Breaking in a strange vehicle (or vice versa) is for me a rather prolonged and edgy affair. Not only are the wipers invariably positioned where the full beam headlights used to be, thereby prompting an episode of energetic windscreen washing when trying to send a message about courtesy to some oik in a beat up Cortina with speakers the size of Kent on the back shelf, but all manner of other instruments have generally been transposed to novel and entertaining locations.
Men seem able to climb into new cars (or vans, trucks, and quite possibly tanks) and instantly blend with the systems in a kind of bio-mechanical union, whereas my process is rather more laborious and involves a great deal of sitting in the drive with the manual and a bemused expression, twiddling knobs and pulling hopefully on levers.
Anyway, with a substantial chunk of leave coming up, this looked like a good time to take the plunge so that I’d have the hang of the thing before needing to mess with morning traffic at the same time as discovering that what I took for the demister button is actually the seat height adjuster. Advanced Motorist I may be but there’s nothing in the training that covers doing seventy on the motorway while horizontal, although I imagine it works for traffic cops hoping to scare the bejabbers out of people they don’t like the look of but can’t actually nick for anything.
A further spur is the arrival downstairs from my office of a new manager for the MOT and service centre whose approach to business practice is to ‘pack ‘em in and stack ‘em high’ – an objective generally achieved by nabbing our allocated spaces in the land fill site that passes for a car park round the back. Dodgy Derek, shifting deftly between sucking in air through his teeth via the fag that seems permanently embedded there, and close scrutiny of an oil-stained rag for dramatic effect, is not open to negotiation about this, unless you’re prepared to accept a tirade of unsavoury language that amounts to ‘shove it’ as a reasoned discussion.
He is also numerically challenged – generally in an upward direction so that the bill I received for my old car’s annual service was unusually large – quite the biggest I’d ever seen actually. Which is probably what Dodgy Derek believes all the girls say after an encounter with him. So, when another Saab with a full Saab service history pops up at a nearby showroom, an escape plan formulates itself whereby I can rehearse the ear-bashing I might need to give Dodgy Derek about his parking strategies while ensuring that my brake pipes are nowhere near his pneumatic ramps.
A cunning plan indeed – aided and abetted by Dodgy Derek himself as it turns out. He likes my new car. He likes it a lot. He likes it so much he’s willing to park it for me when I can’t find a space. He rasps huskily that ‘She’s a lovely girl’ and it’s very scary. In fact it conjures up images of clandestine networks of blokes in brown pullovers gathering at pre-arranged venues to drool over tarted-up BMWs and over-blown jeeps, or having shady assignations over a dog-eared copy of What Car magazine and a floppy disc.
 Remember those? Oh, how we marvelled at the capacious storage space.
From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck. Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018