The road less travelled

So, after much agonising, I have a new car. The lovely Sarah describes at, ‘a cellist’s car’. The details of what, strictly speaking, constitutes ‘a cellist’s car’ is still being finalised for the Wikipedia entry, but suffice to say, it’s big.

Very big, in fact.

So big, if I’m honest, that you could lose half of your string quartet in the back of it, which was probably the designers’ intention. Although, he was probably thinking about children, rather than those of a violinistic and violistic tendency.

When you’re a boy, you dream about the cars you’re going to own when you grow up. You put posters on your wall. You play top trumps. Fords are replaced by Aston Martins. Astons are replaced by Lamorghinis. Lamborghinis are replaced by Ferarris.

Then you turn 17 and are presented with an Austin Metro. It may be slow, it may have an engine with all the straight line speed of an arthritic tortoise. With a limp. After a particularly heavy meal. But it’s yours, and it stands for freedom. It may only have 4 gears, but each of those gears is now an integral part of your independence. And each those gears affords you the power of around 50 horses, which is certainly a lot more than Mr Darcy had to go and visit Elizabeth.

For the next few years you study maps, not to find the most efficient route, but to find the route with the most squiggily bits. The longest straights. The most interesting journey. Until, and no scientist has yet defined this, you wake up one morning and find yourself with a career, a mosaic driveway, a double-glazed conservatory, and a need for comfort, fuel-economy, safety and anonymity. In short, you have the same box-on-wheels as everyone else.

Today I did something I haven’t done for a while, and went for a drive. Okay, technically I spend a proportion of nearly every day driving, but that’s just going from A-B in the easiest way. It’s functional. It’s necessary. It’s boring.

Today, I went for a drive. I didn’t need to. I didn’t need to go anywhere in particular. But all day as I went around the house doing the various tasks that needed my attention, I kept catching a glimpse of blue glistening outside on the drive. The new shiny keyfob sat on the table and kept catching my eye, and now the two parts of the car were conspiring against me in a metaphorical pincer-movement to make me put everything else to one side.

And do you know the worst thing? My brain kept flashing up reasons not to go out like a rolling-news ticker. It was an unnecessary use of fossil fuels and as a result of my actions two baby seals would cry uncontrollably. It was a waste of money, and the few pounds of fuel could have been spent on breadsticks and wild-rocket pesto. And then middle-age jumped out and surprised me, and I thought about the wear-and-tear and resale value.

There was nothing for it, I had to go.

We’re told that driving has become boring. That all cars are the same now. That you can’t go fast because on every straight bit of road there’s a yellow-box paparazzi, and around every bend is a member of the road safety gestapo with a laser in their hand. But for 40 minutes every twist of the road was interesting. My mind wasn’t thinking ahead to what needed to be done when I reached B. Road signs were options, like an a-la-carte menu. Even those people that were clearly out driving Miss Daisy, in their beige rovers and powder-blue toyotas with the Arthur Daley hat on the rear shelf, were interesting challenges for overtaking rather than a frustrating issue that would make me late.

It’s been a long time since I actually drove for the sake of driving, and for a brief moment I felt that independence and freedom I had at 17. And the weird thing is, I wasn’t alone. I must have passed at least a dozen retired men driving the classic cars they bought with their retirement money. I must have been passed by at least another dozen men on motorbikes with either their wives or weekend partners riding pillion. There were no lorries delivering frozen pizzas to the disciples of Kerry Katona. No vans delivering overcharging plumbers to broken pipes. No buses delivering pensioners to Bridge club. No functional journeys at all, in fact. Just lots of people driving around aimlessly reliving their teens with big smiles on their faces. I strongly advise you to try it next Sunday.

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