Driv­ing me round the bend

Country Life Every Week - - Spectator -

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’

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