Back in November, I wrote about the sad death of my old VW Passat on the way down to Dorset. It was gloomily pronounced on all sides to be irreparable, and the poor old thing languished in the car park outside Netherbury Village Hall before Andy, the local garage man, managed to dispose of it for, as he put it, ‘the price of a drink’. With 127,000 miles on the clock I could hardly complain. Until its death rattle at the midnight hour on the A303, it had been a good and faithful servant.
I now have a new car, another Passat, for we Spencers are creatures of habit, though I checked in the Top Gear magazine, and the model I’ve chosen received a glowing four-star review. It’s strangely reassuring to think you have a bruiser like Jeremy Clarkson on your side, not to mention the plucky chap who survived that dreadful high-speed accident. The motor isn’t really new, of course, for a pristine new car loses a few grand in value as soon as you drive it off the forecourt. Mine is actually 18 months old with 20,000 miles on the clock, but it appears to be in tip-top condition and has a flashier spec than any car I have previously owned.
Not only are there leather seats, but the leather seats warm up, and there’s a little dial so you can control the temperature so that they can range from ever so slightly warm to almost-too-hot-on-the-buttocks-for-comfort. At prep school we were constantly told not to sit on the radiators during the freezing depths of winter because we would develop terrible piles if we did. So where does that leave heated leather seats? I have noticed no ill effects so far, and can only conclude that matron was maliciously lying to stop us enjoying a few rare moments of comfort in our bleak and chilly lives.
Other amenities on the new car include a boot that opens automatically by pushing a button on the remote-control ignition key; cruise control, whose mysteries I have yet to fathom; and exceptionally dinky drinks holders for that all-important mug of tea or coffee.
The jewel in the crown, though, is the CD player, the first car I have ever had to be blessed with such an amenity. I’ve long listened to CDs in the car, of course, but they were played on a Sony Walkman, jammed under my thighs, and listened to through headphones. People were always telling me this was dangerous, though I can’t see why it was any more dangerous than playing an in-car entertainment system at high volume. Attempting to change the discs while bombing down the fast lane could be a bit tricky, I suppose, for it meant steering with your knees, but those risky days are behind me.
I love this CD player, and I love the dinky little compartment under the driver’s armrest that conveniently stores ten CDs. What a delicious, agonising pleasure it has been assembling exactly the right selection to cater for any mood on any journey.
The basic need is to have some great driving rock music, of course, and here the greatest hits of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers and The Rolling Stones’s Forty Licks prove invaluable. The Petty album in particular is one of those rare greatest hits collections without a duff track, and his reedy voice and edgy, chiming guitar make you feel as if you are cruising along a sunny Californian freeway even if you are actually crawling round the M25 in the rain.
The Essential Byrds Collection is another infallible cheerer-upper, with ‘Eight Miles High’ very possibly my favourite single of all time, while Showbiz Kids, a superb double-CD Steely Dan anthology, makes for cool late-night listening. I’ve also recently been sent a new Van Morrison CD, out later this month, featuring tracks from the great man that have featured in movies. It actually makes for a better selection than the two existing ‘best of’ albums with the live version of ‘Caravan’ backed by the Band an absolute blast. Then there’s Platinum Soul Legends, a triple set, taking up the space of two CDs, with an immaculately chosen selection of classic tracks, and, inevitably, the indispensable if naffly titled Best Blue Note Album in the World … Ever.
My final choice, Jazz Legends, is another triple under the auspices of the London oldies station Capital Gold, which as far as I know never plays any jazz at all. But what a superb and catholic collection it proves, ranging from Duke Ellington to Amy Winehouse, from Dixieland to hard bop and from Cab Calloway to Miles Davis. Almost every style and mood of jazz is represented by superbly chosen tracks and this cornucopia of treasures is currently on sale at Virgin for just £9.99. I can’t think of a more accessible introduction to a musical genre that can often seem intimidating to the outsider, and as I drive along to its richly varied strains with my bottom nicely warmed I feel as happy as Mr Toad. Poop-poop!
Charles Spencer is theatre critic of the Daily Telegraph.