Monday, 23 March 2015

Alfa Male or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Brakes, Part One

There are troubled waters ahead, dear reader. Particularly hot ones, which I have landed myself into. 

I have volunteered to become an environmentalist at work. Y'know, save the planet n' shit. Just imagine me as a Bono-type figure who checks to see how much paper my colleagues are using, and switches lights off after them. 

It's a massive character-shift for me but I promise you, I am up for the challenge. If everything goes smoothly, I may be the first privately educated white male to really influence people. What a time to be alive!

But there's one tragic condition: In order to lessen my own impact on this great giver of life, I'm to use my car less. LESS! As in, drive fewer times than I do now, and travel fewer miles! But I bloody love cars. I've always bloody loved cars. What would I do without one? Cars have been a staple of my adult life - so much so, I can't imagine being without one. 

Could it be done? There are so many fond memories. So so many. 

Let's put on that 'shimmering' effect over our vision and take a stroll back through three of the greatest joys of my life...

Part One: Golden Years

We were first introduced by a care worker in Worcester. She was looking for somebody new, young and exciting, and I was looking for a chance to kickstart my adulthood. 

Admittedly, most people wouldn't look twice at a Peugeot 106, even if it was decorated in such a lurid shade of gold. But to me, my future first car meant the world to me. 48hp, 146,000 miles on the clock, and did I mention about how fucking gold it was? It was the moment I went from a boy to a man (yes, even more than that moment, when I went from a boy to a profusely apologetic boy). If there was a better way to spend six hundred pounds, I did't want to know about it!

Unfortunately, a bit like Ri Sol-ju, (who, you will of course recall, is the wife of Kim Jong-Un), I was a little blind to the real problems my partner was causing. And, behind our backs, our beloveds were subject to much ridicule throughout the Western World. Yes I had freedom, (which is more than Ri Sol-ju can say, I'm certain), but at what cost? 

At just over the weight of a bag of sugar, it was quite easy for a man on each corner to lift it and carry it from the car park to the middle of the road, it turned out. And if you've ever met a BMW X5 in a country lane, and you're driving anything less expensive than a fighter jet, it's a good chance to practise reversing. Something I quickly learned, and slowly perfected. 

With a car so easy to break into, incidents like this were frequent.

It's the kind of car you'd describe to your friends as 'plucky', because you couldn't bring yourself to tell them it was a 'rusty shitebox'. But what a joy it was. Come rain, snow, fog, sun, the Peugeot magnificently performed in all weathers. 

And I mean all weathers. 

It's a snowy December in Swansea, where I have stayed in my student accommodation to work for a terrible telecoms company. The job was thoroughly enjoyable, even if the company was rubbish, so I wouldn't want to do it discredit by naming the store. But it was on the High Street in Swansea, and the logo was orange. Come to think of it, most of the branding was orange. 

Briefly, Wales' second city stops being a dystopia of tracksuits and heroin and looks like a Winter Wonderland. Noticing my car is the only one in the car park, I leave for work two hours early (something I've never repeated, and I've had some pretty fun jobs), and spend an hour and a half my additional commuting time driving my car around the Student's Village, having the time of my life. 

I forget for a moment about the car I'm actually driving, and only focus on the joy of driving it. This little thing is brilliant! Truly amazing! And when it is time to actually drive to work, I notice I'm still the only car on the road. I see Porsche Cayennes abandoned. Jeeps halfway up hills. At most, two or three cars pass me as I head towards the city centre on roads deemed not worthy of grit by the council. 

I arrive at work beaming from ear to ear. Suspicion is instantly aroused. 
"Why are you so happy?"
"I just had a really good drive in, that's all."
"You drove?"
"Well, it was a faff to de-ice the car, but I just got in and drove."
"Fuck! My car's on the side of the road by Sketty (it's a small part of Swansea close to my quarters - and yes, by nature as well as name)".
"Oh, well I'll give you a lift back tonight if you want?"
"Yeah please! What car have you got?"
"A Peugeot 106."
"Oh... Well, yeah if you could give me a lift, that would be great, but it's no big deal."
"No, it's okay, I don't mind." I was too ecstatic about my journey to notice that somebody was, as the kids would say, 'dissing my ride'.

Time crawls almost to the point of standstill throughout the day, offering little in terms of notable events except for a crying teenager, after being told her phone bill is £800 (considerably more than I paid for my car), wailing that her father is going to "literally" kill her. But eventually, 6 o'clock does strike, and it's time to drive home. With ease. And with a grinning passenger. 

"Your car... is fucking LEGENDARY! I know this is a bit cheeky, but could you give me a lift tomorrow? I'll get you a sandwich at lunch or something."
"Wow, yeah sure I'll come and get you - 8:45?"
"Sounds perfect, see you tomorrow!"
My guest practically skips past his abandoned car up to the street where he lives, thinking he's got a great deal. I drive off with glee, thinking I've got another great reason to take the car out in the snow. I completely forget that I don't even have work the next day until I get back to my room. But fuck it, I don't care - I'll just turn up anyway and drive about again! Because my car is fucking legendary. 

People rarely forget their first car, and I'll never ever forget mine. Yes, it didn't look very cool (one friend described the colour as "urine yellow"), and yes it wasn't very fast, except for one heady moment when I was urged by friends to overtake a man cruising in a Ferrari just outside Cardiff, who proceeded to toy with us until we were in the fast lane of the motorway trying to keep up with him, doing about 71 mph, (I think, Officer), at which point he'd decided he'd had enough and sped off into the distance. But when I was alone in Swansea for those couple of weeks in that December, and through many more hardships to come at University, it was a true companion to me. 

When I'm old, grey and living on a diet of blended chicken pie and Countdown, my room will be void of pictures of snotty grandchildren achieving things better than me. There won't be any images of the places I've been, or of the people I've met. There will just be the Peugeot 106 I bought from an estate in Worcester when I was 17, hanging over my bed. My one true love, sadly taken from me by the relentless grip of time, but never, ever forgotten. Even now, as I meet old friends, they still ask after it, as if it were an old friend. But they're wrong to speak of it that way.

It's so much more than that. 

What newer, wiser, nobler car could have possibly taken the place of such steed? How could any vehicle, short of a Concorde, hit the heady heights that the Peugeot achieved? Keep an eye out for Part 2 on Wednesday. 

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