Driving me round the bend
I’VE had 2½ decent cars in my life—half because the first actually belonged to my mother. It was a 1937 Riley Monaco with a pre-selector gear. For those who don’t know how those work, you decide which gear you want to use next and, when the time comes, just stamp on the pedal. No need for all that double-declutching stuff that came with old cars.
When I got a car of my own, I bought an old Renault Dauphine from a friend who was going abroad. Bad choice. I learnt to drive in York, where there are no hills (there’s something called The Mount, which is a slight incline), so I couldn’t do hill starts. Neither could the car, which, because its number plate included UVY, was known, sarcastically, as the Groovy Cat.
Its final mistake was to stall and refuse to start again on a light incline in Darlington. Behind me, a furious bus driver blew his horn and shouted. Eventually, I lost my temper, got out and replied: ‘Okay, you do it.’ I’m glad to say he couldn’t either.
Shortly after, we traded in Groovy and Hew’s MGB for an Aston Martin DB4. We got nothing for Groovy at all, except the satisfaction of seeing it towed away. The Aston wasn’t much better: boy racers would taunt me when I drove at my usual 45mph. When both hand and foot brakes failed (luckily, in flat old York), we sold the car. Had we kept it, it would now be worth the equivalent of a small house.
After that, it was office cars: the reporters’ car at the newspaper had windscreen wipers that stopped working if you accelerated. Hew used his to try to fly by driving it fast over a hump-backed bridge. You can see why the management didn’t waste its money.
Later, we had a mini estate that used to meet us at York station with the garage manager, Mr Nutbrown, at the wheel. He behaved like a chauffeur, clicking his heels and flinging open the passenger’s door.
From there, we progressed to another office car—a Toyota, which was a very rare beast at the time. We chose it because, unlike British cars, it came with no extras such as tyres, wireless, heating and so on. It had tinted windows and looked like a gangster’s choice, which was rather fun.
None of these cars came up to my standard (which is rather a low one). I’m convinced that the reason I don’t drive at all these days is that virtually everything I had before was at least second-hand and sad in every way. You couldn’t feel proud in a Renault hand-painted the colour of cheap claret and people frankly laughed when you turned up in a Ford Anglia with unworkable wipers.
However, one of the few cars I did love was my Citroën Dyane, one step up from the Deux Chevaux, which looked as if it was made from corrugated sardine tins. Like it, the Dyane’s seats could be removed for a picnic, just like that Cartier Bresson photo of a French family tucking in beside a river. It had a weird gear lever on the dashboard and was a brilliant yellow. In Halifax, where we lived, its wide wheels coped with snowdrifts that defeated classier cars. I was very sad when it was sold.
Then, I got a Fiat Panda, which was almost as good, then a second one, a 4x4 Sisley, which is terrific with a trailer. We also took it to Italy, where it had no problem with the steep mountain roads. Well, it wouldn’t, being an Italian car.
Now, having had enough dramas in my various cars, I leave the driving to others. If I ever win the lottery, I will hire a chauffeur. He can decide how long it takes to get from London to Llandovery and which way to go. He’ll tell me when to be ready and, when I open the front door, there he’ll be.
‘A furious bus driver blew his horn and shouted’