I need to sell my beloved car, Audrey. She is ten years old and has taken to raining in on me through her perforations. She makes a hoarse sound when she moves off — mind you, most days so do I — and after countless bangs from slumbering policemen, let us not even mention her underneaths. Technically, more prang than vorsprang.
Still, she has had only one lady owner, done 40,000 miles and looks fashionably gorgeous in nifty shades of grey and russet. There are folk out there who, if they don’t examine her scar tissue too closely, or pay too much attention to her embarrassing seepage, would kill to own her.
I shouldn’t at my age be sporting a sports car. Having a two-door convertible was the consolation prize I gave myself after bereavement. If that sounds shallow, then so be it. I needed a reason to leave the house. Sixty-eight may be the new 57 but the variety has gone out of fixing a safety-belt around a grandchild with my bottom sticking out of the driver’s door and my body twisted 45 degrees to the left, especially now that the toddler police have decreed that the car seat shall face the back window. She can’t see me, I can’t see her. We can’t sing “Does your chewing gum lose its flavour on the bedpost overnight?” in the mirror and I can’t hand her all the stuff she’s not supposed to eat. Call that health and safety?
Furthermore, sometimes, I give a lift home to friends and I can’t get them out of the back seat. Like the last sardine in the can, they get one bit out and the other bit in and they’re wedged in with all their weight under the lid.
I say, “Just turn your back on your door and get your back leg out onto the pavement.”
And they retort, “What on earth do you mean, my back leg? I’m not a dog.”
“No, I know,” I murmur (otherwise you’d jump over the top of the seat). “I just mean — look, it’s easier to lever yourself out backwards than it is to sort of fall forwards.”
“I’m not drunk. I’m just trying to extricate myself from your ruddy car!”
So Audrey must go — and I have to give up my jaunty, super-gran-about-town image and buy a nice four-door runaround. Frankly, it’s just like my election dilemma — if not Audrey, then who?
My partner has a reliable car. We were once driving around Marble Arch on a Saturday when he strayed slightly — I have to say slightly because he may read this one day — and a ferocious little man drove up to the passenger seat and wound down his window. Expecting a friendly comment regarding my last appearance on Countdown or an observation about how I hadn’t aged one iota since Up the Junction, I wound down my own window and smiled.
“You Jews think you own the fucking roads!” he snarled and roared off down Park Lane. The one thought in my mind was, “How did he divine our religion from our lane-hopping?” If this was a startling new way of outing ethnic groups, every bus in London, every cab, every four by four and white van — they must all be Jewish drivers! Revelation!
Then it dawned on me. The reason for his outburst. My partner drives a Volvo.(In case you don’t do stereotypes, it’s a Swedish vehicle: safe as tank, Sweden neutral in last war, Jews love herrings.)
Any road up, I entered the larky world of the test drive. Sitting alongside chirpy young men in navy parkas and red ties, I test-drove the Alfa Giulietta, the Lexus, the Prius, the four-door Mini, and most exhilaratingly, beyond my wildest fantasies, the Tesla. The Tesla has no engine, just sparks. It drives like a dolphin swims. Like Lydia in Pride and Prejudice, it has absolutely nothing under its bonnet.
“Wheeee!” went I, swerving around Shepherd’s Bush like the little one on Top Gear who looks like Clarkson’s lunch. “This is the life! Maureen becomes electric! Out on the open road! Poop poop! I wannit! I wannit! I’ve worked hard all my life, why shouldn’t I have it? I’ll save buckets of dosh on petrol and only have to fill up when it — when I — hang on . . .” Where would I fill up? Do electric pumps have garage flowers? How do you pump electricity? What if they showed me and I forgot, like I do with copy and paste?
So, back to the running-board. I chose the Mini, only because I have a ridiculously long neck, so mere mortal cars have quite hard suspension and I bounce about banging my head on the roof. The Mini has a nice retro interior and doesn’t loom high off the ground or sport chrome armoury to repel wildebeest. It was navy-blue and I wanted brown but hell, I didn’t want to be a girl about details.
“I think I’ll have that,” I told the salesman and went home delighted. I waited to hear from him. Nothing. In the end, I called him. “Oh, sorry, that one’s gone,” he told me. “I didn’t think you really wanted it.”
“But I said, ‘I think I’ll have that,'” I reminded him.
“Yeah, that’s what I meant — you said, ‘I think,'” the salesman/psychologist affably responded. Since then the same thing has happened again. “I will send you an invitation to our event on the 23rd” — they didn’t — and “I am working on your configuration” — they didn’t. I’m a customer. They are salesmen. They have a good product, which I want. They have no interest in selling to me. This is England.
I took Audrey into the garage for an estimate. “It’s a noo roof — thas free fousand pounds, innit?” said Max the mechanic, “and we gotta check yer wirin’, right, ‘cos yer carpets is soaked, that’s seven ‘undred ‘n fifty . . .”
I drove to Halfords, bought some sealant for £6 and my PA sealed it solid. A bloke in a van will come and suck out my dents, apparently — hope he does the car too — no, but seriously, that’s it. Job done. But anthropomorphically speaking, as with Wanda the Honda, Sergio the Peugeot and Sadie Mercedes before her, it will be a day of mourning when I can no longer bid howdy to Audrey the Audi.