Slightly Bemused writes:
I bought a new car. Well new to me anyway. My old one had decided to do an impression of a wheeled paperweight in my driveway, useful only to keep the insurance active. Great for your no claims bonus when it is not moving.
The Elves came and took it away after I bought my new one. Not in the middle of the night like shoe elves do, these ones came in the middle of the day, and my new car is now ensconced where the old one once sat.
The new car is a Toyota Prius hybrid as part of my attempt to be responsible and better for the climate. Not a fan of the colour, but I sit inside when driving and do not need to see it. But as I always do, I brought it to my favourite garage for a check up, and to get any work done. As it is a little older, and I wanted the tyres changed, it was in for the day. Now booked for the NCT, everything should be fine for a year.
With a lot to do, I decided to hire a small runabout for the day from the conveniently placed rental company across the road. It did raise an issue for me, though. The Prius is automatic (all hybrids are, I am told), but the hire was back to manual. I found myself forgetting to change gear as I was so used to the automatic – they can be strangely addictive. After a few minutes, back in the swing of things, and stirring the petrol like an old hand.
Then I got my own car back at the end of the day, and for the first few kilometres I found myself trying to change gears using the Lucozade bottle in the front coffee holder. Let me tell you it is not very effective, the soda drive has not yet been perfected. Thankfully I did not attempt to use the clutch, as what is in that position is the main parking brake. That would have been fun.
Speaking of that brake, I did have a chuckle, and wondered if it could be a problem on a driving test. When I did mine more moons ago than I care to count, if you lifted the handbrake and it made that ratchet sound, that was a fail. You had to press the button, lift it silently, and release the button. But I cannot do that with the foot parking brake, and it makes that ratchet sound. So if I had to resit my test, would I fail?
It also got me thinking about all those cars I have driven, or to use correct Broadsheet language, all the jammers.
My first was a Ferguson T20 tractor which elicited some interesting moments where had I been my current age would have had my life flashing before my eyes. I mean seriously, the accelerator is a lever on the steering column, and being a slight fellow at the time standing on the brakes did not always do a lot. and I learned a lot more about momentum than in science class, for all it was the same science teacher who taught me to drive the thing. But I survived, and I did not crash.
The first car was a Vauxhall Avenger estate as part of my first Summer job as a landscape gardener’s assistant. I mentioned him before, oh he of no sanitation. I was all of 14 years old, and my voice broke while out rotovating between the nursery saplings.
Does a rotavator count as a vehicle, you ask? Well, when you did not learn the lesson from the tractor, and accidentally rev it too much and it takes off with a slight lad behind it, it sort of is. It had a kind of thumb accelerator that when you grabbed it tight meant you gave it more jizz. Let me just say that I am glad it was a long field, and it was a hedge at the end.
I do know my favourite car, and my least. My favourite was a Toyota Landcruiser I named Betsy. with a straight 4.2 litre diesel engine this was definitely not an environmentally conscious vehicle, but given where I was it was the right vehicle.
It carried many loads of humanitarian aid across ground a standard car could not make, and had serious torque, if not a huge amount of speed. The configuration also meant it was used on more than one occasion as an ambulance to transport patients from those remote places to the regional hospital.
It also transported Little Slightly’s mother, before she became so. She fell for me, down a flight of stone stairs. Our first date was as I brought her to the hospital. I swear I did not push her! Little Slightly asked me that, when I explained the origin of the particular scar on her mother’s shin. Just so you know, she was fine, just sore, but we wanted to be sure.
My least favourite was an armoured eighth generation Chevrolet Suburban. I was working for a US based organisation funded by the US government aid agency. One of their rules is you must buy US cars. They are a very large car anyway, but the US Ambassador was coming, and given where we were they wanted an armoured car. So this mini tank was provided. It had inch thick bullet resistant windows, steel plating all around, what they call ballistic sheeting on the floor, and steel anti-roll bars.
The standard version weighed in at about 3 metric tonnes, the additional shielding pushed it up to close to 5 MT. This meant it was definitely in the range where you needed a truck licence to drive it, which I do have. But they did not upgrade the suspension or the brakes.
Coming close to doubling the weight meant if not driven carefully, the thing rolled like a boat on the high seas and stopped eventually, if lucky before ramming into whatever poor car was in front of you. For my sins, I was given the task of driving it when the Ambassador was in town. The good thing was they did not know who I was, I was just a driver, and the secrets you can learn!
In my time, though, I have had to file a number of insurance reports. And I think my favourite was the one with the sheep. I was working in the town of Prizren in Kosove, as Head of Office. We had a regular shuttle to and from Skopje, the regional head office, and in the summer it went over the mountains. Think very scenic, but very narrow, winding roads. The shuttle was driven always by our most experienced (not always most senior) drivers.
One day, the shuttle was late back and we were a little worried. It was picking up a senior manager on her way back from leave, and some important post for us all, much personal but including for me in my position. But in those mountains, the radio does not work, so the lateness was a cause for concern.
Eventually he turns up at my office door (in the same building of the stone steps of fate) and hands me the post, and turns to leave. Naturally I ask him what happened to delay him. He replies in his moderate level English (better than mine in his language, so not being critical):
“We got hit by a sheep.”
“You mean you hit a sheep?” I asked, sceptically.
“No, we got hit by a sheep!” he was definite on this.
So out I pop, and there is the car, a large (yes, American) Jeep. The windscreen was shattered, and the only part clear was in front of the driver. The front grille was smashed, and dents in a lot of the front bodywork. Mentally scratching my head, I go to the office of the freshly arrived manager, a lovely lady with a wicked sense of humour. So I asked what happened. she told me:
“We got hit by two flying sheep.”So now the story has elevated from ‘We got hit by a sheep’ to ‘We got hit by two flying sheep.’Needless to say I was intrigued.
Apparently the driver had come around a bend at a moderate pace, and a shepherd was driving his flock towards him. So our driver stopped to wait until they passed his vehicle, as you should. While waiting, a small Yugo (think the car in Die Hard 3) came flying around the bend ahead of them and slammed into the flock.
Sheep went flying, and two struck our vehicle, one over the bonnet and hit the windscreen, and the other lodged under the front. Sadly, the top sheep died, but the other was fine. The Yuga was not going anywhere soon.
My dilemma was how on Earth do I fill in that insurance claim form? But the manager was quick thinking. She bought the dead sheep, and we had a barbeque that weekend.
Slightly Bemused‘s Column appears here every Wednesday
Pic: Slightly Bemused