Lady Marmalade, my faithfullish Nissan Primera, was sixteen a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t buy her new, and she wasn’t even my first Lady Marmalade, but I had her for longer than any other car, and I drove her further than any other car.
I was a latecomer to driving, not passing my test until I was in my early thirties. It wasn’t entirely my fault. I just kept failing driving tests, and then I had to find the money for some more lessons, and wait for a test date, and so on. I don’t remember all the tests I failed, but I recall where they were, in Eastbourne, Brighton, Crawley, and Hove, and I do remember that it was in Hove where I finally passed, to my (and my long suffering instructor’s) surprise. I didn’t immediately rush out and buy a car. I just breathed a sigh of enormous relief, and decided that I’d never drive again.
It didn’t last. I came down to Cornwall with my Dad, in his vomit coloured Lada, and he sent me off for the day with my wife. I’d have just driven into Newquay and spent the day in a café, but my wife had other ideas, so we ended up travelling all over, and getting lost in the fog on Bodmin Moor, doing three point turns in narrow lanes that proved to be dead ends with horribly spiky looking rocks along the sides, and so on.
I didn’t dent my Dad’s car, but it was the start of the slippery slope, like an alcoholic trying his first shandy. A woman at work (called Alison) offered to sell me her old car for a tenner. It was a Hillman Imp, and unlike most of my susequent cars, it didn’t have a name. Since the Hillman Imp, I have had four Fifis, three Lady Marmalades, a Madame Butterfly, and a sodding Maestro, not in that order.
The Hillman Imp had a bust water pump, no heater, a dent in the front where Alison had driven it into a tree, and the clutch was seized. However, another woman at work (called Debbie) said that her brother could sort it all out for about sixty quid. Bargain. As if. I could probably have had taxis take me everywhere more cheaply, even with added call girl.
When our daughter was on the way, my wife refused a lift to the hospital, opting instead for the ambulance, though the Hillman Imp didn’t actually break down that day, nor on the day when I brought them home from the hospital. It did break down most other days. The furthest it ever went was from Lewes (where we lived) to Bignor Roman Villa (where my daughter tested the echo in the room with the mosaics, much to the amusement of the two German bikers in leathers). On the way back to Lewes, second and fourth gears vanished, and I had what was effectively an automatic, with start, drive (slowly), and reverse. Goodbye Hillman Imp.
After that we had a red Mk II Ford Escort (died gracefully), a grey Mk III Escort (my wife nerfed a concrete pillar in the multistorey in Truro) and the navy blue Maestro. My Dad liked Maestros, so I replaced grey Fifi with the Maestro. It was a horrible car, even compared to the Hillman Imp, which was at least fun. It used to start (unlike the Hillman Imp), but then it would die when I reached Mount Misery roundabout on the edge of Penzance, and to restart it, I would have to take the top off the air filter, and then put it back on once the engine was running, all while the traffic from St Just was queuing up behind me. When the demister failed, a friend offered to replace it for me, and he ended up with the dashboard and steering column on his kitchen table. I sold the Maestro to him for half what I’d paid for it, and bought white Fifi. Her rusting carcass is still in the ruin of the garage, and her registration number (B816 CNY) is the one I used for Tilly Lake’s Pontiac. When she died, I used her for spares to keep the last of the Fifis alive.
After the Fifis came Madame Butterfly. A six year old Nissan Sunny, and the newest car I’ve ever owned. Her boot was big enough for my massage couch, but there wasn’t much leg room in the back. When she skidded on a slick of sump oil, and I ended up sliding backwards towards St Just at fifty miles an hour, I thought I was going to die. I didn’t, but Madame Butterfly did.
Hello Lady Marmalade. A wine coloured Nissan Primera, with a bigger boot, and leg room in the back. I delivered her the fatal blow, sideswiping a crash barrier in a storm. It wasn’t immediately terminal, but the steering rack was cracked, and I had to put almost as much power steering fluid in as I did petrol. The second Lady Marmalade was dark green, even more comfortable, but a little underpowered. A Mitsubishi Shogun killed her, swerving across the road and taking her front end off. If I hadn’t seen what was happening, and braked, the Shogun would have come in through my driver’s door, and I might well have joined green Lady M in the great hereafter. As it was, I survived, and bought white Lady M. She had a bigger engine (but no spoiler), and she went like a Brixham whore when the fish were in. She was mine for nearly seven years, in which time we did a hundred thousand miles together. It wasn’t my idea to get rid of her, it was on the advice of the garage, who said she was costing me money (what’s new?), and who suggested it was time for me to get another car.
I looked around. For nine thousand pounds I could have a Kia Picanto. I suppose that with the back seat down I might be able to fit a massage couch in it, and it would do nought to sixty eventually. Alternatively, I could buy a Jaguar for a little under two grand. I’m not greedy, so instead of buying four and a half Jaguars for my nine grand, I just bought the one. A blue-grey three litre V6 S-type. It’s pretty. I’ll spend the seven grand change on petrol and repairs.
G’night, Lady M. Hello Kitty.