make, in your case, a powerful narrative. I am so pleased for you that it has benefitted people by enabling the reading and sharing of difficult experiences. And, honestly, as for the trauma junkies, I just don’t get it, but if they buy the book, great.
            Memory and re-living excerpts from a life is very much coloured by the point, the moment in the day you are thinking and writing about the past too. I expect to a certain extent you are a different person today than the one that started writing your life.
            I would just add that I think it is a consolation that people, despite the long distance attacks, still refrain from direct face-to-face criticism. I think you should be very proud of your work and pleased that you have added an authentic experience to the debate about domestic abuse and adoption.

            PS re the Rothko rather expensive ‘colour therapy’. 😉

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          • I can always rely on you Agnes to provide thoughtful and insightful commentary. One of these days when I come to England we must have a cuppa’ and chat face to face.

            It’s a strange thing with my book. It’s seems to be a sleeper, in that, even now, 2.5 years from original release it is still getting feedback. Just in the last week I had someone contact who just listened to the audio; then a person with whom I volunteer for the cruise ships presented me a copy to sign tonight; and another rating went up on Goodreads today. The fourth for this month. The overall feedback has been positive, and that is what I must focus on. Not every book is for every person, and as a reader I can understand that too.

            I am much more sanguine about reactions now.

            Also, you are right about me being a different person now. Something I never expected was that this part of my life, which seemed to walk with me every day, and which was something that I thought was so intrinsic to my being that it was just a part of who I was, has now found a place to live. Perhaps it wasn’t a smart choice to write so candidly, but now, instead of living in the cells of my being, it has a place on paper, and that works for me. I didn’t find the process of writing “cathartic” because it wasn’t deeply held secrets, or an emotional letting – so the feeling is quite unexpected. Almost as if I don’t have to explain myself to people. I can just toss off a throwaway line – ‘it’s all in the book’. It’s a kind of release. . . . After all . . . I am all grown up now 🙂

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          • I find that so interesting your comment about ‘a place to live’ since committing your experiences to paper. It is strange that the practice of writing/typing out your thoughts and feelings does change how you feel. Quite fascinating. Here’s to you all grown up now. 😊

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  2. Pingback: Plonked on the Plateau of Lasithi | The Reluctant Retiree

  3. Can relate to being a “pillion” rider and also taking a scary spill! Recall a ride long ago in Northern California with my then husband, when my scarf got caught in the wheel, locked the tire, and gave us a throw – no injuries or damage except to the scarf. My nickname became “Isadora” :)!

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  4. I tried to ride a moped when I was in the same area (Zante) in the 70’s, fell off and had to go to hospital. then the worries of infection were quite a problem – things are rather different today!! Never got on a moped since but did ride pillion on a Triumph Thunderbird 650cc with my first husband – all that power between your legs WOW!! My third husband had a tandem bike, that was just another experience!


  5. Ouch. Ouch. If you ever fall of a bike it’s obviously best to fall on soft sand and as far away as possible. You mucked that one up. I love motor bikes and riding pillion – your advice is perfect – you really do have to lean with the guy in the front seat.


  6. What a wonderful story. My son burnt his leg on a motor bike when he was three. I remember the look on his face to this day.

    I am writing two blogs, one from birth in 1955 and one from when I finally left my abusive controlling husband in 2013. I am finding with memory that photographs are helping a lot. I also remember more after I write a blog post. Interesting. I cannot ask my mum as she passed from Alzheimer’s in 2014. So much went with her. Dad is brain damaged and demented. He helps me at times but is focused on his work memory. I am also helping him with a work memoir

    I have yet to get your book however I am ordering it. A good friend has raved about it. Cannot wait. So happy to find the blog and your Facebook too. I love social media. As I was basically trapped at home for many years it was my sanity saviour


    • What a beautiful comment and thank you for coming on board, both to read my post and to seek out my book. In the early writing stages, I referred to our one and only family photograph album and found, since there were so few photographs, that I could write a story about each one of them, whether it was my first-hand memory or told to me by other family. All of that was eventually edited out of the published book – all of the family history was, once I discovered what I was really writing about. I also found that the more I wrote, the more I remembered. In my case I had no Dad growing up, and my Mum was a very silent person mostly due to ill-health. But my brother keeps bibs and bobs and sometimes he would turn up with something that was fifty years old, a ticket stub, or a receipt, or some such, and that would send me off down memory lane again. Good luck with your writing!


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