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From her seat-belt-free childhood to the drink'n'drive panel vans of friends in her teens, it’s perhaps a wonder she survived at all.
But Jean, who learned to drive from her racing-car driving father, is now passing on his wisdom to her own children and marvelling at how her own driving ‘style’ has changed since hitting menopause. As the ambassador for Remifemin, a natural menopausal relief product, Jean is keen to 'come out of the menopause closet’ and admit to the world her car has air-conditioning, and she is not afraid to use it.
"My Dad had a BMC dealership and he loved English cars. We always had Minis, Jaguars, Rovers, Morris and Wolseleys and - of course - they were always breaking down. We were always in different cars. Dad was always trading. Dad was also a racing car driver. He used to build his own cars and 'soup-up' his own cars. One of the first monologues I ever did was called 'Blue Vinyl' and it was about my relationship with cars. It was performed as part of a Melbourne Fringe Festival which was in a carpark."
"Cars have been a strong element of my life. When I was a baby, the only thing that apparently soothed me was putting me in a blanket, bundling me into the car and driving me around Christmas Hill, near Lilydale in Victoria, where I was born. I still find cars incredibly soothing. I adore driving. As soon as I get in the car I relax immediately. My Dad taught us all how to drive like racing car drivers. We were driving from the age of 12."
"By then we were living in Sorrento with lots of backroads and he would say things like 'your brakes have gone, pull up using the clutch!'. He would know our brakes could break because, being the daughter of a mechanic, our cars always had wonky brakes! I remember I lost my licence two weeks after I got it because I didn’t actually realise there were speed limits. Dad never mentioned the speed limit. I never remember clocking a speed limit. I was doing 60 miles and hour in a 35 mile zone. So I learnt the hard way. I lost my licence immediately."
"Dad was a bit of a leadfoot but he was a very safe driver. When we were kids he would 'soup-up' Mini Cooper Ss and he'd do hillclimbs around Lilydale. When it was a wet track, he would put us kids in the car for weight. Those were the days when there were no seatbelts and your mother’s arm would swing out like a boom gate every time she’d brake to stop kids flying through the windscreen. We’d stand on the seat next to Mum. There’s a reason they call it a dashboard – because you kept dashing your brains on it all the time."
"Mum also remembers just putting the bassinet on the back seat and every time she braked the bassinet would be upside down on the back floor. That’s how everyone got around. The roads weren’t really dressed for safety or reckless drivers. There were no barriers and signs telling you a dangerous corner was coming up. Consequently, after moving to Sorrento and spending my teens there because there was nothing to do in the winter down there, everyone used to drink and drive. That’s all we did. So we lost lots of kids."
"There were also a lot of panel vans with kids all in the back, so over it would roll. My God, it was such a dangerous time. But it was also a good time because we had Drive-ins – with one driver going in and the rest of us hiding in the back of the Sandman."
"My first car was a Wolseley 24-80 – it had fins. It was built like a tank but the brakes were hopeless. I remember once someone took a corner too quickly and drifted onto the wrong side of the road out near Tremarne and clipped a whole lots of cars. Bang, bang, bang – it wrote them off – but by the time it got to me in my old Wolseley, the other car was a mangled mess. I just had a little dent in the door."
"I've always liked the drive between Melbourne and Sydney. I also do the F3 a lot because I married a Sydneysider and my parents live on the Central Coast in NSW. "We go up there quite regularly. My children and I have our favourite chicken shop to stop at on the way. We put Harry Potter on and off we go. I love car trips. I will happily drive – with the appropriate driver/reviver stops – for 12 hours."
"Music – when the kids are in the car it’s Nova – full blast. I like to catch up with the news or 2WS FM with Amanda and Jonesy – Classic Hits. When I’m on my own I like to listen to classical music, then I can think about things to write. When we get out of radio range we’ll whack a CD on – I love talking books. The kids go a bit mad but they’ve got their own iPods. I love travelling with my kids because they’re captive. They can’t go off saying ‘Oh, I’ve just got to make a phone call’ or ‘My friend is here I’ve got to go’ so we actually have conversations – they’re forced to talk to me and listen. We also do a lot of car dancing."
"The way my driving has changed over the years is once you have kids you’re much more cautious. And they grow up and they’ll tell you if you take your hand off the wheel. The whole doing the 150 hours of teaching I adored – I know a lot of people complain about it – but I absolutely loved sitting there doing that with my teenage daughter. I passed on lots of stuff my dad taught me. My teenage daughter is incredibly confident and that is really important – not over-confident, just confident, alert but not alarmed. She loves driving too."
"Driving can be an absolute joy. A car is a machine taking you places in your own little bubble – it’s wonderful. I’m really relaxed about the car. People can put their feet on the seats if they want. It’s a relaxed, fun place."
"The other way my driving has changed is the temperature. Now my body temperature is contributing to climate change with menopause, I’ll be in the car with the kids and I’ll ask 'Are you hot?' and they’ll say 'No mum!'. They’re constantly asking me to turn the air-conditioning down – they’re freezing. I used to battle them about turning the music down now they’re battling me about turning the air-conditioning down! I tell them to 'Get a jumper!'."