MONDAY A relative’s new car suffered a serious breakdown today. Normally this wouldn’t be a disaster; our region is well served by decent dealers. But it was more difficult this time round because (a) it was the August bank holiday and (b) the Steering Committee and I were due to be away from home for a couple of days.
Quick action was needed. We contacted the AA without much hope, this being their busiest time of the year, but within 90 minutes a nice bloke called Chris arrived, and he decided briskly that our machine should go back to its maker. Within minutes he had lifted it by the rear on to one of those towing rigs that sprouts magically from the back of a Ford Transit van.
The best part of this episode wasn’t so much the man’s competence (I’ve already learned to take that for granted) but his wonderful roadside manner. He was cheery throughout — including while barking his knuckles on a steel bar — and even radiated a certain appreciation that we were using his services and not those of a rival. When he drove off, I was sorry to see him go.
To Yorkshire and back in dense traffic comprising mostly cars piloted by tetchy post-holiday drivers. Myself, I quite enjoy working while the rest of the world is on holiday (not least because city roads are uncluttered by cars normally conveying overproduced battalions of urban sprogs to and from school).
You can easily pick the holiday returnee by his or her desultory driving style and the haphazardness of the packing, visible on the roof and through the windows. On the outward trip, family cars tend to be well organised, and no gap can open up in the traffic without a keen dad zipping briskly into it. On the way back it’s different. Might have felt sympathy for these hapless souls if I hadn’t been so intent on avoiding the nosetotail collisions that always threaten at times like these.
WEDNESDAY Back home, couldn’t sleep, so I found myself in front of the haunted fish tank half-watching the Jason Bourne movie that features the tense car chase in which a Teflon-coated old-style Mini (obviously driven by Paddy Hopkirk) defeats scores of French policemen in Citroëns. At one stage the Mini stands on its nose while descending a staircase — which made a connection with what I’d been doing earlier that day.
I’d been on Land Rover’s Jungle Track, next to the giant Solihull plant, testing a Range Rover Hybrid. One of our more extreme tasks was to drive up and down an obstacle known as ‘The Staircase’. The Hybrid made it seem easy (after instructor Michael Bishop convinced me to attack it with enough élan) and almost comfortable despite the crazy trajectory. My big surprise was that the engineers were happy to allow such malarkey when the next thing this car would do — literally the very next day — was to set off on a 9000mile drive to India, via China. I love the confidence these people have in what they build.
SATURDAY Someone I know is keen to do next year’s Mongol Rally, the for-charity endurance drive that requires entrants to take an unlikely vehicle from London to Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capital, and back, a matter of 10,000 miles. Now 10 years old, the event has always been mad, but fearing that recent standards of preparation have reached professional levels, the organisers are restricting next year’s entries to non-4×4 cars with engines under 1.0 litre. And 125cc scooters.
During early research, we discovered that 78 of Auto Trader’s 112 sub-£1000, 1.0-litre cars were Daewoo Matizes. Hardly inspiring. The other possibles seemed to be Smarts and Fiat Seicentos. Then my man found a 28-year-old, 55,000-mile, 550cc Honda Acty camper van on eBay — and before any doubts could take hold, he bought it for pin money. Adventures are likely to ensue…