Sunday, March 7, 2010

The curse of the newbie

There are a lot of persons that I am not. I am not a DIY person, nor a golf person. Soap operas, reality TV shows, modern jazz, Lionel Richie, jogging – none of these appeal to me.
But I think that most of all, I am not a car person.
Oh don’t get me wrong. I love driving, particularly my wife up the wall. Whether it is winding up Alpine passes in the Engadine valley or cruising along Arizona highways with not another car for twenty miles in either direction, I never tire of getting behind the wheel and if they bury me in my car seat, I’ll be happy.
Its just I don’t particularly care what I drive.
A lot of it is down to ignorance. I listen to Jeremy Clarkson going on about torc and horse power and I have absolutely no idea what he is talking about. My old Micra used to do 0-60 in 3 weeks, two days and seven minutes but it got me wherever I needed to go and I’ve no idea if it had titanium pistons or ABS.
So recently when my daughter, fed up with driving around in a ten year old Micra, put her eye on my four year old Yaris, I didn’t see it as a chance to buy the car of my dreams, but rather a bit of an inconvenience to go traipsing around looking at cars and being afraid that the salesman was going to rip me off.
I needn’t have bothered. My wife was on the job like a shot, scouring the internet for that perfect car. My sole input was that I wanted to try something else other than a Yaris, because the little plastic shelf over the minuscule boot kept getting jammed whenever I raised the boot and that annoyed me. Oh, and there wasn’t enough torc or ABS.
We were both of the opinion that, with there being very rarely more than two people in our car, there was no point upsizing.
My wife, who tends to take James May’s side in arguments on Top Gear, even though she can’t drive, thought the new Micra was too bobbly, Fiats were notoriously unreliable and someone had told her once that they had known someone else who had a dodgy Corsa. But she wanted to stay Japanese, because of the reliability factor.
Eventually, she asked me if I minded a Mazda 2. Zoom, zoom, I answered, thus exhausting my knowledge of that particular brand of car.
So we went down to the garage to have a look and a very personable young man, who looked as though he was in Transition Year, told us all about alloyed wheels and torc and the unique suspension system. And, he said, he’d have a word with the manager to see if he could maybe upgrade an unsold 09 to a 10 for us, because we were nice people.
I’d never bought a new car before. Apart from not really being able to afford it, we had other things we preferred to spend the money on, like trips to the Engadine Valley and Arizona. This invariably meant putting our faith in second-hand car salesmen and their spiel. At least with a new car, there was some sort of comfort that you weren’t being sold a heap of junk.
So we bought it. It was more than I wanted to spend but with the money the daughter was giving us for the Yaris, it wasn’t that exorbitant.
Plus it had alloyed wheels. I’d never had alloys before and never understood what was the point of them but now I had them, I thought they looked pretty cool, until I discovered I had to spend a further €40 on anti-theft nuts to stop people robbing them.
It had a leather steering wheel and lots of holders for drinks that I would never bring into the car; it had a sporty dashboard and sporty seats, probably because it was the Sports model. But most of all, it had 10D on the registration plate.
Four days later, the same salesman prised the cheque out of my reluctant hand, we shook hands and he handed me the keys. It was then that I realised what I’d let myself in for.
It reminded me of the famous story of the manager who bought a £30 million player and kept him on the sub’s bench in case he got injured. I had a brand new car but didn’t want to take it out on the road in case it got a scratch or a bang.
After he’d gone, I examined the car to make sure it was in pristine condition. Then I looked under the bonnet and counted the engine. Then I checked the tread on the tyre.
“It’s no good,” my wife said at last. “You’re just going to have to drive it home.”
Knuckles white, face taut, back rigid, I set off down the Navan Road, one eye firmly glued to the rear view mirror, as though I could somehow avoid being shunted by the white van with the ominous WW registration behind me. Never have I slowed down so smoothly approaching traffic lights; never have I driven so gingerly up the inside lane of the dual carriageway between the Halfway House and the remnants of the Auburn Avenue roundabout; never have I been so petrified of that stupid little chicane on the N3, where the crash barrier does a little jink (why can’t they simply straighten it out?)
By the time I pulled up on our drive, I had aged ten years, my hair was white and my wife had to prise my hands off the steering wheel. There was no way I’d bring the car up to Ongar and risk getting a bang from a carelessly opened door. Or leave it out in front of the house for the wheelie bin truck to have my wing mirror. No, from now on, it could stay on the drive and we’d just go back to catching the bus everywhere as we had done for so many years when the children were small.
This attitude was cured once and for all that self same evening. I was ensconced in my armchair in front of the telly, when I found myself snatching sneaky glances out of the window at the new prize sitting proudly on the drive, as television images showed bodies being dumped unceremoniously into mass graves from the back of a lorry on a dusty Haitian hillside.
Zoom zoom.

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