The Volvo only went in to have a parking light changed but, of course, it ended up being taken to pieces.
Somehow, whilst fitting a bulb and then securing the exhaust pipe, which had come a bit loose, they found a leak from an indeterminate origin. It was probably the gearbox fluid, the mechanic explained. They would have to keep it in for a few days and send me a courtesy car.
A boy wearing an iPod turned up on my doorstep an hour later and nodded mutely towards a shiny new BMW coupé parked outside my house.
‘Oh no, I asked for a hatchback,’ I complained. ‘I need to be able to put the dog in it.’
‘No, is not this one,’ said the boy. ‘Is one before.’
‘One before’ was a strange, blue, bubble-shaped thing, of a design I had not seen since the first generation of vehicles adapted for wheelchairs, circa 1970.
I do understand that courtesy cars operate on the same basis that my old school used to keep baggy old spare swimming costumes in a smelly box in the sports hall in case we accidentally on purpose tried to forget our own. They are meant to shame you. Otherwise people would just claim their cars were broken in order to get a BMW. Even so, the Tacuma was something else.
The best that can be said about it was that it was so utterly without style or feature that I could probably park it on a double yellow line and the parking warden wouldn’t notice it.
‘Chevrolet?’ I said, as I walked around it.
I found it distressing that the same car company that featured in a tribute song to the late, great Buddy Holly should have produced this sorry lump of metal.
I doubt anyone would ever drive this Chevy to the levee, although after an hour chugging around the rainy streets of south London in it, I did feel very much like finding some good ole boys with whom to drink whiskey and rye and sing ‘This will be the day that I die’.
The engine sounded like a hairdryer. Every time I pressed the accelerator it gave me to believe it was trying to style my barnet.
I rang the garage eagerly the next morning to see how things were going. They had identified the problem, which was now being fixed, but as they had the clutch out in order to do so shouldn’t they just fit a new one?
You know when you pull a tiny snag of wool on a jumper and it unravels the whole thing? I suddenly had a vision of the Volvo being dismantled piece by piece until all that was left was an axle and a grinning, red-faced mechanic standing over it saying, ‘That ought to do it.’
I sighed. They were offering a half-price clutch. ‘Go on, then,’ I said. It would be days more with the Tacuma, obviously. Days of cars driving contemptuously up my back end yelling insults about my parentage. Nights of squinting down at the unlit automatic gearbox and lurching between drive and reverse as I tried to get out of a parking space by doing a 33-point turn.
But all was forgotten when, a few days later, my gorgeous hunk of a Volvo V70 was delivered back to my door. As the boy kangarooed away in the Tacuma, I climbed into the beige leather seats, breathed in the smell of freshly fitted clutch and turned the ignition.
The car went ‘ker-plunk’ then ‘grrrrrr’ then ‘d-d-d-dudder’ then ‘eeeek’.
I switched it back off. Surely not. After a few seconds I turned the ignition again. ‘D-d-d-dudder eeek grrrrrrrrrrrr’ it went, and then, worst of all, over the purr of the five-cylinder turbocharged engine came a rasping whoosh of air.
‘Shhhh,’ it went, ‘shhhhhhhh,’ as if it were trying to keep everyone quiet about something horrendous that had happened.
I rang the garage. ‘This car sounds like an asthmatic aunt.’
‘The car was perfect when we road-tested it, madam,’ he said, haughtily.
‘It’s wheezing like it’s got emphysema.’
‘If there’s a problem we can help you resolve, we are more than happy to take another look at the vehicle.’
The cheek of it. ‘I’m not asking you to resolve my problems. I’m asking you to resolve yours. You’ve made my Volvo hiss.’
‘Fine, we’ll come and pick it up and bring you the Chevrolet Tacuma.’
If he was trying to threaten me, he was doing a really good job. I hard-balled.
‘Good,’ I said. ‘Right away, please.’
I’ve been driving the Tacuma for a week now and the best I can come up with is this: ‘Bye, bye, V70 T5, drove my Chevy to Waitrose but the car park was full.’