Impractical man approaches roundabout


Stage one (drainage) is done for the new roundabout coming to this tricky corner on Churchill Drive, Warwick (Qld).

Considering I once entered a roundabout the wrong way, I’ve so far managed to survive life as an impractical man. If you’ll permit me to misquote a line from that Kinks song (Lola): “Well I’m not the world’s most practical guy..”

Such thoughts emerged last week as I haplessly searched for our car in the local shopping centre car park.

“What does it look like, mate?” asked a passer-by, trying to be helpful.

”It’s a white SUV”

“Mate, there must be 60 white SUV’s in this car park – could you be more specific?

“Um, it’s new”

“What’s the rego?”

“Um, it starts with a 9”

She Who Used To Teach Geography sometimes remarks, a tad scathingly, about my wayward sense of direction. And these days she has been known to point out that  not everyone can play guitar and harmonica, sing and remember lyrics of a song they wrote, all at the same time.

She inherited practical skills from her builder father and honed her sense of direction training as a geography teacher. Hence her exasperation when she says ‘go left here’ and I almost always gravitate to the right.

I rationalise this as a left brain/right brain conflict. We creative people are more right-brain dominated. Isn’t that true, Nic?

Therefore, while I can knock out a 1,200-word blog in 40 minutes, I’m almost certain to hire a handy person to mend a broken mailbox, call the RACQ when we have a flat tyre or try four screwdrivers before finding the one that will actually do the job. (Ed: It actually needed an Allen key.)

My practical skills have improved somewhat after years of frustrated tutelage from SWUTTG. One example might be that I can dismantle my own coffee machine to clean the filter and run a de-scaling solution through it. Another time I changed a light bulb.

Sometimes I come up with practical solutions all by myself. After a year or more of trying to put a cover over our caravan on windy days, I decided the solution was to roll it up and place it lengthwise along the roof, then roll the ends down the front and back of the van (after SWUTTG pointed out that the front of the cover is marked ‘Front’.). Eventually I will stop praising myself for this. When I next mention it she may well say  “What, do you want a medal?”

It was difficult growing up in this part of the world in the 1950s and 1960s, when every second bloke (and a few girls) could replace a clutch plate and do their own grease and oil change. Some in my age bracket seem determined to keep these skills alive.

Just last weekend over lunch a friend was telling me how he planned to obtain a new engine and gearbox from the wreckers for his 2004 Ford ute, which has done 300k+. He says he plans to do all the work himself. I shuddered. The women scoffed.

My knowledge of motor vehicles is limited to: fuel goes in here, check tyre pressures, tighten wheel nuts before towing and stay on the left of the white line.

That was (my) number one reason for buying a new car (with a five-year warranty). I figure it might see me out.

What no jumper cables?

Some years ago we were staying at a caravan park between Georgetown and Clermont and when we went to leave, there was nothing doing when I turned the key. The battery was not just flat, it was dead. The closest RACQ was 80 kms away in Georgetown.

Eventually a bloke who used to drive trucks for a living backed his vehicle up to ours and connected jumper leads.

So we got started and drove to Clermont where a mechanic fitted a new battery after first commenting on the old one: “There’s no water in this battery, mate, none at all.”

He gave me the same scornful look Aussie blokes give when SWUTTG drives into a caravan park (and then flawlessly backs it into the designated space while I stand around haplessly waving my arms).

An old mate with great DIY skills has just retired and bought a large ex-ambulance which he is busily converting into a motor home. Last I heard,  he was underneath the vehicle working on the plumbing (fresh water tanks and ‘other’). One of his ingenious plans was to build a bed platform on hydraulics which is neatly tucked away in the roof during the day.

This topic stirred up a couple of old memories, not all of which I am proud. There was the time SWUTTG’s Dad came to visit and decided (with my help) to build a timber fence across the front of our house. The old fence had pretty much fallen over and our two dogs were apt to go walkabout. So Dad, being the quintessential Canadian handyman, went on down to the ‘lumber yard’ and then persevered with my lamentable efforts as an offsider.

After a bit of swearing at the density of Australian timber, we got our posts set in concrete and Dad went off to hire a nail gun. It seems unfair that after we moved, someone bought the quarter acre block, removed the house and bulldozed everything else.

The other memory was prompted by roadworks going on not far from home. The local Council has acquired funding from the Federal ‘Black Spot’ programme to build a new roundabout between the Condamine River weir bridge and the railway crossing off Churchill Street.

My research uncovered the Council’s notice of roadworks, which mentions everything except the cost of the roundabout (about $380,000).

A small investment, but no less important than the $25 million the State Government will spend on an election promise. Work has started on a notorious ‘black spot’ intersection 12 kms from Warwick. An overpass will be built at the Cunningham and New England highways intersection; work to be completed by 2022. Known locally as the ’Eight Mile”, the intersection is used by vehicles travelling between Brisbane, Warwick and Toowoomba.

Keep left at all times

Which brings me to a confession and a 30-second video filmed at a roundabout on Vancouver Island in 2004. The confession part involved my stopping off at the Yatala pie shop circa 1995, a diversion from the Gold Coast motorway. When navigating a newly completed roundabout, I entered it the same way you would if you were driving in Europe, the US or Canada. I’m not sure how that happened and I swear it only happened once.

Dad!” said the teenager in the passenger seat, “WTF are you doing?”

Fair call.

Now that I have managed to write 1200 words made up of self-deprecating anecdotes, I must return to a small list of domestic chores:

Vacuum house;

Finish washing and hang out clothes;

Re-set mouse traps;

Take dog for walk

SWUTTG’s list looks like this:

Sharpen secateurs;

Fit new hose connections;

Lubricate squeaky door hinges;

Clean tank filters (Bob to hold ladder);

Proof-read this and scoff a lot.



  1. I get all this. I’m from the Frank Spencer school of carpentry (“I lost me hammer”). My father-in-law, too, was supremely skilled and practical, but he patiently allowed me to work beside him on many projects which I would stuff up and he would salvage.

  2. You mean I’m not the only one, Betty? I still recall the day I wrecked three out of four security nuts with a screwdriver before I realised it needed a special set of tools!

  3. Not the only one. At the end of a long day renovating our tiny bathroom with my father-in-law, I had to measure up the somewhat L-shaped ceiling and cut a rectangle out of the last sheet of masonite(?) so it’d fit in. I still can’t work out how I stuffed it up, but no matter which way we rotated or flipped it, it wouldn’t fit. I was sailing close to the wind that time.

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