So I love my car. My car is a toy car, a dodgem of a vehicle with seats that hold me snugly and a steering wheel I can hold for extended periods without my hands aching because it is too thick. No surprise my car is Japanese. I drive a marina blue mx5; an early model with pop-up headlights that peep frog-like over the bonnet. It can be a bit grumpy on cold mornings (like myself) and is rather impractical in a country where it seems to rain continually but it makes people smile (which I hope I do). The car enthusiast at work approves and the non-enthusiasts think it’s really cute. To use a girlfriend’s phrase; it is a car full of win.
Except it isn’t of course. It’s 19 years old and has had a little drama recently. After driving back to Gloucester at the tail-end of Christmas it then sat (cosily I thought) under a blanket of snow for nearly three weeks. When it came to taking it out again, the battery was completely dead. A failed jump-start blew a fuse so that after the battery was charged, it still needed a call-out from an auto-electrician. It ran for a week and then the screen wash ran out. I didn’t imagine this would be a difficult situation to amend but I needed to consult my owner’s manual to work out how to open the bonnet only to find the hose from the screen wash container had disconnected (something I discovered when the screen wash I poured in sprayed out the bottom, hitting hot metal and hissing dramatically). Still, to the best of my knowledge it is in fine running order, parked as it is outside my flat.
My boyfriend’s car has also been under the weather recently and he has been driving his stepfather’s Audi Coupe Quattro (his stepfather being something of a collector of cars and having it going spare). One night he asked me to drive with him to collect his car and then follow him to his mother and stepfather’s house to drop off the Audi. Nothing makes you aware of your driving quite like your boyfriend throwing you the keys to his BMW and asking you to drive it unchaperoned!
I’d driven his previous car, an Alfa Romeo 166 Super, but found the experience hampered by the fact that it was in poor condition even by his fanboy standards; the driver’s seat had been welded into position and my boyfriend despite being five inches taller than me, has shorter legs but longer arms. This required a driving position that would engage my abdominal muscles did I have such a muscle group; instead I held myself up by gripping the steering wheel. The BMW is a 530i Sport and a whole lot of black and shiny and magic tree fresh. Importantly, I could adjust the seat.
I said of driving the Alfa that I felt insulated and separate from the world in a way that sitting a short distance off the tarmac in my shouty badly insulated terrier of a car had me wholly unprepared for. The Beemer was similar to the Alfa but confident and self possessed in a comforting way that the Alfa with its sexy silhouette was a touch arrogant and emotionally distant in its epitome of cool way. A Beemer cossets you; no wonder drivers of them are universally referred to as cocks.
I’ve driven a transit van across the UK and a campervan from Sydney to Adelaide and I fear I place my boyfriends BMW in a similar bracket. As a passenger I adore it. I love the luxurious leather seats, climate control that means I can sit at a cosy 23 degrees while my boyfriend sits in a cooler 19 degrees and the muffled rumble that sends his two year old to sleep in minutes. But as a driver it is a utility vehicle with a massive steering wheel and it feels plain odd not to change gear. I’ll keep my Japanese toy car for my commute thank you.
The experience was yet another in my realisation that a car is about far more than getting from A to B and this week it was also the location for a wonderful conversation with my boyfriend’s eldest child. He’s four years old and asked me what the numbers on the fuel pump meant. I explained that they were how many “measuring jugs” of petrol his Daddy was putting in the car. Sharing in him suddenly understanding the meaning that numbers can have was magical. He then asked what the different pumps were for and I said cars were a bit like people; some like petrol and some like diesel, just like how his Daddy and I drink coffee but he and his brother drink milk. He absorbed this and looked very serious before putting his hands on the freezing glass and shouting “magic handprints!” We then made handprints on the glass and watched them disappear until his father returned from paying. I never thought a garage forecourt could be so much fun.