‘Well,’ said my gay lawyer friend Stephen as I pulled over to drop him off at Sloane Square Tube, ‘it’s been a lovely evening. Absolutely lovely.’ And he opened the door and started to get out into Holbein Place, then stopped, as he always does, to have another little chat about how lovely the evening had been.
‘Yes, it’s been lovely,’ I said, leaving the car in Drive and fondling the gear stick ostentatiously to emphasise that I was not going to be parking.
‘Lovely,’ he said. ‘Absolutely lovely. What a nice evening.’
‘Really nice.’ And I pushed the shift up into Park and then back down noisily into Drive again. The Volvo made a dramatic shudder, which I knew it would.
‘Well, I must go. Must get going,’ he said, pushing the door wider open. ‘It’s been very, very nice.’
‘Yup, very nice,’ I said, letting the car roll forward a teensy little bit then slamming the brake on so that the Volvo shook as if there had been an earth tremor.
‘Must get on, though,’ he said, pushing the door almost fully open, before drawing back again. ‘I’ll probably see you next week.’
‘Oh, yes. Give me a bell.’
‘Although I do have a lot on. Oh, dear. You know, sometimes I do wonder if…’
I lifted my foot off the brake and did another little roll.
‘But I must go.’
And then we both noticed that a little man in a helmet had approached the car door while pushing a moped he had just got out of a garage. And as my friend exited the car, this little man barked an order through his helmet. And the order was this: ‘Svitch off ze engine!’
‘I’m sorry?’ said Stephen, backing towards the car seat again. ‘Can we help you?’
‘Svitch off ze engine!’
We looked at each other, then back to him. And then my friend said, very timidly: ‘Why?’
‘Because,’ barked the man, ferociously, ‘you are vaysting fuel!’
As we sat trying to make sense of this encounter, I suddenly noticed the sign on the building in front of us. We had pulled up outside the Committee on Climate Change. This is a taxpayer-funded organisation set up to advise the government on reducing emissions and which has its headquarters, stupidly enough, in the heart of that quartier which is home to the Chelsea tractor. Way to needlessly torture themselves.
Now, can you guess what I said to the funny man? Here are a selection of possibilities:
The pedantic: ‘I am not vaysting fuel. I am getting 36.1 mpg in this vehicle. I always drive carefully, and never over 60mph even on a motorway so as to conserve diesel. If you want to pick on someone who guzzles gas leave me out of it. I’m too poor to vayste fuel.’
The reckless: ‘So what if I am vaysting fuel? This is my fuel. I bought it at exorbitant cost and paid oodles of tax for the privilege. I will vayste it on whatever I want and right now I choose to vayste it on ensuring my good friend here is dropped at the Tube station.’
The truth: ‘Listen, Herr Rainbow Warrior, if I switch off my engine this dear gay friend of mine is going to talk all night. Do you not have a gay friend? Do you know nothing about the ability of homosexuals to shoot the breeze in a car pulled over by the kerb to drop them off at the Tube? It has been estimated by scientists that a gay friend sitting in the passenger seat of a car pulled over by a Tube to drop him off can talk for 50 million light-years if the engine is switched off. My only chance of getting out of here tonight is to keep my engine running. Either that, or I would have to push my friend out of the moving car as I drive by the station. That may be how you treat your friends back home, Von Shouty-Pants, but it ain’t how we do things here.’
Even more Basil Fawlty-esque: ‘What, you mean fuel for the war effort? Good god, you’re right! Stephen, we must conserve diesel for the Spitfires! Let’s switch the engine off this very second!’
The enhanced football chant: ‘Two world wars, one World Cup and one currency!’
The childish: ‘I may be vaysting fuel, but you’re vaysting a space on earth that could be taken up by a nice person.’
The philosophical: ‘Who are you saving the planet for, anyway? It seems to me you eco-warriors hate human beings. Are you saving it for the foxes?’
Answer: I didn’t say any of these things, disappointingly. But I did rev my engine and beep my horn. And he scooted off while giving me the finger.