Recently, Sarah and I celebrated our wedding anniversary. It seems like only yesterday that we were young, blissfully in love, and filled with the promise of the future. That wonderful day will always be the best day of my life.
But on our anniversary weekend, Sarah and I had a very serious discussion. The sad thing is, I have come to realise over the last few months that all relationships, however deep and passionate, however loving and understanding, run their course.
And so, with great reluctance, I came to the sad conclusion that I had to get rid of my car.
The bond between a car and its owner is a deeply personal thing. One that cannot be overstated or underestimated. I’ve had our car – my car, if I’m honest – for ten years and over 100,000 miles. It is central to our lives, and has been part of almost every significant moment of the last decade. It drove us home from our wedding, it drove Sarah to the hospital when she was in labour, it brought my daughter home from the hospital when she was just born. It has got me and several bandmates to literally hundreds of gigs in safety and comfort, has carried tons of equipment, and has been my faithful vessel this past decade, through good times and bad. It has driven the length and breadth of the UK, and has been a strong and sturdy family wagon on holidays and joyful days out.
It has been the crucible of thousands of hours of family conversations, a couple of hundred hours’ worth of arguments, and a place where we have shared music, fun, opinion, and the events of each day.
I have laughed in it, cried in it, sang in it, picked my nose in it, contemplated pissing myself in it (when I was stuck in traffic on the M25 and reeeeally needed to go. You’ll doubtless be pleased to know I made it to a service station near Reading just in time, and didn’t spray urine all around the inside of the car). I’ve done other things in it as well, for example, looking at maps, reading the daily news, and eating. And sex, of course.
I remember all of my cars. I remember the massive grey Vauxhall estate I inherited off my mother as a 17-year-old. It sure as hell wasn’t a sexy car for a dashing young go-getter like myself, but I could pack it full of chums and drums; I once carried 11 lively chaps across the city to gatecrash another teenager’s party, and then, following said shindig, drove back shouting “wahey” at innocent passers-by. We were a car full of dicks. I also remember the crappy Fiat hatchback that followed, and the subsequent not-quite-as-crappy Fiat hatchback. There is a pattern here: Much as I like sleek, sexy, well-engineered cars, I’ve never actually owned one.
I also vividly remember the family cars I spent a lot of time growing up in. We were the boringly average, middle-class 80s family, so inevitably there were a few lumbering Volvo estates. There were the crumbly little hatchbacks (Escorts, Renaults, and a Talbot – now there’s a UK car manufacturer name that has been forgotten); and my father’s mid-life crisis car – it was the 80s, so not only was it not an estate car, it was a TURBO what’s more (a Volvo, what’s less). These cars were family talismans. I loved them, and the journeys we went on (even if they could be interminable). My brother and I played and fought in the backs of those cars. They were our spaceships, our KITTs, and our Airwolfs. They were a part of our lives. When it came to being a grown man with a family, I knew our car would be an extension of our home.
And is there anything more “Daddy” than taking the family out on a mission? The gathering of the tribe, the hustling out the door? The settling of the offspring in the back? The husband-and-wife have-we-got-everything-ritual? And if it’s a bright sunny day, the putting on of the sunglasses?
I’m not joking. That’s when I feel most like a DAD, when I put the sunglasses on, in charge of the car, and driving off for a day out. That is me at my most father-ish.
Alice and I bonded in our car, on our Daddy-Daughter Days. That was where we learned to talk to one another. We’d have our famous ‘Boot-Picnics’ in the car, a tradition Sarah has never quite fully embraced (because she says it’s too cramped, and there’s no fresh air. Why have a picnic in a car, when you should be having it in the open, fresh air??, is Sarah’s thought on the matter). If Alice and I need to have a serious chat about stuff, the car is the place to do it. Home has too many distractions, and it’s hard to have a “this is life!” conversation with TV, Playstation, food, books and other things distracting us. In the car, there’s nothing but silence, music, I-Spy, or chat as optional entertainment. We often opt for chat.
I love these chats. I’ve never liked the idea of putting kids in cars and expecting them to shut up. I don’t like the thought of plonking our kid in the back with an audiobook to while away the hours, when we can all entertain ourselves with a quality family conversation. And I cannot understand those people who have a portable DVD player in the back seat “to keep the kids occupied”. As far as I’m concerned, they are the sort of people who want to hinder their child’s imagination. They are the people who want kids to be quiet all the time. Ugh.
Besides, kids can be quiet if you let them slip into their own heads. Why deny your child the pleasure of their own imagination? Why pacify them with a screen?
And unless you’re the kind of boring twat who only ever drives on the most boring of motorways in order to get places (I hate motorways, and avoid them wherever possible. A good A-road in the British countryside is one of life’s great thingies), a DVD distracts from the greatest scenery on Earth. Yes, even in good old Great Britain… because everywhere has the greatest scenery on Earth. I mean, okay, sure, Monument Valley is all very well, but it doesn’t hold a candle to The Cotswolds… and beautiful honey-stoned rural English villages can’t compete with Monument Valley. They’re spectacular for different reasons.
So why encourage the kids to watch Moana on the car DVD whilst sealed off from existence with headphones, when they could do it at home? You don’t have to travel to see the world, you just have to look out of the window.
I’m sorry. I’m sure you have your reasons for sedating your kids on long journeys, and you’re lovely really.
Anyway, when the time came to change my car, like a clattering dumbfuck, I failed to take into account one very important factor: Alice. It was the only car Alice had ever really known. To me, being a boring adult, getting rid of the car was a necessary thing – the tool I had was worn out and needed replacing. And getting a shiny new car is aspirational. Bleugh!
To Alice, being a child of considerable imagination, with sentiment and affection invested in her attachments, I was breaking the family apart. I was abandoning a beloved pet. A space she had known as if it were a room in our house, possibly as intimately as her bedroom – or at the very least, the toilet – was being cut out of her life because I wanted something new and more impressive. There were tears. There were arguments. Alice pleaded for a stay of execution. It was as though I was shooting her beloved old dog in the face.
I wasn’t, though. It’s a car, not a living thing. I was selling it to webuyanycar.com (for a measly £50, the cheapskate bastards). But even as I drove it to the depot, we all got a bit misty-eyed. Even Sarah got a bit nostalgic and wanted some time and space to remember the car.
So farewell, grey Ford Focus, sometimes called “Dave”. You got us all from A to B for ten glorious years. I have replaced you with a dark grey Ford Mondeo, the ultimate expression of British Dadness. There’s even a little compartment for my sunglasses. And now, if you’ll forgive me, in a mark of respect, I shall write the Last Post down because I cannot play the trumpet.
Barrmmmm baarmmmmm barmmmmmm barrrmmm barrrmmmm br-baarmmmmmm barrmmm br-baaarrmmmmmmmmmmmm
BTW: I still love Sarah with all my heart and she’s amazing. Nine years in and our marriage is still tip-top. Go us!
BTW, part II: The new car was pristine for approx two weeks. Then we took it on a camping holiday. Now its footwells are full of rubbish, and there are scuff marks everywhere. There is a bucket-and-spade and a kite permanently in the boot. There are loose CDs in the side compartments, and the cupholders are full of empty chewing gum packets. Welcome to the family, new car!