Monday, January 14, 2008

Losing my Cherry

No, not *that* cherry. I've already covered that. *This* Cherry:

The good looking one is my sister. The big red one is Cherry. The one with 'who let her walk the streets with that hair' hair is me, aged 23. The balloons are celebrating my return home from a year's backpacking with my Significant Ex.

I missed my family. I missed my friends. I missed my dog. And I missed my 2cv. I missed other things, like big jumpers and hot baths and pints of beer, but these were the important things I missed.

I got my 2cv when I was 18 and I sold her when I was 32. And Charlie is absolutely spot on (see comments on previous post) to link this with my newfound desire for a Tata Nano.

I loved that car far more than was healthy. In the time I had her, she received a new roof, a new chassis, a new front bumper, new kingpins (whatever they are), two new wheels, new seat belts (in the front: there were none in the back), a new floor, multiple new exhausts and tyres, endless new spark plugs and handbrake pins and god only knows what else. By the end I was sourcing parts off the internet and carrying them carefully down to the endlessly patient Oxford French Car Centre to be welded into place.

The windscreen wipers had two speeds: on and off. The maximum speed I ever managed was 75mph (or thereabouts - the needle was juddering against the end of the dial so it might have been faster, there was just no way to tell), downhill on the middle lane of the M6 screaming my lungs out. The lights were hopeless, and prone to flickering, especially in the rain, when the tape deck would also slow down as water dripped through it. At such times, I would be thankful for the rusted through parts of the floor, as they provided valuable drainage.

In the winter, you got nowhere without a can of WD40 and an ability to judge the precise combination of choke and accelerator required to avoid a) flattening the battery or b) flooding the engine. I once had to ask a policeman for a jump start in the car park of a motorway service station. It was 6am and I was wearing a T-shirt that said 'Trust me, I'm a condom'.

I always carried fuses for the lights (actually, only once the brake-light, headlight and indicator fuses had blown and my Significant Ex and I had to drive 10 miles in thick fog with him hanging out the passenger window shouting directions and me using 'slowing down now!' hand signals), the aforementioned jump leads, a torch, a big fluorescent waterproof and a telescopic wrench for getting the wheel nuts off. I had cause to use them all. The anxiety was lessened a bit once I got a mobile phone and could afford to join the RAC. A lovely man came out to me once when my accelerator cable jammed on the A34 -- I had to pull off the road with Cherry roaring like a stuck pig and I was a bit embarrassed, but he said he loved coming out to 2cvs because he could always fix them. He emerged from his van with a spring that looked like he'd nicked it off an anglepoise lamp, and I was on my way.

An article in the Times stated that they were the least safe car on the road. This prompted my only ever letter to a national newspaper, where I pointed out that at least in a 2cv you know you're not safe, so you drive accordingly, while your Jaguar/Volvo/Saab owner (these were the days before the invasion of the 4x4 bodysnatchers) is far more likely to drive like a twat because s/he feels invincible. So who's safer there, then? Huh? If we all drove 2cvs, I concluded, the world would be a better place.

And you know, when it comes down to it, despite the fact that I offer silent thanks to the car I now drive (M's 10 year old Mercedes A Class) every time the heavens open (or the wind blows or the frost bites or the motorway stretches out endlessly before me) for being so comfortable, so reliable, so unlikely to break down or blow up or kill or maim me in some unpredictable way, so *likely* to get me from A to B without incident, basically, a large part of me still believes the conclusion of that letter.

If you own a 2cv, and especially if you drive it in anger, you rely on the goodwill of humanity. I loved that about it even as I found it terrifying. But I also loved the romance of entry-level motoring: you, your tunes, alone with your thoughts or your boy by your side or a car full of friends, with the roof off (does the Tata Nano come in convertible?), the tape deck up to 11 because you'll never hear it otherwise, rolling cigarettes at red lights, groaning up hills, swooping down them, finally getting what they're on about when they talk about the open road. The fact that you're only a wing and a prayer away from getting the bus home makes that freedom taste all the sweeter, and the fact that most people simply can't see the point of that is the cherry on top. That's not why I called her Cherry though. That was just her name, as soon as I set eyes on her.

The Tata Nano is the closest thing to living that dream I've seen in a long time, though the Smart Car came pretty close before it went all kitsch. I like to think I haven't moved on into mid-life crisis car territory (for girls I think this probably equals MG or new-style Mini or Beetle) -- but the fact that the only other thing I have looked longingly at recently is J the plumber's ancient Land Rover is kind of reassuring.

Who knew I had that much to say about cars? I certainly didn't.




Blogger tomato said...

I felt a slight wave of shock when I looked at that photo of you, aged 23, and realised it could just as easily be a photo of me, aged 23.

Without the Cherry.

Who let us walk around with hair like that, I ask you!?

8:37 pm  
Blogger Jo said...

I know! The Microphone Head years were not auspicious.

2:21 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hell Joella, that is a tour de force sure enough, sure as hell beats the Guardian Weekly's Car Review page (well-enough written though it is) into a distant second place.... I have always considered myself a Mini man when it comes to classic diminutive saloon cars of our halcyon youth but your impassioned defence of the 2CV causes me to remember being breezily driven around Fenham in a state of the art Citroen at the age of seven or so by my mam's friend Helen the schoolteacher (this was in the days when being a schoolteacher and being able to afford to drive a 2CBV around the streets of Fenham afforded you a certain 'cache' in our cirles).

Oh and that suspension (extra marks to you by the way for managing to write to evocatively about the 2CV without even mentioning the suspension...)

12:56 am  
Blogger Jo said...

Ah, the 'corners like a blancmange' suspension. Great for speed bumps, which you could take at 30 with no noticeable ill effects apart from mild seasickness.

I was a Mini fan too, mind. I spent more time as a passenger in them than driving them, though my personal record for Lancashire to Oxford was set in a Mini... (certainly wouldn't have been set in a 2CV!). If you slowed down too much the engine cut out, so I just floored it the whole way and didn't stop for anything.

11:45 pm  
Blogger Sabita Banerji said...

I laughed so much at the policeman and inappropriate t-shirt story that I nearly gave the cat a heart attack. Needed a good laugh today, as you know, dear Joella, so thanks.
My first car was a mini. I bought it with cash from someone who was about to set off on a round the world trip... I thought that because she worked for Oxfam she must be trustworthy. Amazing how many valuable life lessons you can learn from a single experience, isn't it...?

9:39 pm  

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