Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Not so very long ago I passed my driving test and within the hour began driving round the streets of west London in my best toy ever, my faithful 1978 Ford Escort MK2, 1.6. According to the log book it was midnight blue with a tan top, but over the years it had also taken on a third colour being 'rust'. It was a lovely beastie though; for some reason which was unexplained until it's first trip to a garage* it could get up to 60mph in about 6 seconds which meant I could leave boy racers standing at traffic lights and if they could keep up they were loathe to get too close as the rust on my car said clearly 'You have more to lose than I do, does it look like I care if I get scratched?'
Most people who had been in it with me thought it a rather scary thug of a machine, but to me it was a pussy cat, it's only foible being that now and again it would stop for no apparent reason and only move on one it had been hit in just the right place on the engine with a hammer.
It looked innocuous enough, the patches without rust were always nicely polished as was the chrome bits and wheel trims, and if you didn't know much about the car's history, you'd think it wouldn't even make it to the end of the road as the engine was mostly held together with Gaffer tape and a prayer.
But as I said, when it wanted to go, go it did.
After a month or so I'd learnt every little squeak and rattle the car made, and had the handling of the machine down to a fine art. Roads which had once been scary as a learner no longer held any terrors for me, and I even managed my first journey on a motorway without problems when I missed a turning at Heathrow airport by mistake.
One day I was heading into the wilds of Ealing broadway and decided to take the scenic route which took me round the back streets and past an old church (now converted into flats) which stood on a roundabout.
The back roads around the area have been there since Victorian times and before and over the years the build up of tarmac and asphalt and so have given some of them a lovely slopey, bumpy feel, especially around the roundabout.
I still don't know how I managed to do it: Maybe it was the fact I was going a little bit faster than normal, or it was because I took my hand of the wheel for a second to press the tape in the machine, I really don't know but as I went to come off the last turning of the roundabout, my faithful old car decided to go up on the two passenger side wheels.
To say I was surprized was an understatement and as I straightened up the car as I entered the road ahead, I wondered what I was to do next. Driving all the way to the broadway like that seemed a bit daft, but for a few seconds I carried on.
I might have been surprized, but nowhere near as surprized as the driver of a blue Robin Reliant that was heading towards me.
The look of sheer astonishment on the bloke's face was a picture and I wish I'd been able to film him as he kept watching me and drove straight onto the roundabout and into the church wall where he came to a sudden stop.**.
All of this could only have taken about twenty seconds, maximum, and luckily my car came back down to earth with a gentle bump as I moved the wheel a little and leaned to my right.
Sadly, I've never been able to pull of the same trick since - not for want of trying that is - and I never saw the little Robin Reliant driver around either. I still wonder what he said to the insurance company...

PS. My car had a name - There's a cookie going if you guess what it was!

*It was discovered that the previous owner had been tampering somewhat with the engine, and I had a car with more of a 2.2 litre engine. w00t!
**I watched in the rear view mirror.